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The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bishop Pike died Forty Years Ago

Forty years ago, come September, Bishop James A. Pike died in the Judean desert. It happened while The Episcopal Church was in the midst of the Special Convention being held in South Bend, Indiana. At that meeting the House of Bishops would have taken formal notice to certify that Bishop Pike had abandoned "the communion of this Church." By the time he died Bishop Pike had become a confounding presence for everyone liberal and conservative. (photo to right from Wikipedia article on James Pike.)

William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne, in "The Death and Life of Bishop Pike," noted that "The day when Bishop Pike was missing in the Holy Land coincided with a general convention of the Episcopal Church held at Notre Dame University. A newspaperman tells me that he noted no prayer was said at the convention when the report of Pike being lost first reached South Bend. The journalist asked a dignitary -- "Can't you guys even pray for Pike?" "We haven't had a chance to consult about it," was the reply. At the next session, my informant reports, there was a prayer - a "composite" prayer, he called it, mentioning in the same breath Bishop Pike and Ho Chi Minh. As the reporter concluded: "They prayed for all their enemies, all together." (p.435)

When his death was finally confirmed, the House of Bishops unanimously adopted the following resolution,

"Whereas, Many in the Church were and are hurt and bewildered at the seeming inability of our normally inclusive community to accept and understand James Pike in his pilgrimage, so that at the end he felt forced to renounce our brotherhood; now therefore, be it

Resolved, that the House of Bishops give thanks to God for the life and prophetic ministry of James Albert Pike, and recognize the depth of our loss in the dying of this creative and compassionate man." (p.400)

Stringfellow and Towne wrote the definitive story of Bishop Pike published in 1976. By then it was clear that Pike, who had absorbed the wisdom of others and found provocative ways to weave the continuing challenges of faithful living both for himself and for others, had finally moved from being a knowledge machine to a faithful and compassionate "earthen vessel."

Stringfellow and Towne wrote,

"The death to self in Christ was neither doctrinal abstraction or theological jargon for James Pike. He died in such a way before his death in Judea. He died to authority, celebrity, the opinions of others, publicity, status, dependence upon Mama, indulgences in alcohol and tobacco, family and children, marriage and marriages, promiscuity, scholarly ambition, the lawyer's profession, political opportunity, Olympian discourses, forensic agility, controversy, denigration, injustice, religion, the need to justify himself.

By the time Bishop Pike reached the wilderness in Judea, he had died in Christ. What, then, happened there was not so much a death as a birth."

In the past few weeks I have been reading a trilogy of novels by Philip K. Dick, the so called VALIS trilogy - Consisting of VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. The last of these, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is closely based on the life of Bishop Pike and reaches much the same conclusion regarding what really happened to him. Philip Dick writes, (remember Tim is Bishop Pike) "It was Tim who came back out of compassion." "That's right...He sought wisdom, the Holy Wisdom of God.. and when he got there and the Presence entered him, he realized that it was not wisdom that he wanted, but compassion....he already had wisdom but it hadn't done him or anyone else any good." (p. 241, Vintage Book edition)

It turns out that Philip Dick knew Bishop Pike. According to the Wikipedia article on Pike, he officiated at Dick's wedding to Nancy Hackett in 1966, so the wheel goes round and round.

I was put on to this trilogy by Matthew, our son, who I in turn provoked to reading Philip Dick's other novels. He sent me the trilogy in particular because of "The Divine Invasion." a book by Dick that grew from his having a cluster of profoundly psychological and spiritual visions.

So here we are in Episcopal / Anglican land, forty years after Bishop Pike's death and we are still struggling with all the same issues. The struggle to be inclusive continues, the push back with charges of heresy is always there, the pilgrimages we are all on continue.

Bishop Pike at the end believed he had to give up the church in order to keep up the struggle to be authentic to his pilgrimage. His needs for autonomy in his pilgrimage were met by other means. He died still a bishop in the church. (Posted by Mark Harris)

Pike Thoughts and Reflections from Pike’s Friends and Acquaintances:

1. I too knew Bishop Pike from my seminary days and feel more like his journey as I left the active church to continue ministry with no committees to restudy the obvious for three years and then restudy it again and again. And still the struggles are present.

2, In October 2002, a member of the first group I led to Palestine was, Pike's grandson. On the last day, while in Jaffa, just before we

headed to the airport for our flight home, we searched for the tombstone memorial marker of Bishop Pike. No one knew exactly where to go. First we'd been directed to go just above the old town, through a lively schoolyard to an old urban dice. Then we were told to try a cemetery right on the coast, with the sunlit sea crashing behind and below us. The high walls and old rusted metal door, which was locked, kept us out. Finally we found a guy to open for us. The place was poorly maintained and hard to step around and through the tangle of graves and plants but we had a tip to look near a certain tree. There we found it, Pike's marker, both the sight and the sound of the sea reaching us deep in that walled compound set on a hillside near the shore. Michael got on his knees and brushed off the inscription with his hands. We all prayed and gave thanks. Michael piled a few stones, in Middle Eastern fashion, onto

the marker. What a way to end our pilgrimage!

