To some Christians, bishop John Shelby Spong was a heretic. Responsible for defending the faith, he set aside the notions of the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus which have been the foundations of Christianity for centuries.
As Episcopal Bishop in Newark in 1986, at a time when female priests were still accepted, he ordained the Reverend. Cynthia Black, now rector of Morristown’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.
Two years later, Spong went further by marrying Black and his wife, decades before same-sex unions were recognized as legal.
âTo do this in 1988, he risked his role as bishop in the church, and he risked so much. But yet that didn’t stop him from doing what he knew was right, âsaid Black, who credits Spong with bringing a new understanding of God’s love toâ thousands and thousands. thousands âacross the world.
In 26 books, countless lectures and newspaper columns, and television appearances ranging from Sixty minutes To The O’Reilly factor and Politically incorrect with Bill Maher, Spong challenged dogmas, embraced science, and preached an inclusive faith.
âAny thoughtful person, everyone was welcome. You didn’t have to sign up for everything. But you can sign up for the trip, âsaid the good reverend. Bonnie Perry, also ordered by Spong. She is now the first openly lesbian bishop in the Diocese of Michigan.
sponge passed away last month at his home in Richmond, Virginia. He was 90 years old.
He studied religion at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and at Union Theological Seminary; astronomy in Berkeley; and taught at Drew University, among other schools.
Spong’s admirers have included Archbishop Bishop Desmond Tutu and Morehouse College, where his portrait hangs alongside other civil rights leaders in the Martin Luther King Chapel.
It drew fire from William F. Buckley Jr., George Will, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ross Douthet and two Archbishops of Canterbury, and received death threats from right-wing religious movements. The Ku Klux Klan named him “public enemy number one”, according to its obituary.
âI have experienced God as the Source of Life, which means the only way for me to worship God is to live fully. I have experienced God as the source of love, which means the only way for me to worship God is to love needlessly, âSpong said in my mantra, read aloud at the funeral by his eldest daughter, Ellen elizabeth spong.
In Jesus, Jack Spong saw a life lived to the full, with unconditional love and “the courage to be all that it was created to be.”
To follow Jesus, for him, meant fighting for a world “where everyone can be what God created him or them to be in the infinite variety of our humanity, people of all ethnic and racial origins, men and women. , gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender – in fact the whole human race, because that is the only way to see God as the foundation of all being.
“I THINK I MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE”
Elected Bishop of Newark in 1976, Spong served for almost a quarter of a century. After his retirement in 2000, he became âBishop in Residenceâ at St. Peter’s in Morristown, where his courteous and distinguished presence left a lasting impression.
One parishioner remembers with wonder how Spong praised her for reading the scriptures after a Sunday service.
Many members of the congregation were among its honorary bearers on Friday. Under bright sunshine, on a warm October morning in Spong’s native North Carolina, they made their way to a garden where his ashes were buried in the shade of a statue of St. Rock.
Bishop Carlye hughes and the rector of Saint-Pierre, the Rev. Anne Thatcher, chaired. More than 30 members of the clergy, including at least two retired bishops, joined them in prayer.
In his own words:
Bishop John Shelby Spong envisions eternal life,
to The Morristown Green Podcast
Details were important to Spong, and he cared for them until death. After her death, her daughter Ellen received a gift in the mail from her: beautiful beige boots, decorated with butterflies.
âHe ordered toned down models, so she could wear them to work,â Reverend said. Janet Broderick, former rector of Saint-Pierre, chosen by Spong to deliver his eulogy.
Broderick praised his friend and mentor for empowering women, pushing them “to stand up and speak, be courageous.”
Spong was devoted to his wife Christine and was a great teacher, who listened and learned, Broderick said. He once called a dinner party a flop, she recalls, because “no one talked about anything that made sense.”
In his “beautiful singing voice,” Spong also delivered brilliant lines, Broderick said. Laughter spread across the stone walls of St. Peter’s as she recounted “that beautiful way he said, ‘Well, Janet, that’s a good question. But you are a complete fool to ask! ‘â
But Spong’s enduring message, she said, was that humiliation, humiliation and discrimination are human inventions.
âIt’s not what God created. And that’s what Jack went through to say: Never confuse the decisions people made with what God created. And what God created, which is you and me, is wonderful.
Choosing Spong for the other morning eulogy was a man who disagreed with him. Lawyer Michael rehill grew up in an Irish Catholic family. Spong knew that Rehill’s respect for the office of bishop would make him a trustworthy chancellor for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.
Rehill described Spong as “the most moral man I have ever met” and compared him to John the Baptist, the voice of Christianity in the wilderness.
Puzzled, Rehill said his mother-in-law came to him in a panic after hearing Spong speak. Newly widowed, she had just converted to the episcopal faith.
âI think I made a terrible mistake,â she said. “I didn’t believe anything he said.”
âIt’s all right, Ruth. Me neither, âRehill reassured her.
While visiting his home in Ireland years ago, Rehill was introduced to a Catholic priest. The priest’s eyes lit up when he learned that Rehill was working for Spong. All the priests in the local rectory loved Spong’s books! Each man read a chapter, and after supper, these priests took turns defending their faith against Spong’s challenges.
Delighted with the news, Spong sent Rehill away with a suitcase full of his autographed books, encouraging them to seek their own truth.
âIn my opinion, he defended the faith better by challenging the faith of these priestsâ¦ just as he repeatedly challenged us all as a defender of the faith,â said Rehill.
Like Broderick, Rehill was charmed by Spong’s humor.
One afternoon in New York City, after strategizing how to defuse an attempt to censor Spong for ordering an openly gay man, Rehill, Spong and another bishop took their wives to dinner. At the restaurant, two young women noticed the purple shirts and collars of the clerics and asked if they were bishops. Yes, the bishops have confessed.
âThe women then turned to Patti, Christine and Jan and asked them if they were nuns. Bishop Spong laughed and winked back, âGod, I hope not! “
Friday’s funeral celebrated a life of research founded on the belief that faith is written in hearts, not carved in stone. Spong’s legacy will be carried by people such as Bonnie Perry and Cynthia Black and Erik Soldwedel.
A deacon to Paterson who made the mid-life decision to enter the ministry, Soldwedel said Jack Spong was generous with his encouragement and time, inspiring him on his journey.
âHe demystified the church for the people. It gives me the impression that we don’t need these buildings. It must be here, Soldwedel said, holding out his heart.
âAnd that’s what he preached. This is what we are supposed to do. And we do our best. “