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Monday, November 08, 2010

A Covenant for Retirement

On November 6, 2010, V. Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire, during his closing remarks at the end of diocesan convention, announced plans for his retirement on January 5, 2013.

It's been two days since the announcement was made. I've been trying to get my head wrapped around that but it simply won't compute. That's probably because my heart strings are still all tangled up in the very fact of his election and consecration, not to mention the incredible leadership he has shown in the past seven years.

In his announcement, he gave a few of the reasons for his decision:
The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and YOU. Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as Bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, YOU. While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the Diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate. While my resignation may not stop such pressures completely, it does seem to be the right time for me to initiate the nearly-two-year process for your election of a new bishop. A three-month overlap will allow for a smooth and appropriate transition.

There are still things left for me to do. First and foremost, there is continuing to be a good bishop for you during the next two years. I don’t intend to be a “lame duck,” as you deserve a bishop during this interim that is “on all burners” for the remaining two years. I intend to continue to be fully engaged as your Bishop in the remaining time we lead the diocese together. You can do YOUR part by not sweeping me aside, either literally or emotionally, over the next two years, while I lead as your Bishop Diocesan.

Let me assure you that I am in good health – having lost 25 pounds put on over the last seven years in part by eating all your good food!! Especially that coconut cream pie in Colebrook! I continue in my fifth year of sobriety, which has been a total blessing to me. I continue to treasure my work and ministry with you, and it is a total joy and privilege to serve you and to serve God in this holy collaboration with you. After two more final, vigorous years with you, there are other things that I hope to do, in a new chapter in my life and ministry.
In addition to my heart strings being pulled, I find that my mind is racing in a variety of directions:

Backward to the first time I met Gene and his then wife, Boo, a million years ago, it seems, at Sign of the Dove Retreat Center in New Hampshire, which they both directed while their two beautiful young daughters scampered around, here and there.

Then, my mind takes me back to a call I got from him shortly after he and Boo divorced. I asked him why. He said, "I can no longer live a lie." I said, "Gene, are you gay?" He said, "Sheesh, Elizabeth! You just took my breath away! I've just really begun to claim the answer to that question for myself, even though I've really known the answer for years. Apparently, so have a lot of other people." he laughed. "I guess I'd better get used to people asking me that question, huh?"

Little did he know that the question would become, "A gay bishop?"

And the answer was, "Why, yes. Yes, of course."

Well, that's a question that would be asked almost everywhere else but in the Diocese of New Hampshire, where he has always been "the bishop" . . . "our bishop".

As +Gene said in his address,
"YOU are, and will continue to be, the reason I have not only survived, but thrived, during this tumultuous time in the wider Church. New Hampshire is always the place I remain, simply, “the Bishop.” This is the one place on earth where I am not “the gay Bishop.” I believe that you elected me because you believed me to be the right person to lead you at this time. The world has sometimes questioned that, but I hope you never did. You always treat me as a human being, a beloved child of God, and an eager servant of Our Lord. That is what I have tried to be, all along the way – and with every ounce of my being, I will continue. And God willing, I will leave this office in 2013 with even more love, more affection and more gratitude for you than when I assumed this role.
There's always been that wonderful, wholesome, sorta-kinda-innocent-naive-golly-gee-whiz quality about +Gene that's part of his charm.

You can hear it in the remarks in his address, can't you? Acknowledging the pain of the past seven years but still using self-effacing humor like his opening remark:
By January, 2013, I will be approaching my 66th birthday. (This is where you say, “But bishop, you look so young!”) I will have been a bishop over nine years, a reasonable and typical tenure for a bishop my age in the Episcopal Church, in what I consider to be one of the great and healthy dioceses of The Episcopal Church.
See what I mean? He is simply amazing.

What's even more amazing is that his episcopacy was the spark for the whole flap in the Anglican Communion, which led us to the final draft of the Anglican Covenant via the Windsor Report.

A statement from Archbishop Peter Jenson, General Secretary of GAFCON (I can never remember what the initials stand for - something about Global Anglicans and Future of something), noted this:
The agonising dispute in the Anglican Communion is not about Bishop Robinson personally. It is true that his consecration as a Bishop seven years ago was one of the flashpoints for a serious re-alignment of the whole Communion. But many things have happened since then. GAFCON is about the future. It is dedicated to the future of a renewed Anglican Communion centred on the orthodox teaching of the Jerusalem Declaration
No, that's not a clip from the statement. That's the entire thing, which continues the drumbeat of the fundamentalist evangelical brisk and to-the-point "not the person but the behavior / love the sinner hate the sin" position.