3. As I may have mentioned before, Jim Pike served as my father's curate at St. John's, Washington, in the 1940s. He was my first real hero. Here's what I said about him in the autobiography I am writing (in my leisure moments):


There were also other aspects of church life that I found interesting. Not far from St. John’s, in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, is one of the Episcopal Church’s oldest and most prestigious seminaries. Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) was established in 1823 and among its founders was Francis Scott Key, whose 1814 poem The Defence of Fort McHenry, became the text for the National Anthem of the United States. One of its notable graduates in the 1940s was the Reverend James A. Pike, who became a curate at St. John’s following his ordination in 1944. Pike was an unusual ordinand in that he had been divorced and was a convert to Anglicanism from the Roman Catholic Church. He was also a prominent lawyer who had written a standard work on civil law that was in widespread use. In due course he was to become Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and later, Bishop of California. He was also to become something of a theological pioneer and theologian, so much so that he was accused of heresy! Yet many of the ideas he proposed in his many books seem quite commonplace today, well illustrating the old adage that “Yesterday’s heresy becomes today’s orthodoxy”.

The fact that I had known Jim Pike as a child is a happy irony as it provided me with an early model of what a free-thinking Anglican could be, and I have always been attracted to him, despite some of the perceived foibles of his later years. Although it would be somewhat grandiose to seriously compare myself to him, I can still readily identify with his call for a "demythologized" Church, which was an expression of his view that that traditional Christianity was burdened by what he called "theological baggage". What was needed, he said, was "more belief, fewer beliefs." In my later years I was to embrace similar views, though my own theology was to become far more radical. In a nutshell, I adored this man. I last saw him in New Haven, when he came to preach at Yale.

4. Thanks for sharing! With all due respect to Stringfellow and Towne, the "definitive" biography of Jim Pike has not been written. He was, as they say, "a man of many parts." I loved the guy and have hoped to see before I die a complete biography that includes the many extraordinary events in an amazing life of one of our greatest Episcopal leaders.

5. Bp Pike touched my life deeply too. When I was working on the Guaraldi Mass he was very involved and was invaluable in moving an intractable Cathedral along towards actually having this event. I have been reminded of this lately, as one of the opening events of the Monterey Jazz Festival this year is a documentary on Guaraldi, the Mass and me. I have saved many things from the run up to the event, such as correspondence from Pike, Malcolm Boyd and others. Notes from Mark K. Jones, programs, tickets and lots of photos. The Bishop will be remembered fondly in Monterey.

6. I recall my one up-close-and-personal time with Bp. Pike, I believe on a Saturday evening in the Fall of 1960. The rector of St. James Church…asked me to drive Pike from St. James to a motel near a church in Salinas where Jim would officiate the next morning. I was nervous as all get-out with no idea how I could possibly "converse" with this giant of an intellect for an hour! The good bishop solved my predicament in typical Pikean fashion by doing all the talking, all the smoking, and all the sleeping.... By the time I had moved his suitcase into his motel room, he had opened his briefcase, gotten out some papers, and was already at work on yet another article.

The rector of St. James who, as an Anglo-Catholic -- which in those days mostly meant no involvement in social issues -- didn't particularly like Pike, was dying of cancer. After the rector's death his widow told me that though their circle of clergy friends disagreed with Pike's stands, they deeply appreciated his pastoral care of the clergy, especially if he knew widows were in financial straits. I wonder how many of Pike's Episcopal and other detractors knew of and honored his deep pastoral sensitivities?

From my Memoir:

Bishop James Pike

I worked for Bishop Pike for three years, from 1963-1966 while he was Bishop of California based in San Francisco. He was one of the most famous and controversial clerics in the United States. In the 1950’s Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham and James Pike all had national television programs on religion.

He loved the prominence of being Bishop Pike and the dominance of being a Bishop. He commented on all the important social issues of the fifties and sixties, birth control, abortion, censorship, racism, Israel, Vietnam and sexual freedom. He received a hundred pieces of first class mail every day and he insisted all of them be answered. That was one of my jobs. I handled the issues related letters. I either sent the Bishop’s carefully worded public statements or interpreted them to the individual writer. That was intellectually stimulating and made me face my own values and standards as well. I came out of the closet as a screaming liberal, if not a radical.

Pike encouraged me and the other socially conscious clergy to use the media to preach the gospel as it related to social and political concerns.

He was a homophobe for many years and routed out gay clergy from parishes. He later repented, partly due to my influence, and gathered those clergy whom he had persecuted and restored them to ministry.

He had a great sense of humor. When he sponsored a forum on the anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s death, someone in the audience reminded the Bishop that Sigmund was an atheist. Pike quipped, “Well, he is not now.”

