On September 3, the cathedral is presenting a staged reading of a short play, PIKE, which tells the story of James A. Pike (1913-1969), who served as Bishop of the Diocese of California from 1958 to 1966. While not without controversy, among his many accomplishments were the completion and consecration of Grace Cathedral, ordaining the first woman deacon, and inviting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to preach shortly after the Selma-Montgomery march. Pike was considered as “one of the greatest prophets of all time — perhaps one of the greatest Episcopal ministers of the 20th century.” Learn more about the inspiration behind the event from the playwright Kathleen Kinsolving.
What is a staged reading?
A staged reading is where actors perform a play in front of a seated audience with scripts in hand (very similar to a radio play). There are no props, sets, or costumes; it’s not a fully staged production with a 10-minute intermission. As an audience member, you are invited to savor the playwright’s words through the actors’ performances. PIKE will include a slide show as a visual guideline.
What inspired you to write PIKE?
Several years ago, I was teaching high school seniors Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, which included the line, “I think my father is like the Holy Trinity” – I immediately remembered how Bishop Pike questioned this concept, which was one of the reasons he was a controversial figure. A lightbulb went off over my head: “You need to write a play about him.” Not long after this divine inspiration, I began my research.
Why is Bishop Pike so important?
He was a theologian visionary, very ahead of his time. Bishop Pike wanted to do away with outdated ideals in order to keep the Episcopal church alive. He rejected an honorary doctorate degree from Sewanee University because they didn’t accept African American students. In 1965, he called on his clergy to participate in the Selma-Montgomery march and later invited Dr. King to preach at Grace Cathedral. Bishop Pike also instigated the push for womens’ ordination, giving permission for deaconess Phyllis Edwards to be the first woman to perform the Holy Eucharist. Finally, he honored gay clergy by reinstating these fired priests to their original posts.
Kathleen Kinsolving grew up in the Bay Area during the 1960s, which influenced her to write about Bishop Pike. She also penned her father’s biography, Lester Kinsolving, a worker-priest (and Pike’s legislative assistant) who investigated Jim Jones and the People’s Temple in 1972 for the San Francisco Chronicle. She is an English teacher, poet, film essayist, and screenwriter and is currently writing a play about Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands.