Reaction to gay bishop varied

Published December 1, 2003

Last month’s consecration of Canon V. Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor in the diocese of New Hampshire brought swift and varied reactions from Anglican leaders around the world – and dire warnings that the future of the Anglican Communion is in jeopardy. At the same time, it was evident that not everyone was prepared to rush into schism.

Bishop Robinson, who as coadjutor is assistant bishop with right to succession when the diocesan bishop retires, is said to be the Anglican Communion’s first openly gay bishop.

A statement, issued by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria “for and (on) behalf of the working committee for the Primates of the Global South,?’ said that they were “appalled” that the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) “gnored the heartfelt plea of the communion not to proceed with the scheduled consecration” and the “clear and strong warning of its detrimental consequences for the unity of the Communion.”

In a statement released from Lambeth Palace at the end of the consecration, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams 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.”

The statement continued, “The primates’ meeting last month expressed its desire to continue as ‘a communion where what we hold in common is much greater than that which divides us.’ We need now to work very hard to giving new substance to this, and to pray for wisdom, patience and courage as we move forward.”

Meanwhile, Southern Africa ‘s senior Anglican bishop Njongonkulu Ndungane insisted that, despite dissident rumblings from some African clergy, Bishop Robinson’s appointment would not split the church. Archbishop Ndungane, the archbishop of Cape Town, has broken ranks with many African Anglicans by backing Bishop Robinson’s consecration.

The archbishop spoke following a spiritual retreat to try to keep the African church within the worldwide Anglican fold after clerics in Kenya and Nigeria refused to recognize Bishop Robinson’s consecration.

Bishop Robinson was consecrated Nov. 2 in a three-hour service at the Whittemore Center , a hockey arena at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. A congregation estimated at almost 3,000 (including some 50 bishops) submitted to intense security procedures behind cordons of police, to join in the celebration.

The controversy surrounding Bishop Robinson’s overwhelming election last June, and the debate at ECUSA’s General Convention which consented to the election, seeped into the service.

As the liturgy unfolded, everyone waited for the moment early in the service when Frank Griswold, ECUSA’s presiding bishop, or primate, asks if anyone in the congregation “know any reason why we should not proceed.”

Among those who made formal protests Rev. Earle Fox of Pittsburgh , who said that Christians must condemn homosexual behaviour and then he began to describe that behaviour in lurid detail. Bishop Griswold asked him to “spare us the details.”

Bishop David Bena of Albany then stepped forward and read a statement signed by 36 bishops who said, “This consecration poses a dramatic contradiction to the historic faith and discipline of the church. We join with the majority of the bishops in the Communion and will not recognize it.”

Bishop Griswold replied that, while he welcomed the objections from brothers and sisters, “We’re learning to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level” and the consecration would proceed. He then asked the congregation, “Is it your will that we ordain Gene a bishop” and the resounding response was, “That is our will.”

Included in the crush of bishops who laid hands on Bishop Robinson, in a centuries-old tradition that traces back to the apostles, were two Canadian bishops: Michael Ingham of New Westminster, who has argued for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church, and Bruce Stavert of Quebec, whose diocese is in three-way companion relationship with the dioceses of New Hampshire and Limerick and Killaloe in Ireland. The bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, Michael Mayes, attended the service but said in a later interview that he did not participate in the consecration as there is no ?common mind? about openly gay clergy in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland .

Bishop Mayes said his diocese was not surprised at the election as they were familiar with Bishop Robinson through exchange visits between the dioceses. “They knew the man – and because of this, they knew the mood of the diocese of New Hampshire and how highly the people of New Hampshire thought of Gene Robinson.”

Bishop Stavert said that his diocese of Quebec gave resounding support for continuing with the three-way companion diocese relationship: just prior to Bishop Robinson’s consecration, Quebec’s diocesan synod unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming the relationship and expressing special concern for the diocese of New Hampshire in its time of turmoil.

After receiving the symbols of his office, Bishop Griswold presented the new bishop to the congregation. Choking with the emotion of the moment, Bishop Robinson said that the occasion was “not about me – it’s about so many people at the margins. Your presence here today is an invitation to them to move to the centre.”

In a plea for reconciliation, Bishop Robinson added that “there are many faithful, wonderful Christian people for whom this is a time of great pain, confusion and anger. God is served by our being loving to them.”

In reference to the crush of media covering the consecration, Bishop Robinson said that “the eyes of the world are upon us. We couldn’t buy this kind of publicity so let’s use it for God. So many people don’t know the love of God so let’s tell them about how God has saved us by reaching out to all who are hungry for God.” with files from Episcopal News Service and ENI


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