Eight years ago today the Holy Spirit and the Diocese of New Hampshire made a bishop out of V. Gene Robinson. And so -- just for fun -- I dug through my blog archives and found these two posts from "back in the day" ... when I was blogging for the Every Voice Network ... and wrote from New Hampshire my own "first person" accounts of that historic day.
This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made
Date: Sunday, November 02 2003 @ 08:39:29
So here I am in New Hampshire – “the morning of” the much anticipated consecration of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of the diocese he has served for nearly 20 years as a priest and pastor.
At a reception last night for friends and family Gene posed for innumerable photo ops, hugged and kissed all comers and generally basked in the well deserved admiration and appreciation of those who elected him, supported him and look forward to his ministry as the Bishop of New Hampshire. The security was extraordinary – at least it seemed that way to me: a police escort waiting outside the parish hall and burly security guards stationed throughout the room, watching Gene’s every move.
I spoke to one briefly – saying I knew he wasn’t there to chat with me but that I wanted to take a second to thank him for his work in protecting Gene. “You’re welcome,” he said withouttaking his eyes of the bishop-elect. A minute later he leaned over and said, “It’s my job but I’m also an Episcopalian so this is important to me, too.” So there you go.
The service begins at 4:00 p.m. eastern time and I’ll be heading over to the arena shortly. (A hockey rink is being turned into a cathedral for the estimated 5000 who will attend.) The press is there in force – we’ve seen several live CNN reports from the site already this morning – and the CBS folks working a piece for 60 Minutes were with us for breakfast this morning. I’ll post reflections on the events of the day as soon as I can, for it promises to be a grand and glorious celebration. But this morning I’m already looking past the liturgy we are about to celebrate this 2nd of November to the work we – the mainstream of the Episcopal Church – have ahead of us beginning November 3rd.
And that work BEGINS with taking back the word “mainstream” from those who have hijacked it to use as one of the weapons in theirarsenal of schism.
And let me be perfectly clear: I am not talking about faithful Episcopalians who disagree with the decisions of General Convention 2003, those who have different theological perspectives than I do or the people in the pews who are yearning to get on with the business of being the church and leave these debates about sexuality behind. I believe that there is more than enough room for all of us in this roomy Anglican tradition we inherit.
I am challenging instead a small segment of the leadership of the American Anglican Council who – in partnership with the Ahmanson funded Institute for Religion and Democracy – have made a decision for schism and are determined to succeed in their quest to split this church apart regardless of the cost.
I was quoted in a post-Plano/Dallas interview as saying “The AAC ‘is not a mainstream organization. This is the radical militant fringe of the church.’"* What I actually SAID was"what we are hearing here in Dallas are not the words of a mainstream organization but the rhetoric of an increasingly radical militant fringe.” It is a fine but important linguistic distinction.
For there was a time when I did indeed considered the AAC “mainstream” -- "the loyal opposition" which offered a conservative perspective here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. I spent an entire YEAR having lunch once a month with David Anderson, Ron Jackson, and Bill Thompson -- reading thecatechism with other clergy together as part of a reconciliation conversation initiated by Bishop Jon Bruno.
There were years when we managed to craft substitute resolutions at our Diocesan Convention with David and others which ended (for a season) the annual ritual of the same old voices at opposing microphones saying the same old things. And I attended expanded Reconciliation Conversations around the diocese modeled after the work of the New Commandment Task Force and led by AAC founding member Brian Cox.
I learned from those conversations. I grew in my understanding of those who approach Holy Scripture differently than I do. I heard the stories of those who felt that the church they loved was being taken away from them: for whom a church with a "new prayer book" and women priests was not a place of spiritual nurture. But time and again when our work together had ended -- when we stood in those "closing circles" and prayed for each other -- we also prayed together for this church we allloved as we committed to work together through the hard ground of our differences. In the end we found, as did our Primates when they met together at Lambeth Palace last week, that what bound us together was far greater than the differences that threatened to divide us.
Was our communion “impaired” for those standing in that circle who could not accept as valid the orders of the women clergy who stood with them? Or for those who stood knowing that the relationships that they experience as holy gifts from God werenot celebrated by all who stood with them? I suppose so – but we weren’t thinking in those terms at that point. Rather than dwelling on the issues that might have divided us we were focused instead on the Gospel that united us. Because our unity in Christ did not require uniformity in our opinions we were able to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” in communion – if not in agreement – with each other.
Fast forward to Dallas 2003. In order to participate in “A Place to Stand” one had to sign a “Statement of Faith” which excluded anyone who supported the actions of General Convention 2003. During the conference words like “apostate” and “heretic” were used to refer to the majority of the Episcopal Church as it had spoken through its elected representatives in General Convention. Respected Episcopal media representatives were denied credentials to cover the event for their publications. In an explanation given to a FOX News reporter as to why the Presiding Bishop’s offer to send representatives bearing greetings was rebuffed, AAC leaderDavid Anderson made the comparison of “asking a rape victim to sit down at the table with her rapist.”