Problem is, that position may be part of the 'orthodox teaching of the Jerusalem Declaration', but it is not part of the orthodox teaching of Jesus, whose own eyes were opened by an ancient member of the anawhim (the outcast), the Canaanite woman, who challenged Jesus to see not only the humanity of his own racism and sexism, but also the limited sight of his human vision for his mission and ministry as being only to the Jews (Matthew 15:21-28).

It also gives a bit of a sideswipe to the fact that those who are part of GAFCON do not subscribe to the idea of an Anglican Covenant. As Jensen notes, "But many things have happened since then. GAFCON is about the future."

And, the Anglican Covenant is not in their future. Or, ours. This is one point on which I'm happy to agree with the GAFCON crowd.

Don't believe me? G'wan over and read Bishop Alan's blog post for today, "Right solution, Wrong Problem". It's wickedly funny and quite brilliant. I think this bit is most brilliant:
"You don’t build trust by inventing a third party body to talk about people behind their backs and adjudicate. People who go to court usually end up feeling worse, sometimes even when they have won. Trust comes, in my experience as a bishop, from openness, listening skill, direct speech, compassion, accountability, stability and hope, experienced relationally in as low-key a register as possible."
Openness. Listening skill, Direct speech. Compassion. Accountability. Stability. Hope. All experienced relationally in as low-key a register as possible.

See also: +Gene Robinson.

The Anglican Covenant will come and the Anglican Covenant will go - all without the votes it needs to become anything of any significance in the Anglican Communion.

Many things have happened since +Gene Robinson was elected and consecrated bishop in the church seven years ago, including the election and consecration of Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan in Los Angeles.

God willing, there will be a few more LGBT people elected to the episcopacy in the next two years.

However, +Gene's historic episcopacy will forever be a high mark in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

+Gene may collect a pension, and he may not occupy an office at the Diocesan Center in New Hampshire, but he'll never retire the place he has come to fill in our hearts.

The "retirement address" concludes with these words:
There will be plenty of time in the future for remembrances, thanksgivings and reflection on our time together. For now, though, there is important work to be done. We need to let our fine Standing Committee and the future Search Committee do their jobs, and in the meantime, get on with being the Church and preaching the Gospel in this part of God’s vineyard. New Hampshire has made a name for itself in the last few years, and although unwittingly, we have been on the national and international stage. It has given us the opportunity to proclaim God’s love for ALL of God’s children in profound ways. I do not expect that to be diminished in any way as we move through the next two years of transition and as you move into a new partnership with your new bishop! All I can say is that it is the most profound, blessed and exciting honor to continue as your bishop. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for loving me and working alongside me in bringing the Church in New Hampshire and the world ever closer to the Reign of God.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, +Gene, for loving us and working alongside us as we have moved ever closer to the Realm of God.

Now, let's dry our tears, wipe our noses, pull up our socks, and roll up our sleeves.

There's lots more Gospel work to be done.

Let's get on with it!


Hutch said...

Good job, Elizabeth. I have been sad sice hearing the news, as I think Gene has been "The Bishop" for a lot of us. He is an amazingly spiritual and kind man. We will be the worse for loosing him, but are better for having had him! And you're right - pull up the socks and get to work - there is still a whole lot of gospel work going on!

Chris M said...

I wrote Gene this morning, here is a section from it:

I am sure you are getting tons of emails from people about your retirement. I for one want to say I am very happy for you. You have served the church and the gay community with courage and dignity and for that BOTH communities should be forever grateful.

In my very humble opinion, not being an active bishop in the church will allow you to do more for yourself. I hope this doesn’t sound out of line, but I also think, while the church is a wonderful place and I am sure it will always be a major part of your life, I think there are things, both personally and spiritually, that being in retirement will let you explore. I think this may be just a beginning for you.

I know we don’t know each other very well, but I have only met a handful of people in my life, you and Steven Charleston come to mind as I type this, for whom I truly KNOW that having a personal connection to the divine has been a central guiding force in what happens in your life.

Stay in touch my friend.

Chris Medeiros

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hutch - check out the cartoon on Susan Russell's blog - the one with the alien saying, "Take me to a Christian."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Chris M. - I'm sure +Gene will love your letter.

Michael Fullam said...

I too have been trying to wrap my head around +Gene's announcement. Was it because it came so soon? Was it because I never want him to retire? Well your post helped so much, as your posts so often do, but doggonit Elizabeth, why did you have to put tears in my eyes?

