Letter from A.L. Byron-Curtiss, secr. Christian Socialist League to WBS, Sr.

1213 Court St.,
Utica NY

                                                                                                May 21, 1955

Rev. and Dear Comrade:

            About forty eight hours ago I posted a respectful but frank letter to Bishop [Edward] Wells (sic) of Missouri, protesting his plans of ultimately placing the late Bishop Tuttle on the calendar of  the American Church.  My reasons given were these…

            The uncanonical, irregular and invalid manner in which old Tuttle persecuted the young Bishop of Utah for taking the Christian religion so seriously as not to believe in war.  I told Bishop Wells very frankly, that though we might canonize Bishop Tuttle and place him on the diptycs of the Church, I was and am positive that it simply would not ‘take’.  That God has a virius against that kind of stuff, no matter how sincere it might be by the promoters.

            It has occured to me that you and Rev. Dr. Shipler might be able to do something to squelch this illadvised move.  It would make our generation look very redicilous (sic) to future generations.  So mull it over and if you think the WITNESS can help any I know you will.  As a matter of news, you very properly gave good space to reporting Missouri’s action. Maybe you might mention in a future issue that you have heard, or understand that protests have been sent in, and why.

            You will know as editor if such is desirable, wise and diplomatic.

            Am getting a great kick reading your ‘A Blind Man Searching’.  The articles must be produced as a book sometime;  though the mere fact that they are in the WITNESS is an evidence, a testimony to an element in the Church which in future history will be referred to probably as ‘A group ahead of its times.’  For such we are;  in all humility I say it.  My dear son who is rather charry of compliments wrote me a while back: ‘Pop, things I heard you sputter and talk about as a child and a youth are only just coming in now, as a part of our lives.’

            I had to ‘snicker’ (good N.E. word, Vida Scudder used often) in reading your current installment.  An onlooker does get a perspective the one cannot have:  e.g. I never thought of that ‘from hand to mouth existence’ I adhered to while struggling to keep the old ‘SOCIAL PREPARATION’ and the League going as you describe it.  But it was just as you say.  Pay off the printers and start another period of struggle, with an awful big gob of faith.

            If you ever land a file of the old ‘SOCIAL PREPARATION’ in a Public Library let me know.  Both Dr. Fletcher and I have been trying to find one.  When i had to give it up and turn our few subscribes over to ‘THE WORLD TOMORROW’ I filed complete copies of the periodical with our State Library in Albany.  Now it somehow has disappeared.  Both Dr. Fleltcher and I looked for it in Albany but in vain.

            Don’t bother to answer the effusions of the Old Man;  an editor is a busy man.  If you can do anything to jar the Ordinary of Missouri I know you will.

A. L. Byron-Curtiss

Bill Jr.  To this point, Bishop Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, who covered much of the Northwest in his early episcopacy, was translated to Missouri and, ultimately, became Presiding Bishop due to seniority. Mr. Byron-Curtiss’ letter of protest to Bp. Welles of Western Missouri probably meant nothing, but Bp. Tuttle is not in the list of ‘honored saints, martyrs and persons’ in the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer.  And Bp. Paul Jones’ inclusion was raised at the Phoenix General Convention and will be reconsidered for the second time at Indianapolis next time.  It is being sponsored by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and allied groups.  One of the ironies of Church history, of course.  And the  next  Book  of  Common  Prayer  will  list  Bp.  Jones  in the  calendar  in  September  as  an  honored  servant  of  Peace  and  Justice!

            Bp. Ed Welles, who was fundamentally conservative in theological orientation, nevertheless was a strong supporter of the ordination of women to all orders of ministry and, when he died in 1992, THE WITNESS ran a laudatory story about his life and ministry.

            I never heard talk about Mr. Byron-Curtiss when i was growing up, since obviously he was a significant leader and witness in the Social Gospel ‘mission’ with the Christian Socialist League.  I have only seen one copy of ‘SOCIAL PREPARATION’ which he edited and it is as real loss if all other copies have disappeared.

The Yankees, Baseball, and Important Stuff

Bill Sr.  (from THE WITNESS, Oct. 20, 1955)

This department perhaps has been overly concerned with serious business. Since I have wasted the best part of a week trying to get that Big Flag for the Yankees, and since people have wrapped bits of black crepe and sent it to me with the comment, ‘too bad’, I’m talking baseball, which is very serious business indeed. After alcohol, it is the Number One escape of frustrated Americans.

I know a lot of fans. Most of them are not pro-anything; they are merely anti-Yankee. They offer two reasons: ‘I’m for the underdog’ and ‘the Yanks have so much dough they can buy anything they want.’ Some of them twist my arm with cracks about how can I, supposed to be for the underdog and against the power of big-money, be for an outfit like the Yanks. The answer to that is that I am not for the underdog but for a world run by professionals who know what they are doing. I am not against big money but against big poverty.

The Yanks evened it up with the sixth game. So a reporter went to the Dodger clubhouse to find how they took the defeat. They were chucking equipment all over the place in anger. When they calmed down to the point where the reporter could get something out of them they came up with: ‘Those lucky Yanks’; ‘If that ball hadn’t hit a pebble and hopped over my shoulder for a hit, I would have had a double play and we’d be out of the inning’; ‘The Yanks dug a gopher hole in the outfield for Snyder to fall into,  if he hadn’t been forced out of the game we’d have pulled it out’.

Another day and the Dodgers win the baseball championship of the world. So the same reporter goes to the Yankees clubhouse to see how they take it. He reported that there wasn’t a bent head, there weren’t any alibis, there weren’t any vituperative utterances. None of the: ‘Those Dodgers were lucky’; instead ‘The Dodgers are a good club, they fight you’; no moans about ‘That [Johnny] Podres had horseshoes’ but ‘He pitched a helluva game. He was fast, cute with change-up and not afraid.’ No talk about the catch by [Sandy] Amoros being lucky but ‘That was one of the great catches of world series history and it ruined us.’