The conference concluded with nothing less than a demand to the Primates to – in effect – vote ECUSA off the Anglican Island. And in an interview soon after the conference, Anderson used the word “contamination” to refer to those who will be laying hands on Gene Robinson when he becomes a Bishop in the Church of God on November 2nd.
These are not the words of a mainstream organization: it is the rhetoric of an increasingly radical militant fringe. These are not words that respect the dignity of every human being: they are words that create a climate where the Matthew Shepards of our world live in fear for their lives. The time has come for us to cease to allow them to set the context for this debate. The day has arrived when the church is ready to get past being reactive to conservative threats and become proactive in telling the Good News of a church where everyone is welcome at the table – where the true mainstream includes a gay bishop AND faithful Episcopalians who voted against his election.
Today is a great day for the Episcopal Church. Let us rejoice and be glad in it – and then let’s get to work!
Live From New Hampshire
Date: Monday, November 03 2003@ 07:32:40
It was, to say the least, a grand and glorious celebration as we gathered with the people of New Hampshire to make Gene Robinson a Bishop in the Church of God. Which isn’t to say there weren’t a number of things that could have dampened the enthusiasm of the crowd gathered.
The drizzle of rain falling most of the day, the long lines snaking around the building waiting to pass through the metal detectors required by the security ordered for the historic day, the gauntlet of press and protesters which flanked the walkway from the parking lot – none of it added up to “church as usual” but then this WASN’T “church as usual” – it was Church as prophetic witness: the Body of Christ gathered to claim its history in the ancient process of apostolic succession AND to vision its future as a community of faith where there were no strangers left at the gate – where all the baptized were finally fully included in the Body of Christ – where the Good News we have to offer is truly made available to all people.
I’ll leave it to the news reports to outline the “facts” of the day … here are a few of the feelings:
The wonderful energy of the 200+ New Hampshire college students who gathered to offer a counter voice to the God Hates Fags folks who had predictably shown up to spew their
hateful rhetoric from the sidelines. “Two, four, six, eight – Jesus loves you gay or straight” was the cheer they sent up – representing the hope of a new generation ready to claim the blessing of the inclusive Gospel.
The music was wonderful – from the young people’s bell choir to the massed choir: the congregational singing (in the acoustic challenged hockey rink!) was glorious and as so often happens for me it was in the music moments that reached the deepest. I was clearly not alone – there was hardly a dry eye in the altar party when we finished “I Want To Walk As A Child
of the Light.”
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold presided with grace and dignity with just enough of his dry wit evidenced to keep the service moving forward during even its most challenging moments, interrupting the objector who insisted on voicing graphic details of specific sexual acts with a gentle but firm, “Spare us the details.” What a wonderful icon of the episcopate to see gathered around him in front of the altar Barbara Harris – the first woman bishop in the Anglican communion AND Ed Browning – the Presiding Bishop who said with such conviction “There will be no outcasts” in the Episcopal Church – along with other representatives from around the
country and communion.
Touching moments included the presentation of gifts to the new bishop when Gene’s partner Mark and his two daughters, Jamee and Ella presented him with the gold miter he would wear for the rest of the service and into his episcopate and Gene’s heartfelt thanks and greetings to the congregation gathered.
After the service a reception “appeared” on the arena floor and hundreds of elated congregants milled about greeting old friends and making new ones, everyone saying over and over, “Wasn’t it great? Isn’t this wonderful?”
During the service I was seated in the press area and admit to a moment of crankiness that I wasn’t processing with the other clergy and having to “work rather than worship” up there with secular journalists who kept leaning over saying, “I hate to bother you but what are they doing now? What did he mean by that? Can you point out Bishop Fill-In-The-Blank.” It was just a moment, however – as the liturgy was powerful enough to even seep up into the press box and I got yet-another-opportunity to tell the Good News of this church to a media at least momentarily interested in what we have to say!
And speaking of the press, thanks be to God for Bishop Barbara Harris! From Stephan Bates’ report in The Guardian:
[Bishop Harris] told the Boston Globe: "This is a power struggle as to who is going to run the church, the white boys who have always run it, or some different kinds of people. White men see their church being changed and they don't like it."And there you have it. In the end they can argue scripture, tradition, polity and biology all they want but when it really comes down to it it’s not about theology or even sexuality – it’s about power. And it’s about time for us to get on with the work we have ahead of us and step away from the arguments which have surrounded us. The joy of yesterday’s celebration will linger for many days to come and the gift of Gene’s episcopate will bless this church for many years to come. The work immediately in front of us is to “catch the wave” of the attention the Episcopal Church has received and reach out to those for whom a church where there are no outcasts is good news – who long for the spiritual community we offer – who will find a home here in this inn where all may be joyfully received.
And now I’m off to pack a suitcase and catch a plane – full of gratitude for the blessings of these last amazing weeks and months and full of enthusiasm for the work ahead.