RevMama said...

+Gene has been a true bishop to many people both inside and outside his diocese. Despite the immense amount of controversy and criticism and just plain abuse, he has remained a faithful and powerful witness to the love and grace of Christ. I have no doubt that this won't stop with his retirement. All I can say is, "Thank you, Gene, and may God bless you!"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - Not me. +Gene.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Rev Mama - Amen.

June Butler said...

What a lovely tribute to Bishop Gene, Elizabeth. Through it all, he was and is a Godly man, full of grace.

JCF said...

To paraphrase the half-term Governor of Alaska: +Gene's not retiring. He's re...ssurecting! ;-D

[And when he's resurrected, he can give He...aven to those like, oh, the half-term Governor of Alaska! ;-p]

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

@ Mimi - Grace-filled and Grace-full. We've been so blessed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - Peggy Noonan just called Mrs. Palin a "nincompoop." Classic Noonan.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is an example of the differences in the point of view of the RCC and TEC, but doesn't this strike you all as an ecclesiastical version of the Sarah Palin half-term resignation? An official, apparently in good health, voluntarily steps down years before the expected end-of-term? What am I missing here?

Not meaning to be confrontational here-- it doesn't matter to me whether he's retired or not-- but this is a head scratcher. I actually thought this retirement would be a cause of mourning for the progressives and celebration for the conservatives. Instead I see far different sets of responses from both sides of the Anglican divide.


June Butler said...

Not meaning to be confrontational here--

Fr Michael, you fooled me. Confrontation seemed to me to be exactly what you were doing. Another example of a difference in point of view between an RC and a TECie.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

What you're missing, Michael, is a bishop who cares so much about his people that he is leaving them with a process that ensures a smooth transition of power and authority.

That's not an RCC understanding of power and authority, which is centralized and top-down. That's especially not an "orthodox" (small 'o') understanding of power and authority. Hence, the head-scratching on your part.

I suppose progressive understand three things

(1) +Gene may no longer be the bishop diocesan of NH but he will be the "bishop of the heart" of more LGBT people and our allies than are in the Episcopal Church. When he talks about being an evangelist, he's not kidding; and

(2) He'll continue to work - hard - after he leaves his office. To count him out is to not understand the charism with which he has been blessed, which can't be contained by the walls of the institutional church.

(3) +Gene's election changed EVERYTHING. He may be the first but he's far from the last. +Mary Glasspool's election and consecration is just the beginning.

Not to worry. You'll see about the same progress as the ordination of the consecration of women to the episcopacy, which is only 17 women in TEC since +Barbara Harris in 1989.

Paul (A.) said...

GAFCON (I can never remember what the initials stand for - something about Global Anglicans and Future of something)

Doesn't it stand for God and Father Christian: Obscuring Nothing?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ummm . . . that's what it means for me. I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean that for the GAFCON crowd.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Just stumbled upon this interview with Matt Lauer two years ago. THIS is +Gene at his best. Just the best evangelism for TEC and Jesus there could ever be.

it's margaret said...

" ecclesiastical version of the Sarah Palin half-term resignation?"

Gee --I thought bona fide retirement age was somewhere between the ages of 62-65... 68 for the sturdier and more enthusiastic among us... clergy are MANDATED to retire at 72.... and most should have retired a few years earlier.... just sayin'. So, no --this is not a Palinesque resignation.

And tomorrow I go and have dinner with a high-schooler seeking baptism whom I met at our local Gay Pride Day... he stopped at our booth and asked "is this Gene Robinson's church?" when he realized I was not there to condemn him...

He has been an excellent Bishop for us all. I can't wait to see what he's going to do in 'retirement.' In the meantime, there is a certain grief that he feels compelled to retire for the 'toll' taken on him, his husband and his diocese....

Mary-Cauliflower said...

At the point where +Gene steps down, he will have been a bishop for nearly 10 years, and as Margaret noted, within official retirement age. Serving for over 9 years is considerably different from serving for 2 years. The other thing worth noting is that his life was no cake walk before he was consecrated; the reason for his consecration was his service and advocacy, which has always been done in a quiet and consistent manner. (Another big difference.)

dr.primrose said...

Gene Robinson. Chuck Bennison. Their difference about being a bishop is quite breathtaking, isn't it?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Absolutely no comparison

Anonymous said...

Such a gentle leader. His election filled me with such hope.