So the reporter came to some conclusions: “If the true mark of champions is measured by how they react to defeat, then Casey Stengel and his Yankees are still champions. Yes, they lost the game, but they won much more in dignity and respect than the score shows.”

Whether this has anything to do with what I have been trying to say in these pieces, I am not sure. Maybe so, for a lot of people have taken a beating in recent years. Some have whimpered, come up with alibis, run away. Others have kept heads up and stayed in the fight; to them the victory eventually belongs.

Moralizing from a World Series maybe is out of place in a Church paper. Anyhow, win or lose, I’m for the Yanks. I like men. I like pros.”

Bill Jr.: There are a lot of stories about Dad and baseball. I learned the true meaning of ‘forgiveness’ at a Yankee Stadium double-header.

Even in these George Steinbrenner days, and when young athletes are more accustomed to watching their portfolios and advertising contracts than they are in being disciplined ball-players, I stick with them. My wife says that if we drive across Iowa, I’ll stop in a county-seat town to watch a 8th-grade girls ball game. My defence is that, at a certain time, in the late 1930’s, it was such a town out of which came ‘Rapid Robert’ Feller and, who knows, maybe this time he would be a Yankee.

Seriously, when it came to style, Dad always appreciated the sports-writers above all.  Heywood Broun, Red Smith, Ernest Hemingway and even Westbrook Pegler were admired for their writing style even if the latter was anathema for his right-wing political and economic views. At least he said what he had to say with economy and clarity of words. If he had been in a secular medium, we can assume that WBS would have fit in with their company. He, at least, could drink with the best of them most of the time.

Guilt by Family Relationships: A Case In Point

Bill Jr.

Americans for Traditional Liberties put out a statement saying: ‘Guilt by association, now extended to guilt by family relationships, was one of the things condemned.’ It is my text for today.

I know a man 1 years ago had a job in the department of commerce under Herbert Hoover. He drummed up business in an Asian country for American business and later was moved to an even better job in Europe. Hoover was at the top of his list of great Americans. Then came Roosevelt, so he was notified that ‘for reasons of economy’ the activities of the Department of Commerce were being curtailed and that his services were no longer required. Economy or not, he knew that a Democratic ward-heeler had been shipped to Europe to take his job.

Not being happy about it, he has spent a good deal of time since campaigning for the Republicans. He did it for Eisenhower and was rewarded with a well paying job. As things are now (Oct. 27, 1955), it had to be determined whether he is a security risk.  It was found that he has a brother 2 a small town, whose FBI file is fairly fat. So into the town come the FBI boys to snoop among the neighbors. The story has a happy ending: the Hoover-Republican brother, as near as these agents could discover at considerable expense, hasn’t seen his non-Republican brother for years and years. So they allowed him to continue to feed out of the Republican trough.

This next piece is titled: ‘How the Government Makes Radicals.” Two young students 3 at a midwestern college fell in love and decided to marry. The boy, a Republican, planned to go into a profession so he not only had to get his college degree but had graduate work to do after that. So the girl quit college and took a job with one of the government agencies. She sat all day punching out checks on one of Mr. Watson’s machines, with a minimum number required, work that hardly involved ‘risk’ to the government.

However this did not prevent her from getting a long letter setting down in great detail a lot of things about her father, her sister 4, her brother’s 5 father-in-law 6, some of it factual and some more of it hogwash. She was informed that she had ten days in which to reply after which it would be decided whether she would have her job or not.

Her reply was simple. She believed her father to be a sincere Christian; her recollections of her sister were vague since she had left home when the young wife under investigation was eight and ‘I remember he as a loving sister, and one whom I admired greatly; I don’t recall ever hearing her express any political views.’ As for her brother’s father-in-law, she only knew him to be a regular church-goer and a successful businessman.

A few days later her boss told her that there were two men in the office to see her. With the eyes of her fellow-workers following her, she went to the office where FBI agents gave her the works for about an hour. Did she still see her father — the inference being that if she didn’t maybe she could keep her $40 a week job. Questions too about her brother’s father-in-law, and her sister who had been dead for ten years. Then: ‘you can go back to work. You will hear from us in due course.”

Pregnancy and a very innocent baby boy provided an answer before the government got around to theirs.

The young husband meanwhile says: ‘I suppose they think my wife sat at one of those machines all day figuring how she could overthrow the government by force and violence.’

Very much the Republican before he shared this experience with his wife, he now rips into his father-in-law for being too conservative.

‘Guilt by family relationship’, in this particular case thanks to governmental procedures, has moved from the sins of the father being visited upon the children to the sins of the children being visited upon the fathers.

My only complaint is that nobody seemed to ask about me…I was identified only through my father-in-law.  Didn’t I ever do anything radical enough to warrant a file with J. Edgar Hoover?

An Editor’s Style

Bill Jr.

WBS Sr., became an editor by luck and by God’s grace. The Witness had been founded basically by Bp. Irvin Peake Johnson and, after a couple of years, the first editor, the Rev. Shutt, died suddenly. Bishop Anderson of Chicago, who had placed Dad in St. George’s Church, let Bp. Johnson know that there was this young priest looking for a job to expand his salary. It might be a good thing to hire him for an interim until the right person was found. At the age of 81, in November of 1972, Dad died, still basically the “interim” editor.

The placement was a case of the right person being in the right place at the right time. No fancy ‘head-hunting’ placement process, which is today’s norm. The two guys met, the bishop fundamentally conservative; the priest radical. Both were
humor and solid in conviction.  As an occasional caddy for both, I knew that neither was a threat to Bobby Jones or Gene Sarazen as golfers. A perfect team!

The Witness, which Dad quickly dubbed ‘the world’s greatest weekly’ (stealing from the motto of the omni-present and conservative Chicago Tribune), was printed in the Clarke Brothers print shop on Cottage Grove Avenue. Frank Clarke was a faithful Roman Catholic and, also, a White Sox fan. They could fight about religion, sports and, if needed, politics and economics. It was the already crowded Clarke house that had taken the mendicant Spoffords in when they first hit Chicago.

