11/06/2010

Amazing Grace and Some Surprise in Bishop Gene Robinson's Announcement.

Bishop Robinson of New Hampshire surprised almost everyone today by announcing to the Diocesan Convention of New Hampshire that he is to retire in January 2013 following the election and ordination of his successor.  His address is a grace filled and surprising statement from a man who loves the Lord, the Church, the people he has served and his family. Rather than make any comments on his statement, I invite you to read it.

Bishop of New Hampshire Calls for Election of Successor
Convention of the Diocese of New Hampshire
November 6, 2010


I am using this time for closing remarks to announce to you an important decision I have made regarding our common life.  On January 5, 2013, I will retire as your Bishop.  To that end, I am hereby calling for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of New Hampshire, who will succeed me in 2013.  While this is an excruciatingly long period of time – two years and two months – from now, this period of time is essential for a smooth and unhurried process of transition, for the diocese and for me.

Let me share with you the reasons for announcing my retirement at this time:

I wanted to make this announcement to you in person.  While I might have delayed this announcement a few more months, I could not imagine doing so by letter.  I have been in the Diocese of New Hampshire 35 years, the last 24 of which have been in a diocesan position.  Our time together has always focused on “relationship,” and I could not imagine changing this relationship without telling you so personally.

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.  Since the very beginning, I have attempted to discern God’s will for me and for you, and this decision comes after much prayer and discernment about what God wants for us at this time.  I received the diocese under my pastoral care in good shape, thanks to Bishops Phil Smith and Doug Theuner, and believe that I will be passing it along to my successor ALSO in good shape.  I have tried to be a faithful steward of the trust and responsibility you placed in me.  Only you can be the judge of that.

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 the meantime, there is mission and ministry to be done.  I have been on retreat with the senior staff, and we have set priorities for the next two years.  My first priority during these two years will be to continue to support, nurture and pastor our clergy, lay leaders and congregations.  Our School for Vestries, under the able leadership of our new Canon for Lay Leadership, Judith Esmay, is the fulfillment of one of my dreams for us.  We will continue our focus on stewardship, vitality and leadership development in congregations.  We will continue to be responsible stewards of our finances.  We will continue to work with congregations in finding the best clergy available for ministry here in New Hampshire.  Our fantastic diocesan staff will continue to see, as their primary mission, serving you, the people of the diocese.  The Diocesan Council will shepherd us through a new and exciting accountability process for Fair Share giving.  Our Mission Resources Committee, under the leadership of Benge Ambrogi, will be freed to focus on new and creative ministry projects in small and large congregations alike.  It is such an exciting time in the life of our diocese, and I intend to jump into it with both feet!

For my own ministry as your bishop, both within and beyond the diocese, I will continue my work of evangelizing the unchurched and the “de-churched.”  I get to talk to probably more unchurched people than any other bishop in The Episcopal Church.  On college campuses, speaking to various public forums, and also in my work with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, I get the opportunity to make the case for God and for God’s Church – either to those who have never known God’s unimaginable love, or to those who have been ill-treated, in the name of a judgmental God, and who have left the Church.  Recent news brings us the tragic stories of teenagers who have taken their own lives because religion tells them they are an abomination before God and who believe that their lives are doomed to despair and unhappiness.  I get to tell them a different story.  By all accounts, I have had the privilege of bringing many people into the Church for the first time, or convincing them that the Church is becoming a safe place to which they can return with a reasonable expectation of welcome.  This is EVANGELISM, for me, pure and simple.  This is my attempt at fulfilling “the Great Commission” to go forth into the world, baptizing in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a calling not just for a bishop, but for each one of us.

I must admit to some anxiety about this change, but I’ve got plenty of time to deal with that.  Since I was ordained at the ripe old age of 26, the Church has been my whole life.  I love getting up at 4:30 in the morning to pray and to begin work answering your emails and questions and to respond to the needs of our clergy and congregations.  Sundays continue with my weekly, official visitations in congregations which have enlivened, nourished and excited me for much of the last decade.  I look forward to continuing in being intimately connected with you and your ministries.  But as we are told in Ecclesiastes:  “to everything there is a season.”  And now it seems to be the season to continue that ministry among you over the next two years, as you carefully choose your next bishop.  He or she has no idea what a joy and what a privilege it will be to serve you, the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire

I have talked with the Standing Committee about my decision and they will meet on December 9th with Bishop Matthews of the House of Bishops Pastoral Development Office.  The Standing Committee will begin the process of choosing both an Episcopal Search Committee and an Episcopal Transition Committee, which will begin their work in the new year.  About a year later, in early 2012, nominees will be announced, with an election in the late spring of 2012.  Allowing for the necessary consent process at General Convention, we will consecrate our new Bishop on (tentatively, subject to consent) Saturday, September 15, 2012.  As with my own election, there will be a few months of overlap for the new bishop to get acclimated and for a smooth transition to occur.  On Saturday, January 5, 2013, I will pass over my authority, and the Bishop’s Staff which symbolizes it, to our new bishop, with joy and thanksgiving for what has gone before and for what is to come under new leadership.