Another time he was preaching at Trinity Church, San Francisco when he was being tried on heresy charges. An electric spark flashed through the church and the lights went out and he responded, “I thought they were going to give me a trial first.”

He was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Though married, he carried on affairs with women in Toronto, Oakland and several in San Francisco. One woman friend of mine told me that she was summoned to the Bishop’s cabin at a conference. He wanted to have sex with her. She gladly submitted saying, “What could I do? I had to obey my Bishop.”

He drank heavily and then in the three years before he resigned as Bishop he attended AA meetings for prominent San Franciscans. He tried marijuana a few times and in fact I had my first puff with him at a party. He smoked cigarettes feverishly. His huge desk was pock marked with burns. He would light up, get called to the phone, put the butt down and light up another, forgetting where he put the first one. Once I was in a massage class with him. Nude massaging his then-wife also nude and lying on the table. He insisted on smoking while massaging. I feared the smell of burning flesh.

He had a great intellect and was deeply interested in Christian origins. He traveled often to Israel talking with Jewish and Christian scholars prying into how Christianity got started and how it emerged from Judaism and the Roman Empire. It was on a junket to Israel that he met his death in 1969. He and his wife were in a car that went off the road in the desert. He stayed in a safe place, under some rocks and trees with shade. While his wife went looking for help, the Bishop must have wandered off and fallen over a cliff to his death.

He was a poor father by his own admission. One of his sons committed suicide. One daughter, frustrated by the Episcopal Church, became a Roman Catholic. He and the children’s mother Esther divorced in 1967.

He loved the liturgy. He expressed his dominance as Bishop by issuing orders about how church services should be run in the Episcopal Church in his Diocese. He introduced the “peace” whereby people in the pews turned and shook hands with the persons nearby. He told the story of the well dressed, gloved and hatted woman in Grace Cathedral. A young man offered to shake her hand, saying, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” She replied, “Oh, not today, thank you.”

Bishop Pike challenged traditional beliefs in the church, like the physical virgin birth and resurrection of the body of Jesus. He thought the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation were outmoded. For this there was an attempt to try him for heresy but that failed in the House of Bishops. He wrote many books, gave lectures all over the United States and was the darling of the media.

He could be very personal and caring.

One time the Bishop borrowed several cigarettes from my wife Lillian saying he would pay her back. “Oh yeah,” we thought. Sure enough, a few days later a carton of cigarettes came to her by mail from Pike.

Another time while I was his assistant he jumped up and said, “Drive me to Palo Alto.” He was silent most of the way and we pulled up to a motel. He was inside a bout a half hour, got in my car and we drove back to San Francisco. One of the clergy was drunk, suicidal and holed up in the motel. The busy Bishop was not too busy to call on a sick cleric in need of pastoral care.

Pike was a great influence on my life. He was a fine, troubled, flawed human being. He had a great intellect, sharp wit and deep compassion for people. I miss him still and wish our Bishops today had his moral zeal and public stature.


Anonymous Kelso said...

Without question the single worst bishop in the history of the American church.

Take Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen - a real bishop - sturdy as an oak for the faithful. Compare him to Bishop Pike. They are polar opposites. The best bishop in America versus the worst.

But don't worry Bishop Pike - the Episcopal Church is on its last legs. When we destroyed the BCP in 1979 I could imagine you smiling as we became a bunch of Holy Rollers.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous retrospaghetti said...

Thanks for this memoir: Pike's mutability and fallibilities made him more human than the rigid pious clerics and evangelists of his time, that sanctioned the napalming of children in the name of the American God and exclusion of the marginalized with whom Christ would most identify.

During this era blacks still had to sit in the back of the churches, at least in New Orlean, as my Catholic mother-in-law related to me.

No talk of this from people who had the massive media exposure of Sheen and Graham. No talk of American military mass killings of the innocent, other than praise, from these guys who played their roles for the power structure.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Diane Kennedy Pike said...

Thanks for these reminders of Jim's life and your association with him. Your account of how he died in Israel is reductionist to a fault. Our car didn't "go off the road." He didn't stay in a safe place, sitting in the shade, and wait for me to go for help, nor did he "wander off." The story of how he died is told in depth and detail in my book "Search," now available again in a new edition by Wipf & Stock Publishers 2007.
Diane Kennedy Pike

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today this man is about as famous as Herbert Hoover and his church is nearly 50% smaller than when he died. He and his church preached "diversity" but they're still only about 5% non-white and non middle/upper middle class. A church for the poor, not of them: NPR at prayer.
What a waste of time, effort and money.

6:28 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I KNEW Bishop Pike, when he was Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

In my humble opinion, he was one o the GREATEST men, ever in US church History.

He was dedicated to his mission, and asked questions from a profound and honest heart.

AS Christ said, let he without sin...

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this the "Bishop Pike" mentioned in HSR's song "Andy Fell"?

4:41 PM  

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