I recall being taken down to The Shop by Dad and watching the furious, noisy and overpowering presses grinding out sheets of all sorts of material.  Later, when he built his own plant in Tunkhannock, Pa., he put together one of the best operations in Pennsylvania, only to have computer presses come in, making his dream-machines obsolete.

Dad, by the tutoring of the Clarkes, by insistant questioning, and by trial-and-error, ultimately became’ a printer’s ‘man-of-all-skills,’ knowing how to set type, fire up the ‘pots’, roll the paper, bargain with paper salesman, bind and staple and deliver editions to the post-office at the best time and at the best price possible. He was friends with every postal clerk he ever met, whether in the downtown N.Y.C. sub-station where they discussed the fortunes of the Yankees or in Tunkhannock, where they discussed pot-holes in the state highways between The Shop and the P.O.  And, yet, woe to any clerk or superintendent who didn’t get the ‘World’s Greatest Weekly’ on its way on time.

The point, however, was to get information out. As far as I know, Dad never copyrighted anything in his life.  His conviction was that the purpose of Truth is to be seen, understood and revealed and the reality of Falsehood is to be unmasked, challenged and expunged.  He very seldom paid writers and yet provocative articles poured in, mostly from church folk but, also, he wrote many letters soliciting copy.

Often, as secretary of C.L.I.D., he would solicit articles from friends in the social gospel and human rights and peace communities. He rounded up editorial committees and advisory boards which, at least on their letter-head, over-lapped between his editing and social activist jobs.

At home, we always knew when things were running late at the shop because he might dash home to eat, kiss Mother, pat us on the head or ask about school, and then disappear. When we got home the next morning, he was around and ready to go again.

Most surely, he developed columnists: Irving Peake Johnson as editor-in-chief; Dean Billy Ladd who was writing “Prayer Book Interleaves”; Bp. Edward Lamb Parsons, president of C.L.I.D. and also a liturgist, would weigh in with social commentary; Clinton Kew in the area of theology mental health; Joe Fletcher on social and bio-medical ethics; Massey Shepherd with his “The Living Liturgy” series; Tom Barrett out of Palm Beach, Fla., and C.D.S.P.1 in Berkeley, with his strong satirical “Adventures of Mr. Entwhistle’;  the custodian of the Book of Common Prayer and dean of the National Cathedral, did ‘THE SANCTUARY’ (a brief insert of prayers, spiritual comments and things fitted for parish bulletins; and me as drama and movie critic and general literary factotum

His ‘TALKING IT OVER’ was where the political and economic commentary came through, as well as much of lhis investigative reporting pieces and in which he combined his C.L.I.D. side with his journalistic skills.

He would cover big meetings such as General Conventions in person but had ‘stringers’ in working all the three houses of such affairs. Normally, I would cover the House of Bishops; Bob Curry, head master of Lenox and Shattuck Schools, would do the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies and people like Florence Lichtenberger or Muriel Webb would keep an eye out on the Episcopal Churchwomen.

He delighted in getting scoops. Normally, when a Presiding Bishop was being elected, he would have the front page set-up, complete with pictures and biographies, of the five or so leading prospects. Then I, or another, would phone as quickly as possible and, in short order, presses would roll and The Witness was on the way. (I recall taking the train from Cleveland to Chicago and waiting in the Clarke’s shop for a call and, within an hour or so, getting on the train back to Cleveland so that the edition was on the desk of all bishops and deputies the next morning. Since it was printed on glossy stock then, the bundles were extremely heavy and I arrived with cut hands from the wires that were holding the piles together.

Howard Kurtz, as I write, has just published an article on what is wrong with contemporary newspapers. 3 6. Break the shackles of mindless objectivity; 7. Turn the writers loose; 8. Set the agenda; 9. Make it a picture medium; 10. Satisfy the specialists ; 11. Liberate the Op-Ed page and 12. Connect with the community.

Bill, Sr., did most or all of these from the moment that Bp. Johnson made a deal with him to fill-in as interim. He was still doing it when, due to arteriosclerosis and alcoholic debility, he was editing from memory and by touch and feel, one month before his death.

Of course, he had his critics. Albert T. Mollegan, ethicist at the Virginia Theological Seminary, was on of them. In the BACKFIRE section of the Witness (May 31, 1945)  Dr. ‘Molle’ says he despairs of the Witness editor’s fairness and accuracy. The issue was over the consecration of Bravid Harris as Bp. of Liberia and Dad’s reporting that it was southern bishops who used pressure to prevent the consecration from taking place in the National Cathedral because Mr. Harris was black. The letter was cogent and sharp.

In answering, Dad gives a bit of his editorial and writing philosophy:

“Since I am responsible for the news in this paper I’ll answer personally. I editorialize news frequently and will continue to do so.

“I also check facts insofar as possible. A reporter in checking is frequently told not to reveal the sources of his information, for various reasons, one of which is that it would get people in jams. But I can say, on the highest authority, that pressure and a lot of it was used to prevent the consecration of Bishop Harris from being held in the Washington Cathedral. Also the story was not slanted against Southern Bishops. It was slanted against Jim-Crowism and if there are Southern Bishops who are Jim-Crow in their attitudes that’s for them to worry about, not me.

There is no reporter, or mighty few, able to write ‘pure’ news. To illustrate, I have read the reports of the united Nations Conference, day by day, as they have appeared in about a dozen metropolitan dailies. I will wager that these stories could be read to me, so that I could not identify them by heads or type, and that I could name the paper in which the story appeared and be right 80% of the time since i know the slants of the papers.

Anyhow I haven’t the ability to write ‘pure’ news, nor is that my function in life. I editorialize because I want to. There are those who do not like it; others seem to. So I am not going to worry much about this criticism. I will worry when someone points out to me that the editorializing is off the beam. Up to now, I hope and believe, that it has been on the side of better race relations, more justice in industry, against anti-Semitism, for organic Church unity, for a One-World set-up internationally. When it is slanted in other directions on these and other matters I hope some good friend will take me in hand.