I make this announcement with nothing but praise and thanksgiving to God for having the privilege of serving you.  While I know that I have not been God’s perfect servant during this time, I will leave in early 2013 knowing that I have given this ministry my best efforts.  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.

I know that this will have come as a shock to many of you, especially given how much I love being your Bishop and love the work we have undertaken together.  I even hope that my energy and enthusiasm for being your Bishop has caused you to forget that I am approaching retirement age.  But there it is! 

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.

It’s been a great, collaborative ride, and it will continue to be.  All in the name of God, who loves us beyond our wildest imagining, and who will continue to lead us into the future as surely and as faithfully as in the past.  Thanks be to God.

And now, I will ask our outgoing Standing Committee President to lead us in prayer, sending us into the world, to care for the People of God, preach the Good News, and continue as faithful witnesses to the Gospel.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, IX Bishop of New Hampshire


 

25 comments:

  1. Such a Godly man. TBTG for him! To +Gene! [Many blessings, DioNH, to even find HALF as decent a replacement... ;-/]

    Special prayers for +Mary Glasspool in this time of transition, as well. I don't doubt for a *second*, that +Mary's consecration made +Gene's decision easier . . . but the cross-hairs (!) will now focus solely (for the time being) on +Mary. God bless and defend your faithful servant!

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing his statement. He is such a great servant of God... and definitely an asset to the Church, especially the congregations in New Hampshire.

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  3. God bless +Gene and his husband. He has achieved evangelism --perhaps more than he can imagine --when we went to the Gay Pride Day here in Richmond, some teens came up to our booth and asked, 'is this Gene Robinson's church?' --and then, they actually came to church last Sunday. I am meeting with one of the teens next week to begin to discern baptism.

    But it would also seem to be a good time to remember the toll the hostility and condemnation have taken on many of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. And rather than having a beacon in the forefront, we must all carry that light in a new and brave way.

    Thank you +Gene for all you have done and accomplished and carried for all of us.

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  4. Thank you Bishop Gene. You've done more good than you know.

    I second Margaret's comment and I too know people who came in, or returned, to the Church because of Bishop Robinson, and because of the grace and courage of New Hampshire's Episcopalians, and because of the grace and courage of the Episcopal Church.

    All three have been a beacon of great hope to so many of us so unjustly consigned to outer darkness.

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  5. how has attendance on Sundays changed in NH since 2003?

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  6. From the NY Times.com article:
    The number of active members in New Hampshire fell 3 percent, from 15,259 in 2003 to 14,787 in 2009. In that period, the Episcopal Church, like most mainline Protestant denominations, lost about 10 percent of its members. (It had about two million in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available.)

    So, at worst it made no difference and at best, it declined less than other areas. Not that such a thing is a recommendation...

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  7. Be fun to see ACNA's statistics for the next eight or ten years.

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  8. Walter Ryan7/11/10 4:54 PM

    Re: anonymous, I will always be able to say that my wife and I were among the first people who were confirmed by Bishop Robinson and that I have never had a moments regret for that decision. Our congregation has lost some members to other churches but we also continue to attract new people.

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  9. As I recall, at one point in its history, the Christian Faith was down to only one member, and He was dying on a cross.

    So maybe Anon we could boost church attendance by introducing some Ugandan type legislation? Clear out the queers? That should bring them in.

    Nothing $ucceed$ like $ucce$$.

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  10. So sorry to hear +Robinson will retire, but I suppose that when one considers all he has went through in his efforts to serve Christ and his Church, his retirement is well deserved. He has endured the hatred of the so-called "orthodox" bravely and honorably.

    Even though I have never met Bishop Robinson, I feel like I know him. I may not be from New Hampshire, but I have always felt he was MY Bishop.

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  11. Only one member? Jesus Christ came from the bosom of Israel and called his brothers to be his apostles. They spread the gospel to the nations. The idea of Christianity of composed of 1 member is foolishness, and a seeking of a justification for a denominational collapse -- a denomination that is of course but a tiny, tiny bit of Christianity as a whole.
    As for facts, the figures are easy to find -- I think NH went downwards to the tune of 18%. You simply can't have a diocese with such tiny numbers -- I think this is also why even the PB now speaks of dioceses merging and 'being nimble.' I wonder when the shoe dropped? AJM

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  12. NH's ASA has declined from 5174 in 2002 (the last year before his election and consecration) to 4234 in 2008--a decline of 18%. TEC's domestic dioceses as a whole have gone from 846,640 to 705,257, a loss of 141,383 (-17%) (a loss equivalent to 16 average 2002 dioceses or 27 dioceses the size of NH).

