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.In addition to my heart strings being pulled, I find that my mind is racing in a variety of directions:
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.
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!