Man of prayer and pilgrimage Bishop Eric Pike remembered for compassion, Celtic Christianity

Frankie Simpson editor of iindaba, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Port Elizabeth, and the Rev Canon Robert Penrith pay tribute to former Bishop of Port Elizabeth Eric Pike who died on June 17 at the age of 84

Frankie Simpson writes: How does one write about a saint – for that is what Bishop Eric Pike was/is.

After a long battle with leukaemia which left his immune system very compromised Bishop Eric passed away at home last Thursday. He is mourned by his wife Joyce, their children and the members of the Anglican Diocese of Port Elizabeth and the many people he walked alongside in his wonderful, loving and quiet ministry.

Frankie Simpson

Bishop Eric was a man of deep prayer and he combined this with his love of walking and hiking. When he had decisions to make he would go for a walk and speak to the Lord. He and (his wife) Joyce walked the great Camino de Santiago (±800km) as pilgrims on two occasions and Eric felt called to write of this experience in his book, Who do you say I am? – a personal response to Jesus’ question. The book is essentially an autobiography in which he poses a question at each milestone in his life and of the Camino he said it was: “One of the most amazing experiences of our lives.”

After the Lambeth Conference in 1998 they walked St Cuthbert’s Way between Melrose in the Scottish Borders and Lindisfarne of the coast of Northumberland which is approximately a distance of 100km. They later took a group of people who were also interested in Celtic spirituality on this trail.

Bishop Eric grew up on a mission farm in the Transkei and spoke isiXhosa fluently and he knew the amaXhosa customs which helped him in his ministry. He was very involved in the struggle against apartheid while ministering in the Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown and carried on the struggle for justice for the poor when he became the Bishop of Port Elizabeth in 1993.

He showed this heart for the poor and social outcasts by doing three major prayer walks:

 – the first, a “pilgrimage of Prayer, Presence and Protest’, in April 1999, was from a farm in Addo where Matt and Wanda Lawrie had been murdered. This walk took him from Addo, through the townships along the way, and through Port Elizabeth, to below the Van Staden’s bridge where he prayed against the forces of darkness that were causing many to jump from the bridge, committing suicide.

– then he donned sackcloth on August 26 1999 and walked from St Barnabas Church in Sydenham to the Law Courts to hand over to the Chief Magistrate a personal statement against rape. He was accompanied by members of the Mothers’ Union Christian Family Life and many other women holding placards reading ‘Real men do not rape’, ‘No leniency and no bail for rapists’ and others of the same ilk.

– and in 2019 he led the Transformation Christian Network Nehemiah Prayer Walk of 200km through all the Wards in the Nelson Mandela Metropole.

This final walk did take a toll on his health because he had battled cancer, having had chemotherapy which left his immune system compromised. He had also had pneumonia but he felt the Lord was saying he must do the walk. He was truly a man who “walked the walk”. 

As I worked with Eric through editing the iindaba I always felt uplifted as he would often send postcards of encouragement or call me into his office to discuss my work and pray with me, with words of thanksgiving, support and reassurance.  

Bishop Eric was installed as the Bishop of Port Elizabeth in 1993 and retired in 2001. He was loved by the vast number of Anglicans in the diocese which spreads along the coast from the Tsitsikamma to Kenton-on-Sea and as far north as the Gariep Dam.

But he was also involved ecumenically and had a very good relationship with the leaders of many other denominations – encouraging his flock to reach out and work alongside all Christians.

He will be missed by so many. 

Robert Penrith writes: Although Bishop Eric has been a mentor and shepherd to me and the people of the Diocese of Port Elizabeth and the Nelson Mandela Metropole I write to share a particular aspect of his ministry and faith journey. In about 1998 Bishop Eric first introduced me to the uncomplicated and biblically-based theology of the ancient Celtic Saints of the 6th to the 9th Centuries and his passion and deep understanding of the simplicity, purity and obedience of the men and women whom we have come to label as the Christian Celts of the times was incredibly refreshing and challenging. 

Robbie Penrith

What do I mean by “refreshing and challenge, uncomplicated and pure”? Well, that’s the thing – simply look at the life and ministry of Eric Pike to know what it means to express a spirituality and lifestyle that is akin to the example of Jesus. A man who loved the Holy Scriptures and treasured his quiet times and wanderings along the way with the Lord. To love creation and the world around him – its peoples and the pounding waves and gentle streams was natural for Eric who saw God’s hand in all of creation. The Almighty God, the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the one who was incarnate among us to bring redemption and hope to all the world has invited us to journey through this world as examples and a light to the world. Eric was that in my life. 

Eric was the Founding Guardian of the local, Mzansi Community of Aidan and Hilda, who are partners with the UK Community of Aidan and Hilda based on Holy Island, Lindisfarne. Our locally-dispersed community have been meeting annually at Carmel Guest Farm in George for over 20 years, and we have grown to well over 60 members. We meet together each Thursday evening for evening prayer over Zoom and will miss Eric’s presence and oversight enormously. We give thanks to God that Joyce, Eric’s wife, shared Eric’s example and love and her presence will bring great comfort in the years to come. 

Eric was also my closest of friends and we used to have some set appointments that we cherished. Until Covid prevented us, we had a standard appointment at a local coffee shop where I am now recognised – not as Robert Penrith – but as “Eric’s friend” by the staff there. Eric would never fail to stop at the door and talk to the staff using fluent isiXhosa in greeting. He would greet by name and never ever leave without a thank you. It was how he treated every single one of us – respecting the “Image of God” within each of us.

I bring tribute and gratitude to our beloved Eric on behalf of the brothers and sisters, Explorers and Voyagers of the Community here in Southern Africa. Members from Cape Town, Plettenberg Bay, Gqeberha, Kenton-on-Sea and beyond, who mourn the passing of Eric, but celebrate with joyful hearts the promise of the resurrection which was his hope and expectation. 

Even in his last moments he prayed to be with the Father, indicating to us that he wanted to go home – to that place (John 14:1f) prepared for him, and for us, through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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One Comment

  1. Your Article about the life and ministry of Bishop Eric is very beautiful – thank you. As editor of the Aidan Way, the quarterly magazine of the U. K. Community of Aidan & Hilda I wonder if you would kindly allow us to reprint your article in our next edition…? We would of course attribute the content appropriately. Yours in Christ, Rev Graham Booth, editor.