Church consecrated V. Gene Robinson as bishop in a heartfelt
ceremony Sunday, making him the first openly gay man to rise
to that rank in any of the world's major Christian bodies.
But while pageantry mixed with exultation in the ritual
elevating Robinson to bishop of New Hampshire, it seems
unlikely the church will hold together in its aftermath.
Minutes after Robinson was consecrated, Archbishop of
Canterbury Rowan Williams--spiritual leader of the worldwide
Anglican Communion--said the divisions caused by Robinson's
elevation "are a matter of deep regret." And protests from
conservatives, already moving toward a break with the
Episcopal Church, marked the consecration ceremony.
At the climax of the precedent-setting three-hour
ritual, held at the Whittemore Center sports arena at the
University of New Hampshire in Durham, some 45 bishops laid
hands on Robinson, and the head of the Episcopal Church,
presiding bishop Frank Griswold, recited an age-old prayer
that began, "Father, make Gene a bishop in your church."
The congregation of 4,000 then greeted the new bishop
with a three-minute standing ovation. Robinson nodded and
brushed away a tear. He then spoke informally, his voice
breaking twice with emotion. Robinson said his new position
in the hierarchy symbolizes that the church is reaching out
to "people who find themselves at the margins," just as
Jesus reached out. Robinson also reached out to disgruntled
conservatives. "They must know if they must leave, they will
always be welcomed back," Robinson said to cheers.
But the growing split was evident in Williams's
remarks. In a statement from London, he said, "The divisions
that are arising are a matter of deep regret; they will be
all too visible in the fact that it will not be possible for
Gene Robinson's ministry as a bishop to be accepted in every
province in the communion.
"It is clear that those who have consecrated Gene
Robinson have acted in good faith.... But the effects of
this upon the ministry and witness of the overwhelming
majority of Anglicans, particularly in the non-Western
world, have to be confronted with honesty."
At Robinson's ceremony, assistant bishop David Bena
of Albany, N.Y., spoke for 38 opposing bishops in the
Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. He said
his group and most bishops in the international Anglican
Communion will not recognize Robinson as a fellow bishop.
Indeed, the world's Anglican leaders affirmed their
opposition to same-sex relations at an emergency meeting in
London last month.
Reading from a statement, Bena said Robinson's
"'chosen lifestyle' is incompatible with Scripture and the
teaching of this church." Bena spoke after Griswold asked if
there was "any reason why we should not proceed," a
traditional part of Episcopal consecration services.
The Reverend Earle Fox from the Pittsburgh diocese
also objected. But when he began citing specifics of
same-sex behavior, Griswold politely cut him off, saying,
"Please spare us the details and come to the substance." In
all, the objections took about 10 minutes.
Outside the ceremony, police kept more than 200
pro-gay demonstrators about 30 feet away from a couple of
dozen anti-Robinson protesters. Armed officers stood on the
roof of the building. Dissenting Episcopalians, meanwhile,
joined together for a competing communion service at a
nearby church, with more than 100 non-Episcopalians holding
a candlelight vigil in support of them.
The consecration sermon by New Hampshire's retiring
bishop Douglas Theuner was interrupted twice by vigorous
applause as he defended Robinson. Theuner said Robinson
"will stand as a symbol of the unity of the church in a way
none of the rest of us can" because he will "bring into our
fellowship an entire group of Christians hitherto
unacknowledged in the church."
Though there have been gay bishops in the past, all
were closeted when they were elevated to their posts.
Robinson has been open about his 14-year relationship with
his partner throughout the process in which he won election
to the new post. The title conferred on Robinson, a longtime
assistant to Theuner, is "bishop coadjutor," meaning that he
automatically becomes head of the diocese when Theuner
retires March 7.