    For comparison, nearby Albany with similar demographics (although half again as big as NH) has declined 12% and Texas, with very different demographics and six times the size of NH, has declined 14%.

    Friends, the good news is that at last it sounds like the PB understands the problem, or has been forced to. A diocese with under 4000 people in worship on Sunday -- and some are smaller than that -- is unsustainable eo ipse and on the former model of a healthy, growing church. 'Nimbleness' is the new watchword and not a minute too soon.

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  13. "You simply can't have a diocese with such tiny numbers" - hadn't noticed any shortage of Secessionist bishops, AJM.

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  14. The idea of Christianity of composed of 1 member is foolishness

    "The foolishness of God is wiser than men"

    [I Cor 1:25---though truthfully, I thought of it as quoted by one of the Missuses in A Wrinkle in Time! ;-p (By good Piskie Madeline L'Engle, OBM)]

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  15. I am disappointed that some are using this venue to dump on Bishop Robinson even in the context of his announcing his retirement. If there is continuing interest in comparing the level of decline or change in the statistics of the Diocese of New Hampshire vs other dioceses, or of TEC in general vs ACNA, or whatever... go somewhere else to do it. This post was about the gracious and revealing statement by Bishop Robinson on the occasion of announcing his retirement yet to come.

    How about sticking to the text and finding there a reason to give thanks for his ministry, or if not that to reflect on that ministry in the light of his comments.

    You will have plenty of time to spit in the soup on other occasions.

    I am mostly tired of hearing again and again from mr. Anonymous that TEC is headed for doom. But here, in this discussion about this announcement, I will take no further comments. Posts are automatic here, but I will review them daily and I will delete any that continue in this line.

    At Preludium the doom sayers have lots of room to vent. But this is not the post in which to do it.

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  16. I appreciate your concern. However, I am not the anonymous who introduced the topic, but am AJM responding to the five responses to it. The idea that Christianity had one member and so we ought not to have concern seemed nonsensical. Just to clarify. AJM

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  17. "The idea that Christianity had one member and so we ought not to have concern seemed nonsensical."

    I don't know. To people who were there at the time, this Christianity business looked doomed to extinction on that first Good Friday, and on the day after.

    If you took a poll of Jerusalem general public in those two days, I would imagine that the overwhelming majority would have responded by saying that blaspheming trouble-making Nazarene upstart got what he deserved and we are well rid of him.
    I would imagine that some of his followers, even his closest ones, felt not only shocked and disappointed, but hoodwinked as well.

    As the third day always reminds us, you just never know how things will ultimately turn out.

    I should point out that despite all the forecasts of doom for the Episcopal Church, my vile disgustingly liberal parish in decadent old New York is quite healthy and expanding.
    The same was true for other vile disgustingly liberal parishes I belonged to in the Midwest when I lived there.

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  18. Perhaps the solution to the declining number problem is the one suggested by +Robinson. Perhaps we should try to bring the Gospel to all those who've been alienated from it. It's time to put the Gospel into the hands of all those people who find themselves unwelcome in most other churches.

    I've always noticed that after the old WASP establishment largely abandoned the Episcopal Church long ago for secularism or for evangelical churches, membership appears to be sustained by a steady stream of disillusioned and disenchanted Roman Catholics. That's certainly the case in most of the parishes I've belonged to where ex-Roman Catholics made up the majority.

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  19. In the years that I have served the Episcopal Church, I have met many people who were "dechurched" because of the wounds that were inflictd on them religious leaders. I have never been treated as badly as Gene Robinson has been and I am not sure that I wouldn't have become dechurched if I had been. It is sad that his graciousness and his work at welcoming those who have been wounded is still answered with hate.

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  20. This is an announcement about a godly man and his retirement from the ministry - don't let godless "orthodox" belly-worshippers hijack it.

    Please.

    They are not worth engaging at any level.

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  21. What matters is that DioNH did a righteous, graceful, and necessary thing when they elected +Gene Robinson, and that he has been a righteous, grace-filled, and dedicated servant both of Christ and of NH. And he has borne the brunt of being the first, walking through the fires with the light and love of Christ directing his difficult steps. I curtsy to you, Gene Robinson.

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  22. It is amazing that after seven years as bishop +VGR still engenders such feelings. I have to say he brings on some of this himself with his constant drumbeat of victimization which is, true to form, part of his retirement statement. He could of opted for just, "I'm retiring."

    Just the thoughts of a godless, "orthodox" belly-worshiper

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  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  24. It's what you are. Sorry. Get used to it, or convert.

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  25. MarkBrunson. What a rude, intemperate, boorish comment. Do you have no filters? Is this the new generous TEC spirit?

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