But to return to Mollegen’s letter: the statement made by Bishop Barnwell 4 at his diocesan convention I consider Jim-Crow stuff. I wrote the piece of news deliberately to bring out that fact. Not to have the consecration in Washington–the first Negro to be consecrated in years–was, in my judgment, a great mistake. I slanted my story to bring out that opinion. That pressure was used, and strong pressure, not to have it in Washington is a fact. I so stated. And if to state the fact without presenting supporting evidence is ‘insinuation; then I think a lot of people ought to be happy since a number of the facts are not pretty. Also, I repeat, the story was not slanted against Southern Bishops. It was slanted against Jim-Crowism which I had always supposed Mollegen hated as much as I do.

In his comments on reporting he not only shows a lack of knowledge of that job; he also sounds very much to me like a perfectionist. If so then I certainly want to urge him to take a refresher course with his good friend, Reinie Niebuhr.”

Bill Jr.

Dr. Mollegen, of course, was known in Virginia as one who had taken on one of the most racist congress members in a well-known struggle for interracial equity. He and the editor had, on occasion, had their differences of principles and some actions, centering on theologies of neo-orthodoxy vs. semi-Pelagian ‘Christian activism.’ Through the decades, however, they consistently battled in C.L.I.D. meetings and, speaking from the perspective of 1993, the fights then were more stylish and perhaps creative in resolution. History will tell us, I am sure.

For a ‘labor guy’, Dad was not the easiest employer. Through the years, Ed Mohr, Christopher Morley, Jr., Philip Shutt 5 assorted Antioch college co-op students and I worked with and around Dad. He was sure of what he was doing and wasn’t that sure that any of us had that intensity. Chris Morley perhaps said it in a letter of Nov. 27,1941, just before he went off to join the American Field Service in the Near East (a week or so before Pearl Harbor):

‘….The job, unfortunately, did not at all suit me. Principally, and this was the main reason I left, because it was woefully dull. In the second place, because, while one can gladly drudge for something one feels is really important, I could not, to be frank, muster the essential enthusiasm to carry me through the arid wastes of form-letter typing. Don’t get me wrong: I think THE WITNESS is a very worthy effort, and can become increasingly valuable to the Church. But from my particular angle, it did not seem an adequate justification for the complete devotion which I want to give to whatever job I do.’

Bill Jr. Since Ed Mohr, Chris Morley and I ended up ordained, and Phil Shutt became diocesan historian for Springfield, and since I occasionally meet elderly Antiochians who remember working for Dad In N.Y.C. as dull but involving, it seems that, in one way or another, ‘vocations’ were being discerned and tested.

Except for the last decade and half of his life, Dad was probably the most competent Church journalist going. A lot of secular newspaper folk have said they regretted that his work was ‘wasted’ on the church field.  But what do they know,  asks his son.

Dick Morford and Testifying

Bill Sr. (The Witness – Feb. 24, 1955):

The Rev. Richard Morford is one of the finest Christians I have ever known — so fine in fact that I suspect he will resent having me say so. I know of no better test than the Beatitudes and you would hunt a long time to find a man more concerned for the poor, for those that mourn, whoso hungers and thirsts after righteousness. And if to be a peacemaker and to be persecuted for righteousness sake is to be blessed, then Dick Morford is blessed indeed. He has been reviled and persecuted and had all manner of evil said against him falsely, for Christ’s sake. He may even rejoice and be exceeding glad, though I am sure few of us would under similar circumstances. Not me anyhow.

I knew him first as director of a Presbyterian settlement in Albany. While he was there the social action groups of ten or a dozen Churches formed the United Christian Council for Democracy, a federation of organizations that maintained their independence but united where joint action was possible. Dick was the volunteer secretary, putting in many hours of hard labor, with hardly enough money to pay the postage.

Later it became possible to hire an executive secretary and Dick gave up the settlement work and took the job. The story of his trials and tribulations would be a long one. Foremost perhaps was the task of getting Methodists, Baptists, Unitarians, Evangelical – Reformed, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, to work together. There were also the developing ideological differences –all this right, left, center business which grew like a balloon being inflated for a take-off.  With these troubles, inevitably, came financial worries until it became obvious to some of us that the money could not be found to pay even Dick’s modest salary.

It was at this time that the top executive job for the then popular National Council for American-Soviet Friendship became open. Corliss Lamont, whom I saw each Monday at the meeting of the directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked me if I knew anyone who would fill the spot. I strongly recommended Dick, one, because i knew he would do a swell job and, two, because it offered a way out of the U.C.C.D. difficulty.

He took the job. I am sure he has never regretted having done so. But I have. After all it is not particularly relaxing to have a friend shunted off to jail for standing up to the Committee on Un-American Activities, a thing he was in conscience bound to do because of the job I had recommended him for.

For the past year the National Council has been put through a grilling by the Subversive Activities Control Board –with Dick of course standing the brunt of it. When the time came for the defense to have its say, I asked him if it would help if I appeared as a volunteer witness. The answer was yes, so last July 9th, I was on the stand, under oath, for a day.

The official report of the proceedings I now have. The two government attorneys started with where I was born in New Hampshire and ended the session when I returned to Tunkhannock, Pa., where I now live. About everything that happened between those two events was brought out during the hearings — and quite a lot of stuff that never did happen. They took me through Trinity College; the Berkeley Divinity School; my teaching days at St. Paul’s School; my rectorship of St. George’s, Chicago, and later of Christ Church, Middletown, N.J.; my days as a labor manager in Chicago, my trip to Europe, including Russia, with Sherwood Eddy. The UCCD, the CLID, the Russian War Relief; the Spanish War Relief; THE WITNESS; activities of the General Convention; the American League for Peace and Democracy; speeches I had made, and some I had not made. A total of 128 pages in the record.

I rather enjoyed the day after the first half hour when I sat on the edge of my chair wondering what sort of trick questions would be pulled by a couple of clever lawyers. But, after I got the feeling that I could take care of myself, I enjoyed saying ‘yes’ to questions about past deeds designed to show me up as a bad character. That’s where we are today in the United States. Things that most of us did in our 30s and 40s of which we were proud, and still should be proud, are brought out today to prove that you are subversive.

