With the traditional trio of raps on the door of St. Paul's in Concord, New Hampshire, the service of investiture for V. Gene Robinson as the ninth Bishop of New Hampshire began on March 7, 2004.
"Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them and give thanks to the Lord," Robinson intoned from Psalm 118, and the Rev. Hays Junkin, president of the diocesan standing committee, replied, "The Lord prosper you; we wish you well in the name of the Lord," opening the parish doors to the first openly gay priest to be elected bishop in the Anglican Communion.
Presiding at the service was the president of Province I, Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine. After the congregation responded with a resounding "We do!" and "We will!" to the customary questions--"Do you recognize and receive Gene as your Bishop? Will you uphold Gene in this ministry?"--Robinson's partner of 15 years, Mark Andrew, led the litany for ordinations.
One heart at a time
Preaching from notes, Robinson teared up with emotion as he began. "I am so proud to be your bishop," he said, "and so honored to have the impossible task of walking in the footsteps of my mentor and friend Doug [Theuner, the retiring bishop of New Hampshire]." Robinson then recounted the events of the past nine months since his election in June. "We literally welcomed the world," he said, calling the congregation to "infinite respect and radical hospitality" for one another and for those who disagree with his being made a bishop.
Addressing the situation in two churches whose leadership opposed his election and consecration--Church of the Redeemer in Rochester and St Mark's in Ashland--Robinson declared his intention to "win them back one heart at a time."
"God is always calling us out of our comfort zones and into risky places," he said. "If all our faith does is give us comfort, we have missed half of what God intends for us. If you dare preach a God so forgiving that no one is beyond his embrace, you'll get in trouble too." He called on the diocese to ask, "what risks are you willing to take for the Gospel?"
Robinson was presented with the pastoral staff of the diocese by Theuner, who addressed him as "my bishop." Then he was given a Palestinian shepherd's crook "in recognition of your concern for the people in the Holy Land," and seated in the bishop's chair to applause and cheers.
Robinson was consecrated bishop in November 2003 during an elaborate--and heavily guarded--three-hour service at the University of New Hampshire in Durham that drew a crowd of some 3,000 people, numerous protestors, and a battery of TV news trucks sprouting antennas. Sunday's investiture, during which retiring Bishop Douglas Theuner turned over the symbols of his office to Robinson, was a much smaller affair, with only 600 people attending, no protestors, and only one cable channel uplink.
But since his consecration, nine of the 38 worldwide Anglican provinces have declared themselves to be in "impaired" or "broken communion" with all or part of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Several other provinces and some dioceses have disassociated themselves from the action. And one primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, refuses to attend meetings at which representatives of the Episcopal Church in the US are present if they consented to or supported Robinson's consecration.