Even as controversy continued over his consecration as the first openly gay man to become a bishop, Gene Robinson began his ministry as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire 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, Robinson told the congregation at All Saints Church in Peterborough, N.H, a week after his 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.
Robinson also expressed the hope that those who disagree with his election and consecration will remain in the Episcopal Church. "A church founded on unhappiness and anger is not going to go very far," he said.
Fifty-four bishops, including two each from the Anglican Church of Canada and one from the Lutheran Church in Sweden, consecrated Robinson on Nov. 2 in a three-hour service in an arena at the University of New Hampshire in Durham before a congregation estimated at 3,000 people.
As the liturgy unfolded, everyone waited for the moment early in the service, after testimonials that Robinson had been "duly and lawfully elected," when Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold asked if anyone knew "any reason why we should not proceed."
As groups came forward to make formal protests, Griswold asked the congregation to listen with "courtesy and respect" and to avoid demonstrating for or against the statements.
Bishop David Bena, suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Albany, read a statement from 36 Episcopal bishops stating that "it is impossible to affirm a candidate for bishop and symbol of unity whose very consecration is dividing the whole Anglican Communion. ... 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. We also declare our grief at the actions of those who are engaging in this schismatic act."
Meredith Harwood, a parishioner from St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Ashland, N.H., told the gathering that "to press forward with this consecration will be to turn our backs on almighty God.
"This is the defiant and divisive act of a deaf church," she said.
Issues still simmer
The controversy continued in New Hampshire when Bishop Douglas Theuner in mid-November withdrew the license of a 72-year-old priest who said he would not accept the authority of Robinson, who will be installed and succeed Theuner on March 2. About 40 people at the Church of the Redeemer, Rochester, walked out of the service the Sunday after the announcement to protest the dismissal of the Rev. Donald Wilson, who was called out of retirement last August to serve the parish.
The Rev. David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, who opposed Robinson's election and consecration, said that Theuner's actions "represent an act of war against a small church."
Anderson and the AAC promised a new network of "Confessing Dioceses and Parishes" that will "serve as the core of the new Anglican realignment in the United States" along with a new "Conference of North American Anglican Bishops." But he cautioned that "it will take some time to put all the pieces of the realignment together."
Addressing the issue afterward, Robinson said that Wilson was not removed simply because he opposed the consecration. In refusing to submit to the authority of a diocesan bishop, it was "a violation of his ordination vows," he said.
The Rochester parish and another in Ashland are seeking episcopal oversight from the Diocese of Albany. The Rev. Hays Junkin, president of the diocesan standing committee, said that the bishops might make provision to involve other bishops in pastoral care.
Dallas withholds support
In anticipation of Robinson's consecration, the Diocese of Dallas at its October diocesan convention voted by a narrow margin to withhold its $512,161 contribution to the General Convention budget. Some parishes who disagreed with the action sought -- and received -- diocesan approval to send support directly to the treasurer of General Convention.
If other dioceses reduce their financial support, no part of the General Convention program in 2004 will be unaffected, said officers in New York. The budget was approved at convention's triennial meeting last August.
In a letter written the day after Robinson's consecration, Bishop John Howe of Central Florida told Griswold that "those bishops who participated in yesterday's consecration, and those who supported it, should immediately resign their positions in the Episcopal Church USA." In consecrating Robinson, he said, the bishops had betrayed "tens of thousands of loyal Episcopalians."