Turbulent bishop’ too hot for parish

Published June 1, 2000

A tentative invitation to Bishop John Spong to speak at an Anglican parish in Ontario was withdrawn.

John Shelby Spong, who has been described as a “turbulent bishop,” recently visited Canada in connection with the publication of his autobiography, Here I Stand.

The description comes from author Peter Gomes and appears on the back cover of Bishop Spong’s book (reviewed in the Journal’s March issue). Few would argue with that assessment, since Bishop Spong has attracted passionate allies and vehement opponents with his strong stands for the inclusion of women and homosexuals within the clergy and against biblical fundamentalism.

Bishop Spong, who was brought up in the American South and recently retired as bishop of Newark (N.J.) for a teaching position at Harvard, was guest of honour at a reception at the Anglican Book Centre in Toronto and featured in the Globe and Mail.

Ironically, he spoke at two United churches in southern Ontario, while a tentative invitation from an Anglican church was withdrawn because some parishioners felt Bishop Spong was too controversial.

He spoke about his book at Trinity United Church in Grimsby, Ont., and preached at the Palm Sunday service at Heritage United Church in Brantford, Ont. However, Rev. Gordon Kinkley of St. John’s Anglican parish in St. Catharines, Ont., decided not to engage Bishop Spong.

“There was some concern about whether we’d have the funding for it and some concern about the theology,” Mr. Kinkley said. Bishop Spong has re-interpreted several of Christianity’s bedrock beliefs, such as the virgin birth and the resurrection, in ways that seem radical to many conservatives and attractive to many liberals.

While Mr. Kinkley said he finds Bishop Spong’s work stimulating, he heard objections from some parishioners and feared his appearance “might be more threatening than they feel comfortable with.” There were also some people, he said, “who were disappointed and urged me to proceed anyway.”


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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