After it was all over, the attorney for the National Council, David Rein, said to me: ‘Well, there it is, there isn’t any more.’ So I said, ‘There what is?’ And he replied, ‘The F.B.I. file on one Rev. William Benjamin Spofford.’

So after I got home I began mulling over that book I spoke about in a recent number. The book is out…for the reason I have stated…too busy. But I asked myself, and some friends, whether the questions asked at this hearing might not serve as pegs on which to hang a story of Christian Social Action in THE WITNESS.

Anyhow, I’m going to make a start, with the storyteller’s usual preliminary remark, ‘Stop me if you have heard this one.’

It ought to serve at least one useful purpose –reveal something of what the F.B.I. has in your file so that you can be prepared for your ordeal. For you can be sure that the gentlemen in Washington have their file on you –certainly if you have done anything in the past thirty years that could be remotely called Christian Social Action.”

Bill Jr:

I recall Dick Morford well, visiting in the New York offices on both Liberty and Washington Streets. He always carried a well-worn brief-case on which the leather was disappearing. Also, no matter how blustery the winds whirling off the bay there on lower Manhattan, he never had an overcoat. He would show up in the heart of winter, with a wind- blown red face and a drippy nose. But no overcoat!  My guess is that, if he had one, he had given it to someone who needed it worse than he did. I think Dad’s estimate of him in this article is based, not just on friendship and ‘beatitude theology’, but on recognition that, in many ways, Dick was being his ‘surrogate’ in going to trial and to jail. Although he was a Presbyterian, and not a Roman Catholic, he would fit well into the Catholic Worker Movement of Dorothy Day, those persons and groups of ‘grace’ who really judge us all.

Church Publishing: Ins and Outs

 Bill Sr. From The Witness: 9/22/55

Efforts have been made several times to merge Church magazines. One of these was in 1947 when the Episcopal Evangelical Fellowship set up a committee, headed by the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker, which took the initiative in calling a conference to discuss the matter. The Rev. Frederick J. Warnecke, now bishop of Bethlehem 1, was present as editor of the SOUTHERN CHURCHMAN; THE WITNESS was represented by the Rev. Roscoe T. Faust, the editor, and I was there as managing editor. The Rev. Wilbur L. Caswell, who had carried on the CHRONICLE, a monthly, since the death of the Rev. Alec Cummins, was unable to be there but he did send word that his publication was game for anything since it was about to fold in any case.

Bill Jr.: It is interesting that two significant Episcopal publications were not invited: THE LIVING CHURCH, edited by Clifford L. Morehouse, who was to become president of the General Convention’s House of Clerical and Lay Deputies; and THE CHURCHMAN, edited by the Rev. Guy Emery Shipler, which was the oldest Episcopal magazine in continuous publication and close to THE WITNESS in terms of editorial policies. THE LIVING CHURCH, then and generally now, through several editorships, is considered more Anglo-Catholic in orientation and, presumably, was not invited by the E.E.F. group.

Bill Sr.:  Also present was an outspoken gentleman, William Starr Myers of Princeton, N.J., who had a lot to say about the running of the Evangelical Societies of Philadelphia which, it was hoped, would put up some cash. He greeted me with: ‘I have always wanted to meet you since I have been unable to understand how a man can be at once a Christian and a Socialist.’ My answer was that Archbishop Temple managed it, and in this country, Prof. Reinhold Niebuhr, so I thought I was in good company.

When the meeting opened Prof. Myers presented his ideas of what a Church paper should be like. It should concern itself ‘solely with religion’ and should have nothing whatever to say about labor, race, the United Nations or any social questions. THE WITNESS, he said was ‘an ecclesiastical New Republic’, always mixing into things that were not the business of the Church. He further gave his idea of what a Church paper should not be like by branding the CHURCHMAN a ‘Bolshevik paper.’ The Rev. Guy Emery Shipler, the editor of that publication incidentally had the good sense, weeks ahead, to say that he had no interest whatever in the proposed merger. So most of those present agreed on what a Church paper should be like, with Mrs. Henry Hill Pierce, the only lay person there who disagreed with the Princeton professor. She is a very quiet lady but she wasn’t on this occasion.

Next we came to procedure. THE SOUTHERN CHURCHMAN and THE WITNESS were to turn over their assets ‘for the good of the Church’ The Evangelical Societies maybe (no promise) would put up some money to launch an entirely new weekly to be named the EPISCOPALIAN, which would start with the circulations handed over by the two papers going out of business. What was counted on chiefly in the way of money was that I would persuade my fellow trustees of Bishop Paddock’s estate, Bishop Charles Gilbert and the Rev. John Gass, to make a substantial grant. The Episcopal Evangelical Fellowship had no money to aid the venture but they ‘would get behind it’ by promoting circulation. Individuals present, who were to run the show, offering nothing in the way of cash, though several were in positions to do so.

Then who was to have a hand in running the new paper was discussed at length. Several clergymen were suggested as a possible editor, but the selection was left to a later date. The Rev. John K. Shryock, then the director of the Evangelical Societies, stated bluntly that I should not be the managing editor and when Fred Warnecke disagreed, Mr. Samuel Thorne tactfully suggested that ‘it is a matter which can be determined later.”However it seemed to be agrteed that i should have some place in the set-up, chiefly as a reward for past services and for my apparent willingness to attempt to persuade the directors of THE WITNESS to turn over the works. But it wass soon obvious that this would not satisfy Prof. Myers who seemed to be in the drivers seat as far as a grant from the Evangelical Societies went. In any case he wrote Sam Shoemaker makding it clear that he would not go along if i was in the picture. He was reassured by the Calvary rector who wrote Dr. Myers: ‘Many of lus are wholly dissatidsifed with Spfford. We do feel that in the light of his long responsiility for THE WITNESS, and also his very nice spirt about the combining in this one magazine, with another man as editor, that he ought to have a right to a column under his own signature. I should hope that even this might be cut out after a time.’ Another meeting was scheduled for laer. Meanwhile I summed things up after a bit. I was to turn over THE WITNESS, on which I had worked for years, lock, stock and barrel. Then I was to do my best to get a sizeable hung of money from the Paddock trustees, of which I was one. Then after everything was safely in the hands of this new bunch, I was to be allowed to write a column for a awhile, and then be kicked out completely. My ‘very nice spirit’ somehow didn’t hold up. Whether that later meeting was ever held I do not know. I wasn’t there.

