The Reverend Gene Robinson returned to his home church in Concord, N.H., Sunday to the hugs and handshakes of hundreds of parishioners and led the blessing there for the first time since becoming the first openly gay Episcopalian confirmed as a bishop. Dressed in street clothes, he sat in a pew in the middle of the congregation for the morning service at St. Paul's Church. He led the final blessing and afterward drank coffee and talked with parishioners in the church basement. "New Hampshire has never looked so good," said Robinson, who returned Saturday evening from the Episcopalian convention in Minneapolis, where his election as bishop was confirmed.
The service was more crowded than usual for a Sunday in August. "There was a lot more energy than usual too," said church member Robyn Cotton. A few families have left the church because of Robinson's election, but the excitement has been positive, she said. "We're trying to take Gene's lead and be humble," she said. "We feel as though God's blessing is raining down on us."
The Episcopal General Convention on Tuesday confirmed Robinson as bishop-elect of the Diocese of New Hampshire. The group also gave its affirmation to same-sex blessing ceremonies, though it rejected a proposal to establish an official liturgy for such ceremonies. The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.
Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two who has lived with his partner, Mark Andrew, for more than 13 years, had predicted his confirmation would strengthen the church by underscoring its diversity, though some conservative Episcopalian leaders have threatened to break away.
The American Anglican Council, which represents Episcopalian conservatives, said it will seek authorization to create a separate group in North America. "Clearly I've been called to play a role here," Robinson said. "But if anyone leaves the church, it's because they've chosen to, not because they've been asked to or forced to. I don't hold the future of the Anglican Church on my shoulders."
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