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Gene Robinson begins episcopate with call for inclusion

Posted on: November 13, 2003 1:09 PM
Related Categories: USA

by James Solheim

[ACNS source: Episcopal News Service] Even as the controversy over the November 2 consecration of V Gene Robinson as the church's first openly gay man to be elected to the episcopate continued to simmer among Episcopalians around the world, he quietly began his ministry with a pledge to take the message of God's love to "those on the margins".

Pointing out that Jesus spent a major part of his ministry with women, tax collectors and foreigners instead of the wealthy and leaders of the synagogue, Bishop Robinson told the congregation at All Saints Church in Peterborough, a week after his controversial consecration, that Jesus "looked at the religious establishment of his day and realized that they had closed their eyes to those on the margins. Think of all the kinds of blindness right outside this door: not seeing people in need or turning the other way when we do," he said.

He also said that the church must speak out on social issues. "How dare we in this country spend US$87 billion on war when 44 million people have no health insurance?" he asked.

Bishop Robinson also expressed the hope that those who disagree with his election and consecration will remain in the Episcopal Church, and not leave. "A church founded on unhappiness and anger is not going to go very far," he said.

Issues still simmering

The controversy is also simmering in New Hampshire.

At Sunday services at Church of the Redeemer in Rochester a group estimated at 40 people walked out to protest the dismissal of their interim priest by Bishop Douglas Theuner of New Hampshire. The Revd Donald Wilson has publicly opposed the election and consecration of Gene Robinson and told the current Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Douglas Theuner, that he would never accept the new bishop. The church itself had recently voted 28 to 10 to oppose Gene Robinson.

"In view of your letter to me of October 29 in which you stipulate in terms of your loyalty that you 'have none for V. Gene Robinson' who now shares ecclesiastical authority with me as Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire, and given the insubordinate way in which you responded to my request for a meeting through a phone call by my secretary this afternoon, I am withdrawing your license to officiate in the Diocese of New Hampshire herewith."

The Revd Donald Wilson said that he had made it clear that Gene Robinson had the right of annual visitation "but suggested pastoral alternatives given the position of the majority of my parishioners". The Revd David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council (AAC), said that Bishop Theuner's actions "represent an act of war against a small church... To rip from their midst a pastor who has faithfully served this parish is an unconscionable act." Donald Wilson was called out of retirement last August to serve the parish.

Two church members interrupted the service and started to read a statement in which they insisted that they would not accept communion from a priest who accepted Gene Robinson's consecration. The Revd Marthe Dyner, who had been sent by the diocese to preside at the service, had invited those who had concerns to meet after the service. She called it "a very sad day" and admitted that "it doesn't feel to me that we're holding together as a family in Christ".

Alternative pastoral care

Addressing the issue after services in Peterborough, Bishop Robinson said that Donald Wilson was not removed simply because he opposed the consecration, arguing that a refusal to submit to the authority of a bishop is "a violation of his ordination vows".

The Rochester parish and another in Ashland, New Hampshire, are seeking episcopal oversight from the Diocese of Albany in New York. The Revd Hays Junkin, head of the diocesan standing committee, said that it was not likely that the bishops would release conservative parishes from their oversight but might make provision to involve other bishops in pastoral care.

Bishops Theuner and Robinson have said that they will be happy to meet with any congregation wishing to consider alternative episcopal pastoral care. "We'll consider any option available under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church," Bishop Theuner said. Under church rules, no bishop may exercise pastoral oversight or intervene in another diocese without the express permission of the diocesan bishop but the House of Bishops adopted guidelines in 2002 for providing alternate care.

Hays Junkin said that parishes could take Bishop Robinson at his word that "he's going to do everything he can to minister to their parish in ways that are appropriate and acceptable to them. Gene will find a way to be a pastor even to the clergy who disagree with him."