Bill Jr.  Church publication is a tough business. THE SOUTHERN CHURCHMAN trransformed into the EPISCOPAL CHURCH NEWS, which folded. The national Church put out THE EPISCOPALIAN, under a good editor, Henry McCorkle, first as a slick-paper magazine and then as a newspaper-type offering. It didn’t do very well in either guise and closed down in a reorganization at headquarters.  Now, EPISCOPAL LIFE tries to do the task, getting its editor from the lively Canadian CHURCHMAN. Somehow, it isn’t very lively and appears as a ‘house organ’ by and large. Of independent publications, THE CHURCHMAN has turned into THE HUMAN QUEST, and doesn’t pretend to be particularly Eiscopal in orientation. Since Dad’s death, THE WITNESS has gone through two reorganizations and is more tied to an ecumenical and issue agenda than it was under Dad, and it doesn’t produce much about the Episcopal Church’s life and witness. THE LIVING CHURCH, alone, stays Episcopal and, as Dad used to say, if you wanted to find out what jobs were opening up or who has died, you read it. Interestingly enough, Berkeley Divinity School, no longer in Middletown, but attached to Yale in New Haven, gave both Dad and Samuel Shoemaker2  honorary degrees on the same day. That must have been interesting,and, surely, both men must have been ‘gentlemanly’ in honor of their seminary’s occasion.

Civil Rights, Elizabeth Frazer and Carl and Anne Braden

Bill Sr in The Witness, October 13, 1955

Quite a few people started reading these pieces1 several weeks after they got under way and have asked where I got the title. It is from this verse by Rabindranath Tagore:

“The desert resounds with Victory of the Brute;
The children look haggard and aged;
They whisper one to another that time revolves but never advances;
That we are goaded to run but have nothing to reach;
That creation is like a BLIND MAN’S GROPING.”

I said at the start that I hoped the title would convey the idea of a large percentage of failure mingled with a little success in this business of giving the Christian religion a try. The other evening I was honored by being asked to speak at a party in Philadelphia given to Elizabeth Frazier, one of the stalwarts in Christian social action. This courageous warrior I first met years ago at one of our Church summer conferences and I soon discovered that the highly respectable organization, the Episcopal Church, has nevertheless somehow or other convinced her that religion means something more than going to Church on Sunday and pledging on both sides of the envelope. Most of what I have written here has been about past events, to which I shall presently return. But I want to take a couple of pieces to say a bit about where, it seems to me, we are right now, which is what i was asked to talk about at Elizabeth’s party.

There are things to be happy about–if we can be happy without thinking that the victory is already won. Some very good people think that. This summer I wrote awfully good people suggesting that they sponsor resolutions–pretty harmless things generally–at the General Convention on civil rights. I tried to get them to say something about the McCarran Act; the Smith Act; the Walter-McCarran Act; about state sedition acts and loyalty oaths. I suggested too that the Convention might say something about Carl and Anne Braden.2 Both are Episcopalians, with Anne having been on the social service committee of the diocese of Kentucky. They had also done something more than talk about desegregation which our Church, along with most others, finally has decided may be a good thing. But I did not succeed in getting anybody to introduce even a blanket resolution on civil liberties, let alone get anyone to touch a specific act.

The reason? Everybody said the same thing: the atmosphere had cleared. McCarthy is off the front page; the President and the Russians were nice to each other at Geneva, where Mr. Eisenhower expressed the hope that there might be a freer exchange of ideas, books and cultural staff between the two countries. This is already happening, they wrote me, and said how nice it is that the Russian farmers were treated well, and that judges, senators and congressmen are now making the Soviet Union their vacation land. Then too we have Senator Hennings now at the task of winning back our liberties and we have the Fund for the Republic with a lot of money doing battle for freedom and democracy. So everything is ok again and there is no sense in being old-fashioned by taking up any of these dead issues. We shall soon know whether there is ground for the good cheer. The Supreme Court will decide soon whether the McCarran Act is constitutional, with the Communist Party appealing against the order of the Subversive Activities Control Board requiring it to register. If a majority finds the Act unconstitutional and throws out the registration order, to quote I.F. Stone; “It will add a mighty push to the tide now carrying this country back toward its traditional freedoms.” It was fine to be able to report in these pages a couple of weeks ago that a lot of people, including quite a few Churchmen, had filed a brief with the Court denouncing the Act; and a week later a similar document was reported here, likewise over the signature of top people. So it may be that people are waking up and that the Court will respond to the demand by outlawing the McCarran Act. if they do it will end a log of nonsense about a lot of organizations, including the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship and the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born of which our own lton (Utah) is president. Incidentally one on the things condemned in that statement by Americans for Traditional Liberties was, not only ‘guilt by association’ but ‘gullt by family relationship’, about which I shall have something to say presently. Concern over the McCarran Act by all these people is all to the good. It is not so good that these Liberals, of which I am one, look the other way when it comes to speaking up for the rights of Communists. Prosecution of people for their opinions alone–whether disguised as ‘conspiracy to advocate’ or facilitated by group convictions under the membership clause–has to go if we are to return to a free society. Liberals know this well enough but we don’t have the courage to act on our convictions.

