Unable to accept their bishop's homosexuality, some New Hampshire Episcopalians have left their church. To others, Gene Robinson's consecration last year served as a powerful magnet. "It was a very strong symbol to us of the inclusiveness of the Episcopal Church, and that is important to us," said Martha McCabe.
McCabe of Bow, N.H., said she left the Catholic Church over the priest sex-abuse scandal. She and her husband, who was raised a Methodist, had started looking at other denominations for a church their family could attend. Robinson's consecration drew them in, as it did Maria Easton of Hillsboro; Easton had stopped going to the church but returned after Robinson became bishop. Her sister is gay, which made the decision personal. "For me, it was really a reminder of one of the things I like so much about the church: its inclusiveness," she said. "I always loved the fact that women could be leaders in the Episcopal Church."
Church officials say that while they don't have a count, they don't think a large number have joined because of Robinson. "It's a mix," said the Reverend David Jones, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Concord. "Some are old members who have just started attending again. Others have never been to the Episcopal Church or to church at all." Robinson's election and consecration last year as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire caused a stir inside and outside the Anglican community. Religious leaders and churchgoers in several denominations denounced the move and said it would cause the church to split. So far about nine of the country's 107 dioceses and more than 30 congregations have joined the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, a traditionalist group opposed to Robinson's consecration.
Members of the Church of the Redeemer in Rochester cut ties to the diocese and now hold services in the basement of a nearby Baptist church. A small group continues to meet every Sunday at the Church of the Redeemer, and several faces are new. April Pirsig of Dover has been attending services for a month, ever since the majority left. Raised a Lutheran, Pirsig had attended Unitarian churches for years but decided to start attending the Episcopal Church to show support for Robinson. Last week she filled out a card to become a member. Pirsig says the furor over Robinson is a growing pain similar to the outrage over women becoming ministers. "It makes me angry that people would leave the church over something like this," Pirsig said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's the kind of attitude that goes back to the Civil War, when blacks weren't considered real people or women weren't allowed to do certain things."
Years ago her mother was forced to give up her position as a Lutheran pastor when it was discovered she was gay. "To me it doesn't make any sense," said Pirsig. "God loves all his children. I've never seen it written, 'Unless they're bisexual or gay.' "
McCabe said she definitely likes what she's seen of Robinson, saying he is a quintessential spiritual leader: wise and thoughtful, kind, and well-spoken. "I think people's obsession with his homosexuality is so out of proportion it borders on ridiculous," she said.