Spong during his time as Rector of St. Paulís Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, October 1973.
Spong, ca. 1978.
The Papers of the Right Reverend John Shelby Spong, active author and retired Bishop of Newark, have been donated to The Archives of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Spong, who has been one of the most controversial figures in his own Church, is a popular theologian who has reached wide audiences of Christians seeking new ways of understanding faith in a highly secularized society. The collection, which spans the years 1955-2002, is a large and nearly complete archive, stretching back to his years at St. Paul's Church in Richmond (1969-1976), his involvement in public and community life, and his leadership in the Episcopal Church. While he has often been criticized for his forthright dissent from institutional norms and doctrinal rigidity, Bishop Spong has rallied the attention of young and old in his attempt to speak for a Church engaged in taking on the complexities of the modern world.
Spong is the most published member of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. He is the author of eighteen books, including Why Christianity Must Change or Die; Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love & Equality; Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes; Resurrection: Myth or Reality?; Born of a Woman; Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism; Living in Sin?; and This Hebrew Lord. His published articles now number in excess of one hundred. He offers his readers a straight-forward prose and a willingness to probe on both the mysteries and the mystique of theology and doctrine. His voice on behalf of a liberal Church, while controversial to some traditionalists, never strayed from the purpose of searching for a unifying faith that is a fundamental characteristic of historical Anglicanism.
Spong's intellectual and moral perspective is rooted not only in his experience but in contact with progressive theology, particularly the Jesus Seminar, and from currents in evolutionary theory. His own thinking has been sharpened from encounters with those who have been marginalized from full participation in the community, and he has addressed those issues in terms of the institution he knows best - the Church. The papers document the young priest's emerging consciousness of a white Southerner in search of an adequate response to a history of racism and the Church's complicity in the denial of civil rights. While Bishop of Newark, Spong was the leading spokesperson for what he saw as the right to full recognition and privilege of Christian baptism for gays and lesbian members of the Church.
The Spong Papers consist of just over 50 cubic feet of manuscripts, correspondence, lectures, addresses, printed material, sermons, photographic materials, and scrapbooks. The collection has already received a first level processing to establish the arrangement pattern and to describe the papers with a preliminary inventory. The bulk of the archive captures the work and activities of Bishop Spong during the period of his Episcopate (1976-2000), including substantial documentation on his many public appearances, civic and ECUSA memberships, and active publishing career. An extensive series of sermons gives evidence of his evolving theological and social consciousness while serving as rector of St. Paul's Church in Richmond.
Bishop Spong's papers arrived at the Archives as two separate accessions, one in 2000 at the time of his retirement as diocesan, and a 2002 transfer of assorted memorabilia, writings, and accolades gathered in 37 scrapbooks. By the end of 2002, the Archives staff had completed preservation work to recover original materials from the scrapbooks and transfer clippings to non-acidic paper.
While the collection is now organized and in good condition, a complete finding aid awaits the final transfer of Bishop Spong's papers to the Archives. This first level of control opens the collection to research access upon application.