Right now, everybody seems to agree, there is an increasing disposition on the part of the American people to maintain peace with co-existence. It is ;probably partly because fear of the bomb due to the warnings of top scientists that the choice is co-existence or non-existence. Then too I suspect that American businessmen, always willing to make a dollar, see markets in the East and do not propose to remain idle while other nations grab them. In any case it is hopeful to find the President operating in Geneva on the very premise he cabled a mass meeting of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship just ten years ago: “American Soviet Friendship is one of the cornerstones on which the edifice of peace should be built.” Maybe he and other public servants will soon realize that it is a bit silly to prosecute as ‘subversive’ an organization that has battled for years for the premise he once operated on and has now returned to. International tensions have eased in recent months and we may hope will be still further eased. The ending of the cold war at home ought to go along with it. If the Court throws out the McCarran Act, as many think it will, that will be number one. Then maybe after awhile we will get around to the Smith Act and the Walter-McCarran Act and all those state sedition acts, loyalty oaths and blacklists. Those goaded to run may have something to reach after all. We may be free yet. Who knows?

Bill Jr.   Dad could get mightily exercised about this. He had just gotten through a grilling in Washington and, while he weathered it with his usual aplomb and humor, the residue of suspicion remained and hurt his relationships. Generally, he was consistent on the matter. When Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was dropped from the National Board of the A.C.L.U., Dad, with others, fought that this was a betrayal of principles. Years, later, the A.C.L.U. reinstated Ms. Flynn, posthumously! At the same time, in the late 1930’s, for the American League against War and Fascism, he argued that the liberties of the American Nazi party should be taken away. Where he would have stood on the issues in Skokie, Ill., when that occurred, I could not ascertain. The matter of loyalty oaths is a haunting one. When she was a teacher in the Boise school system, my wife, Polly, refused to sign a ‘Loyalty Oath’, and was mightily attacked, particularly by one talk-show host, day in and day out.

So, too, supposed records about me were passed all around Idaho and we had to defend ourselves.3 My response was basically three-fold: “Yes, I was a member of three international organizations: 1. The Christian Church…Episcopal unit; 2. The Red Cross…Boise board; and 3. A.T.T., in which I owned stocks and they did have overseas investments. I have enough trouble living up to the social values of No. 1 and I really didn’t need other institutions or agencies to give me hoped-for values. Fundamentally, I was an ‘uneasy pacifist’ and always had been…uneasy, because there were often countervailing concerns of justice which might call for violence.’ My Cathedral wardens and chapter, mostly conservative Idaho Republicans and, vocationally, lawyers, engineers, dentists and doctors and business magnets, said ‘hog-wash’ while my bishop, Norman Foote, simply said that he had known me and worked with me for years, and that it was my job as Dean to represent him in areas of social concern in the capital city of Boise. Most of this was traced to the work of the John Birch Society which, of course, never came to talk with us — just tended to send letters that followed the coward’s path — that is, anonymous letters and phone calls. So it goes.  And, probably, most of this started when we had Dean Paul Roberts, my predecessor, for a week’s mission during which we joined other clergy in town and area complaining about a movie on a San Francisco march produced by the House Unamerican Activities Committee and, eventually, because, following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, we marched the Tre Ore worshippers from the Cathedral to the State House steps for the final Word of the Passion, having received threats that we were in danger of being shot. I tended to negate this threat until a close friend said that he knew the person who made it, and that, during W.W. II, he had indeed worked for Bill Donovan’s O.S.S. and knew how to make ‘accidents’ happen so there would be no trail or trace. Like Dad and Reinie Niebuhr making speeches in the North Carolina textile and Kentucky mine areas in the early days, one gets the podium with mixed-feelings.

Transitions in The Witness: 1972 to Present

Bill Jr.:

My mother, Dorothy Ibbotson Spofford, died in Newport News, VA., on Feb. 6, 1973, four months after Dad. She had cancer but, spiritually, it was sort of like, ’Oh, heck, without Bill, it isn’t worth it!’ This meant that I, as a bishop of an inter-mountain diocese with all that entails; my sister, Suzanne, busily being a stepmother and mother; and Marcia’s daughter, Lynn Russell Hickerson, working at the Library of Congress and raising a son, were responsible for the Shop, The Witness and whatever was around. Prior to Dad’s death, and when he was most debilitated, I found a homemade will written to us in 1951. It sort of said that, when he died, everything belonged to mother, and when she died, we should act sensibly and work it out. The will, which ended with his customary ‘cheerio’ and a smiling face and ‘The Old Man’ said that the stocks of the Episcopal Church Publishing Co. were in a box at the Morgan Guaranty Trust on Wall Street. After consulting Davis Hobbs, the family lawyer and friend of the family, I went to that bank, opened the box and, among some papers, found the ten shares of stock of the company.  It seems that, by the time of the death of Bp. Irving Peake Johnson, they had agreed that all the assets of the Episcopal Church Publishing Co. should belong to the managing editor, ‘interim’-type though he still was. Through intelligent management, and New Hampshire thrift, and access to some of the best minds of Wall Street, the assets had accumulated. Dad’s ‘comrade number’ may have attacked the capitalists but he was quite willing to beat them at their own game!

One example of his thrift was when, in 1973, after Dad’s death, Dave Hobbs asked Mom how much Dad gave her a month to run the large house on Dark Hollow Road.  She replied: “Oh, just what he gave me when we moved from Park Ridge to Demarest, $300!” No one could ever accuse Dad of being particularly sensitive to what are now called ‘women’s issues’, at least as it applied to his wife of 57 years. She became an expert at picking out and refinishing good antiques while in Tunkhannock, partially, we suppose, because she didn’t get to have much cash.

How does one sell a print shop that, because of the invention of new equipment and computer presses, was in many ways obsolete?  Even more, how does one close down a magazine that has an implied contract with subscribers and advertisers?  Dad, always being a one-man operation and on very little salary, had made no provision for succession. I phoned the Presiding Bishop, John Hines, claiming that, as such, he had to be my episcopal ‘pastor’. As ever, he was gracious, enthusiastic and open. We asked whether, if I could gather some bishops and others who had long term or significant relationship with THE WITNESS, we could meet someplace in New York and discuss our predicament.

