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Bishop Robinson: I'm retiring

Last modified: 11/7/2010 12:00:00 AM
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson announced yesterday he will retire in 2013, in part because of the death threats and strain he's endured as the first openly gay bishop in the worldwide Anglican Church.

Robinson's election seven years ago has divided the 77-million-member Anglican Communion here and overseas. Robinson wore a bulletproof vest at his consecration in Durham in 2003 because of the threats. The controversy has grown more intense as traditionalists formed rival churches.

"The last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family and you," Robinson, 63, told delegates gathered in Concord yesterday for the New Hampshire diocese's annual convention. He was accompanied by his husband, Mark Andrew, whom he married in New Hampshire in 2008.

Trying not to cry, Robinson went on to say, "You are, and will continue to be, the reason I have not only survived, but thrived during this tumultuous time in the wider church. This is the one place on earth where I am not 'the gay bishop.' " Robinson of Weare made the announcement yesterday at the annual convention, saying he wanted to deliver the news in person and not later, in a letter. Delegates, obviously surprised, responded with a collective gasp and two words: "What?" followed by "No." Several of them reached for tissues during Robinson's 10-minute address.

Deborah King, a member of Union Episcopal Church in Claremont, was one of them. "He just hits home," she said afterward. "He's just a very down-to-earth guy, and I really appreciate that he is our bishop."

Robinson became especially emotional yesterday as he imagined leaving his daily routines of praying for church members, responding to their needs and visiting congregations. "(The next bishop) has no idea what a joy and what a privilege it will be to serve you," he said.

Robinson, ordained at 26, had been working in the Diocese of New Hampshire for 35 years when church members elected him bishop in 2003. Yesterday, people described that election as "electrifying."

Connie Morton-Ewbank, a member the Church of the Transfiguration in Derry, was sitting in front of Robinson that day when then-Bishop Douglas Theuner announced Robinson had won enough votes to become bishop.

"The wind just lifted everyone off their feet," she said. "We were not hung up on (his sexuality.) I voted for him because he was the best candidate and he proclaimed the love of the gospel for everybody."

Nicki Bourne of Grace Episcopal Church in Concord, recalled that day similarly.

She said yesterday that Robinson has shown her and the wider church that living as a Christian means being open and welcoming to all people. "And not just gay people," she said. "It is a constant reminder that we should be inclusive of all people and to show abounding love."

That narrative changed when Robinson's election became a national and international story. When Robinson's candidacy was presented to the national church for a ratification vote, several conservative bishops left the room, denouncing the election of a gay man as bishop.

The American church was clearly divided: 62 bishops voted for him, 43 against him, while two abstained. Since then, Episcopal and Anglican traditionalists overseas formed alliances and created the Anglican Church in North America as a conservative rival to the Episcopal church.

And in 2008, Robinson was not invited to the Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting of the world's Anglican bishops because of pressure from conservative bishops. Instead, Robinson flew privately to England and spoke at local churches while the other Anglican bishops convened.

Upon his election as bishop, Robinson said he wanted to be "the good bishop, not the gay bishop." But in the last seven years, he has worked to be both, tending to his job's duties in the state but also seeking a bigger stage for gay-rights awareness.

He spoke of that yesterday.

"I will continue my work of evangelizing the unchurched and the 'de-churched,' " he said. He cited news reports of three gay teenagers who committed suicide "because religion tells them they are an abomination before God."

"I get to tell them a different story," he said, prompting applause.

The search for a new bishop takes nearly two years in the Episcopal church because candidates face both the state and national elections. Robinson said diocesan leaders will name a search committee in the coming weeks with hopes the group can present candidates for bishop in the spring of 2012.

The national election would take place in January 2013. Robinson intends to work alongside the new bishop for three months to help with the transition.

Robinson will have been bishop nine years by then, an average tenure in the Episcopal church.


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