My father died in 1972. I write and edit at the College of Preachers at Mt. St. Alban in the spring of 1993. Too long a time has passed since his death. Polly, his parishioner and friend and my wife and colleague for 49 years now, and I collected materials at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, where the Episcopal Church Archives are located, and at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Cal., two years after his death.
My mother, Dorothy Ibbotson Spofford, was sick with cancer when Dad died. While Polly looked after her, I cleaned out the office and print shop on River Road in Tunkhannock, in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. Infinite numbers of files, papers, old sermons, ancient magazines, letters and faded photographs, together with innumerable empty bottles of the cheapest bourbon whiskey, were discovered. All but the last were put in boxes and have traveled with the Spoffords for the past twenty-plus years. The multiple trash bags of bottles were taken to the Tunkhannock dump.
Dad was a parish priest, a social activist, a most competent investigative reporter and editor, a writer of friendly or angry notes to varied persons of renown and many of what he would call the proletariat, and, of course, all of this meant that he wrote much. And there it was….
And, in some sense, here it is. Among the materials was his proposed book, some of which appeared in THE WITNESS. It deserves to be shared, not because of him necessarily, but because, in many ways, he was in a unique place and role to observe, comment upon and lead some of the social actions concerns and forces of both the church and secular communities for his active decades.
Also, now, it seems that younger church members seem to think there was Francis of Assisi, passionate about the poor and God’s creation ….and, then, the “March on Selma” and , later, “The Vietnam Spring”. Dad was no St. Francis by a long shot, nor a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But he was a great observer and commentator and he believed that when people were hungry, they should get bread, and when they were hurting, they should have healing. And, also, when they were sad and sorrowful, they should know joy and laughter.
Walter de la Mare wrote an epitaph for G.K.Chesterton following his death. It fits W.B.S. Sr.:
“Knight of the Holy Ghost, He goes his way,
Wisdom, his motley, Truth, his loving jest,
The mills of Satan keep his lance in play,
Pity and Innocence his heart at rest.”
With any sort of discipline, we should let Dad speak for himself. But I, too, have been an editor and a parish priest and a lesser social activist, as well a journalist. My issues have been in areas of decaying communities, whether urban or rural or in-between, and I probably l have written too much. I will trust friend to edit competently so that readers might get some ‘new wine’ out of what which may seem like “old skins”.
William B. Spofford Jr.