The consecration of the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop will feature dozens of colorfully robed bishops, communion for 4,000--and a built-in opportunity for dissenters to speak out against the Reverend V. Gene Robinson's elevation. Allowing a moment for objections is standard when Episcopal bishops are consecrated. What's unusual this time is that everyone involved expects a response Sunday when presiding bishop Frank Griswold says, "If any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it now be made known." A national Episcopal spokesman said the presiding bishop--spiritual leader of the 2.3 million-member church--will deal with objectors in a dignified manner. If there are more than a handful, or if the objectors become unruly, they may be asked to register their complaints in another room. "At some point, it becomes a security issue, not a liturgical issue," said spokesman James Solheim.
Conservatives in the Episcopal Church are moving toward a break with the denomination over Robinson's consecration, and the bishop-elect has faced a torrent of objections from Anglican leaders worldwide who believe homosexuality is contrary to Scripture. Robinson has been open about his sexual orientation during the entire election process, from the time he won election to his new post to the denomination's national convention ratifying that vote. If any evidence is presented against Robinson, the ceremony inside the venue, the Whittemore Center sports arena at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, would stop while the bishops considered it, said the Reverend Jan Nunley, Solheim's associate. "If there are any substantive reasons, not just 'We don't like him because he's gay,'...then they probably would take them off to another room. I suspect someone would crack open a hymnal and say, 'Let's sing while we wait."'
Protesters also are expected outside the arena, and the American Anglican Council, a national conservative group opposed to Robinson's elevation, will hold an alternative service at a church about two miles away. As at weddings, the opportunity to object is exercised only rarely. In 1989, when Barbara Harris of Massachusetts was ordained as the first female Episcopal bishop, two people objected, according to Solheim. He was spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts at the time. "The congregation listened to their objections very carefully, and the presiding bishop said, 'Thank you, but we have already dealt with all those issues,' and the ceremony continued," Solheim said. "It was all very Anglican, very dignified," he said.
Objections aside, the ceremony is an elaborate undertaking, said the Reverend Scott Erickson, chaplain at St. Paul School in Concord, who is helping to organize the event. A highlight will be processions into the arena by invited bishops, laypeople, and church officials. The altar will be near the center of a floor built above the ice rink. Robinson, 56, will be presented by his two daughters, his ex-wife, and his partner, Mark Andrew. At the beginning of the ceremony, he will wear a simple white vestment, a symbol of a baptismal garment, said the Reverend David Jones of Concord's St. Paul's Church. He will become bishop after the laying on of hands, when all the bishops present--49 were expected at last count--gather around and touch him, asking God to "pour out upon him the power of your princely Spirit." In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Robinson said,"[The] hands that will be laid on me on November 2--those folks had hands laid on them all the way back to the Apostles themselves. That's an unbroken line all the way back to Peter. That's a pretty overwhelming kind of a thought."