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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Orthodox Episcopalians Say No To Robinson

Rift in church growing
Some Episcopalians want a new bishop

Monitor staff
April 04. 2004 7:03PM

Conservatives don't want to recognize Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop, as their leader.

ROCHESTER - Conservative New Hampshire Episcopalians who opposed the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson said yesterday they would like to be reorganized under the jurisdiction of a more orthodox bishop from another diocese or even another country - so they could remain a part of the church without recognizing Robinson as their leader.

"We haven't left the church. We're still part of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, and that's the problem," said Lisa Ball, a vestry member of the Church of the Redeemer in Rochester. "We don't want to follow Gene Robinson."

Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in church history, has been at the center of international controversy since New Hampshire Episcopalians first nominated him last summer. Since then, conservative parishes around the country have wrestled with how to respond.

Yesterday's 75-person meeting in Rochester marked the first gathering of the New Hampshire cluster of the Anglican Communion Network, a national orthodox organization started in January in response to Robinson's appointment. A grassroots effort, the Network functions as a shadow organization to the Episcopal structure, coordinating parishes and individual Episcopalians who feel the church has strayed too far from the dictates of Scripture.

"We're raising the voice of loyal Episcopalians throughout the state of New Hampshire who have had no opportunity to voice their dissent in the diocese," said the Rev. William Murdoch, rector of the All Saints' Episcopal Church in Massachusetts and head of the New England chapter of the Network.

Although the Network is a new organization, it is very closely aligned with the American Anglican Council, an established conservative group within the Episcopal church.

Members said they hoped the international church organization will allow them to circumvent Robinson and choose a bishop from another place, like New York, Canada or even somewhere in Africa or Latin America, to be their leader. That solution - which would be unprecedented - was first proposed among conservative bishops in March but was voted down during a national bishops meeting.

Robinson said yesterday he was against the idea of organizing bishops on ideology and not geography because it would reverse the entire history of Anglican Communion organization.

Plus, he said, it would be entirely impractical.

"It begins to be completely chaotic to try to organize completely under ideology," he said.

Robinson said he is willing to offer conservative parishes like-minded bishops for counseling and leadership. But in the end, he is still in charge.

"I'm willing to do all kinds of things to provide the pastoral care they think they need, including letting another bishop come in, but he won't have jurisdiction over that congregation," Robinson said.

Some conservative church members have already started voting with their feet.

A southern New Hampshire contingent has already split off from several Episcopal churches to form the Seacoast Missionary Fellowship, and the Church of the Redeemer in Rochester has come out publicly against Robinson.

"We thought there was no way Scripture and the vote for Gene could be reconciled, and we thought scriptural authority was more important than this new doctrine of inclusiveness," said Joel Hansford, 41, who now belongs to the Seacoast Missionary Fellowship.

The conservative wing of the Episcopalian church objects to Robinson on the grounds that he is divorced and openly gay, living with his longtime partner Mark Andrew. Conservative parishioners say they accept gay members in their churches but consider homosexuality a sin that demands repentance.

"The problem is we hold our spiritual leaders to a higher plateau," said Richard Ellwood. "We expect them to admit their sins, rather than flaunt them."

Still, church leaders yesterday said it was not the Network's intention to split with the Episcopal Church over Robinson.

"The language of leaving the Episcopal Church is not what this is about," Murdoch said.

But some parishioners, like Les Hanscom, 66, weren't as sure. He said he thought it would be best for conservative Episcopalians to split from the Episcopal Church altogether.

"This is something most people here never thought they'd be included in; it's a minor revolution,"said Hanscom, a member of the Seacoast Missionary Fellowship. "You didn't think there'd be conflict in the church."

Rochester's Church of the Redeemer has been an epicenter of that conflict. Parishioners there have made a point of their opposition to the bishop, even though the church itself hasn't made a formal split.

Robinson plans to meet with the church's vestry, or board of directors, tomorrow night to discuss how they might patch up relations.

"I'm going to sit down with the people of the parish of Rochester, and we're going to talk about how we can live with one another," he said. "In dealing with parishes like Rochester, we'll bend over backwards to give them the care they need."

But if Episcopalians at yesterday's meeting were confident of one thing, it was that there are a lot more like-minded parishioners out there who haven't yet had the courage to voice their dissent.

"There are many people and parishes in New Hampshire that are scared to stand up and do what we're doing," Ball of Redeemer Church said.


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