At the Parish: A Gay Bishop is Confirmed

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St. Paul's church, the home parish of Gene Robinson, sits in a quiet street in Concord, New Hampshire. On Tuesday evening a small group of his supporters gathered around a television inside to watch the results of the voting to confirm Robinson as their Bishop, the first openly gay man to hold the office in the history of the Episcopal church. A technician from a local TV station, there to cover the event, fumbled to hook the TV up to cable. Just before the announcement, it flickered into life.  

The rector, Rev. David Jones, stood silently before the screen as the news came that Robinson had won confirmation with the support of 62 of 107 bishops. He said nothing. Slowly, as the news sunk in, Jones wiped tears away that welled in his eyes. He later told reporters he had spoken to Robinson the night before the vote. "He said," recalled Jones, "'I feel like a little man in a little boat on a big ocean, but I know who is in the boat with me.'"  

New Hampshire is a long way from the ocean of controversy that Robinson, 56, has found himself in during his candidacy. His detractors at the House of Bishops conference in Minneapolis argued that the confirmation could split the American Episcopal church. It drew condemnation from many Anglicans worldwide. Still, New Hampshire Episcopalians have a proud tradition of standing up to conservative traditions. At the height of clashes over civil right in the 1960s, a seminarian from the state was murdered defending a young black woman being threatened by a gunman in Mississippi. Today, while the diocese is made up of only 49 congregations, most of them in outlying rural areas, it has roughly 20 ordained women in its ranks.   

“The folks who work across the street at the state house tend be politically conservative,” says Jones, whose church is directly opposite the gold-domed state capital building, “and we are in their eyes a bunch of left wing wing nuts.”  

Among Robinson’s supporters on Tuesday at St. Paul’s, were Alex Broadbent, 16, and Jenn Lombardo, 15, local high school students. The pair had just returned from Minneapolis, where they had been youth delegates. They squealed with delight when the announcement was made that Robinson had won. Says Alex, “There is so much publicity on him being a homosexual and all he wants to do is be the bishop, not the gay bishop.”

However, not all in the local diocese are as understanding. Just as conservative Episcopalian bishops have threatened a split in the church, there are some in New Hampshire, who are deeply disturbed by Robinson’s sexuality. Jones even says the majority in some parishes were struggling to accept it. “There are going to be difficult and painful days ahead.”