I was committed to being Bishop of Eastern Oregon, and had to work out some ideas and plans so that I could get back to my primary vocation. As a result, Suzy, Polly and I, together with Dave Hobbs, met in Bp. Hines’ office at the National Church Center with the following people:  Bp. Lloyd Gressle (Bethlehem); Bp. J. Brooke Mosley (then dean of Union Theological Seminary, N.Y.C.); Bp. Bob DeWitt (Pennsylvania); Ben Arnold (Suffragan Bishop of Mass., central Urban Caucus person and also representing Bp. John Burgess) and the Rev. Joe Fletcher, professor of ethics at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge and Dad’s longest term friend and colleague, both in the C.L.I.D. and E.L.S.A. but also as a WITNESS columnist. Bp. Paul Moore (New York) was invited, but could not attend.  Bp. Hines acted as convener and host. After presenting the Spofford ‘dilemma’, the discussion was mostly concerned with the state of church journalism, and particularly in the Episcopal Church, and whether, in light of that assessment, the WITNESS should be folded or continued.

Unanimously, it was decided that THE WITNESS, in whatever form, had historically played an important role in the Church and national/world scene and should continue. We pointed out that this could not be done immediately; that I would have to be working it out from Bend, Oregon; and that we knew nothing about transforming or selling a, perhaps, redundant print shop, which had contracts. I said that, in all honor, we would have to let the subscribers know that, at least for a time, THE WITNESS was being ‘suspended’ or, if they wish, we would try to work a reciprocity arrangement with some other church magazine, such as CHRISTIANITY AND CRISIS (suspended with the March 1993 issue, alas!)….or THE CHURCHMAN. By the grace of God and the hard and mysterious work of lawyers and accountants of various moods and kinds, it worked out. THE WITNESS revived, not as a weekly but as a monthly, under the editorship of Bob DeWitt, who soon thereafter retired and enjoyed his new journalistic role. It was during this period that he, and Bp. Tony Ramos (Cost Rica); Dan Corrigan (retired) and others celebrated the ‘irregular’ ordination of female priests in Philadelphia. That, of course, stirred up major issues within our Church, world-wide Anglicanism and, indeed, the ecumenical scene.

I was asked to be on the board of the new WITNESS, but thinking that being bishop of Eastern Oregon was my vocation, I declined. Also, I thought that the Spofford tag ought to be out of the picture, although I am not sure many people believe me to this day. I did recommend a good journalist and educator, Alice Dieter of Boise, to sit in on planning sessions, as the new board looked for a managing editor.  She recommended that they have Sam Day, editor of THE PROGRESSIVE, and one time editor of the INTERMOUNTAIN OBSERVOR in Boise, be their consultant. They did so and, through Sam and others, discovered a Roman Catholic journalist, Mary Lu Suhor, who was excited about the possibilities. Once she learned the lingo, the intricacies, the polities and the personalities of both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, she did a great job, working out of her office in Ambler, Pa. She continued in that role, with a dedicated staff of reporters, largely female, until Bob DeWitt’s retirement to a Maine island, and carried on when Barbara Harris replaced Bob as editor-in-chief. Barbara, of course, was the first woman elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church and THE WITNESS covered her consecration in Boston in a most celebrative and creative manner.

Then Mary Lu had to work with varied chief editors and boards until such time as she retired to Louisiana to take care of her elderly parents. At that point, under the leadership of Dr. William Rankin (new dean of Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, as of 1993), the Ambler office was closed and Jeannette Wylie-Kellerman became both publisher and editor. Under her leadership, the quality of the art and many of the issues discussed and explored are different than in Dad’s decades. So, God and history moves!

When the office and operation was moved from Ambler to Detroit, many old WITNESS buffs felt that it had not been done with sensitivity to the needs of the ‘workers’ (all female) in the Pennsylvania ‘shop’. Letters of justification were sent out, and interpretive phone calls were made, but, I must say, on occasion, I think Dad’s ‘shade’ must wonder whether he isn’t getting replays of Marion, Ky.; Paterson, N.J.; and Passaic, N.J. Church journalism, and particularly when it deals with strong and sensitive social issues, as well as individual and ecclesial concerns, is ever conflictual. THE WITNESS has, from the days of Bps. Johnson and Sage, understood this. So, too, with Dean Billy Ladd in the 1920 Berkeley Divinity School fight, one would hope that any Christian journal would rather die on principle than live on pap. In all of these transitions, (and it isn’t filial admiration alone), and with all the changes and moving from a weekly to a monthly, I get the idea that WBS, Sr. was not only an alcoholic, but a work-aholic! He did skip the first issue of January every year, just to get a vacation…but he ‘justified’ himself by saying that the Church never made any real news during Christmas week, anyway…It was too busy praying. So it was a good time to take in somethng at Madison Square Garden or on Broadway…and see the holiday lights!


As noted several times previously, Grandpa Bill (aka Bill Sr.,) died in 1972.  Dad (aka Bill Jr.) died in 2013.  Both of them considered the project unfinished, so neither had a chance to write an epilogue.

It is safe to say that their offspring, as well as many other Christian and non-Christian folk, were hugely influenced in their values and politics by the two Bills (and in many cases, by their wives).  All of my generation of Spoffords, I think, can accurately be described as Leftist.

The other two protagonists in this volume, the C.L.I.D. and the WITNESS, have been gone for around 70 years and 20 years respectively with, as far as I can tell, very few footprints on the Internet where we have come to expect to find such things.

It may be that none of Blind Men Groping is ever seen by anyone, but that was not my intention anyway.  Rather, I hoped to achieve completion and to make these articles and commentaries available to Google and thence to anyone who wants them for whatever purpose.

There is no doubt that both Bills would be appalled by the election in 2016 of Donald Trump and by his behavior before and after his election.  I have no trouble imagining dinner table conversations, Witness editorials, and sermons from their pulpits, excoriating the man and documenting his violence to America and to Christian principles.  If you have read Blind Man Groping, I am sure you will have no such trouble either.

Tim Spofford
Portland, Oregon
November 30, 2017