More than 30 years ago, my father, Rt. Rev. William B. Spofford Jr. (“Bill Jr.”) began to edit the papers that my grandfather, Rev. William B. Spofford (“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 combing of old files and archives, Dad, to his great regret, wasn’t able to complete the project honoring and memorializing his Old Man.1
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 said 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. (Pilgrim in Transition, Dad’s memoir of the year he and Mom spent at St. George’s College in East Jerusalem is on my companion site, https://timspofford.com,)
I am publishing the BMG manuscript here under its original title (changed from singular to plural to reflect and honor both of the authors). Grandpa Bill died in 1972; Dad in 2013. When the text causes confusion, I’ve done the best I can to sort it out, keeping in mind that neither of them were available to help. The files from which the text is taken have very few clues of the intended sequence or even, in the case of Bill Jr’s comments, when they were added to the manuscript, but when he writes about “now,” he is speaking from the perspective of, roughly, 1975-1985. I’ve used what clues there are to order the text as best I can, and have published them in more or less chronological order.
Much if not all of the source material is available at the Archives of the Episcopal Church in the archival collections of both men and of The Witness.
Despite a lot of research, correspondence, and dust raised by combing old files and archives, the project was never completed. It was largely dormant since 1984 or so when I copied Dad’s manuscript, in triplicate, to 3-1/2″ floppies and consigned them to a desk drawer where they remained until a few years ago, when I found them again.
After hunting down a floppy disk drive, I tried to retrieve the files. One disk after another, and one computer after another, produced, “Disk in Drive A: has not been formatted. Format now? Y/N” Nevertheless, eventually I was able to find, on my own hard drive as well as on Dad’s Mac, the 50 or so files that made up his unfinished manuscript.
Please note that the use of “history” in the sub-title is in its casual and colloquial sense. I am not a historian and I haven’t gone back to the primary source material in the Church archives; I’m 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.
I have done some very light editing but I also am not a professional editor. I’ve been working on this for 10 years, with several long breaks, and in some senses it’s been under production for 70. It has gone from early Mac to PC and back to later Mac, and has had at least five different file formats. Inevitably, editorial conventions for the work have morphed during that process. If the presentation of a piece from 1925 is notably different in form from a piece from 1993, assign responsibility to me but don’t ask for conciliation.
Finally, Dad’s writing — word choices, punctuation, conventions — was idiosyncratic, at times even weird. Among other things, he had a fondness for using “….” to indicate almost any kind of pause or connector. He often used abbreviations that I think were known only among the church episcopacy. I’ve seen the same misspellings over and over again. This probably wasn’t ignorance but a typist’s mind-muscle memory at work. 2 I’ve corrected most of these; I surely missed some. There are a few places where I have no idea what he intended to write. I’ve left those as they were; we can be confused together.
- In 1990 or thereabouts, while he was still trying to complete it and struggling, I beseeched him to get it done so as not to leave it to me, as Grandpa Bill had left it to him.
- As a civil rights lawyer, one of my most-used 4-syllable words was “significant” but I invariably wrote it without the second “i”. Mind-muscle memory.