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About Blind Men Groping
More than 30 years ago, my father (Bill Jr.) began to edit the papers that my grandfather, Bill Sr., had assembled before his death as a planned autobiography with the title “Blind Man Groping.” Dad’s manuscript consisted of Grandpa Bill’s articles, letters and other writings, together with Dad’s introductory or contextualizing commentaries. Despite a lot of research, correspondence, and dust raised by combing old files and archives, Dad, to his great regret, wasn’t able to complete the project honoring and memorializing his Old Man.
It bears saying here that both men were regarded as giants by many of their contemporaries. For the last half of his life, my grandfather, Bill Spofford Sr., was general manager, managing editor, reporter and printer of The Witness, for 90 years the weekly progressive voice of the Episcopal Church in America. As it says on The Witness’ web site:
Social criticism has a long and honored tradition as an expression of Christian faith. The biblical prophets measured the performance of society by the word of God; injustice and oppression had no sterner critic than Jesus himself. The Witness, a voice of Christian social conscience, draws its inspiration from these early witnessings for an earthly kingdom of justice, peace and freedom for all people.
The Witness is the descendant of a fiery religious publication which played a crucial role in the life of the Episcopal Church for half a century following World War I, reminding its readers of their biblical heritage and social responsibilities. From 1919 to 1972, The Witness was the ministry of Bill Spofford, an Episcopal priest who wrote the news, set the type, and preached at the church in tones that sometimes thundered, sometimes cajoled. Some of his critiques on the evils of capitalism are as relevant now as when they were first written.
Much, even most, of Grandpa Bill’s writings in Blind Men Groping originally appeared in The Witness. Upon the closing of The Witness’ web version in 2006, three years after the print version ceased publication, its last sentence summed up the magazine’s philosophy from the very first: “The dream of justice for all will never die.”
My father, Bill Spofford Jr., was elected a Bishop of the Episcopal Church in 1969 and in that capacity, as well as earlier in his ministry, in his casual and humorous way, he preached, cajoled, and encouraged the church and its representatives to act the Gospel and to lead the way to justice for all, including those whom others sought to diminish because of their skin color, sex, nationality, poverty, orientation, or other differences. Although his like-minded contemporaries are all gone, his students and others influenced by his message can be found throughout the ranks of the episcopacy as well as in the membership of his former congregations. (More of Dad’s writings can be found on my companion site, http://timspofford.com, in his collection, Pilgrim In Transition.)
I am publishing the manuscript here under its original title (changed only from singular to plural to include and honor both of the authors). The files from which the text is taken have very few clues of the intended sequence. I’ve used what clues there are to order the text as best I can, and will be publish them in more or less chronological order, with updates as time permits.
As of Spring 2015, approximately one-third of the complete manuscript is available on this site. Here is a table of contents of the materials published so far; they are in approximately chronological order:
- Prologue: When you are old and gray and full of sleep
- Beginnings (cont’d)
- Bill Sr’s original Introduction
- The Church League
- Interlude: An Explanation of Time, of Place, of Thanks
- 1920: Berkeley Divinity School Accused
- The Church League
- The Paterson Silk Strike
- Background: Chicago
- Temporary interruption
- THE FELLOWSHIP FOR A CHRISTIAN SOCIAL ORDER
- St. Paul’s School: Starting Out and Over
- THROW OUT THE LIFE LINE
- Chicago: The Toddling Town
- CLID: Early Interpretations
- The Paterson Silk Strike
- Southern Textile Situation From the Standpoint of an Outside Observer
- Your Servant — The Miner
- Bishop Parsons on CLID
- England, 1931, and Mahatma Gandhi
- God’s Kentucky: What Happens When ‘Religious Sanctions” Go Wrong
- Boston CLID Meeting (1934)
- The 1937 Europe Trip with Sherwood Eddy
- 1941 Conflict Over Leadership
- The Malvern Conference: Ten Foundations of Peace
- An Editor’s Gallery
- A Profile in “The Churchman” (October 1935)
- Martin Niemoller in New York (1938)
- Men Called Samuel, Jesse and Sidney
I am not a historian and I haven’t gone back to the primary source material; I’m just making my father’s work available without suggesting that it’s error free. I’m simply trying to make available to others who may be interested what was passed along to me.
“Bill Sr”: Rev.William B. Spofford, Sr. (April 5, 1892 – October 9, 1972). Episcopal clergyman, editor of The Witness, Christian curmudgeon.
“Bill Jr”: Rt. Rev. William B. Spofford, Jr. (January 28, 1921 – November 5, 2013). His only son. Episcopal clergyman and bishop.
Tim: Tim Spofford (September 22, 1945 – ____). Bill Jr.’s oldest son, Bill Sr’s grandson, Portland resident, and the keeper of this blog.