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Walkout divides N.H. church

Protesters back gay bishop's critic

ROCHESTER, N.H. -- Reverberations from last week's consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop rattled a small church in this working-class town early yesterday when more than half of the congregation stormed out of the sanctuary after a brief tussle in front of the altar between a priest and two parishioners protesting the dismissal of their interim minister.

The Rev. Donald R. Wilson, 72, was barred last week from leading services at the Church of the Redeemer after he spoke out against the choice of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire. That dismissal infuriated some parishioners, who charge the church has become a dictatorship and is driving a permanent wedge into the worldwide 70-million member Anglican community.

Jumping out of their seats moments after the gospel was read, Jacqueline Ellwood and Ginger Carbaugh walked to the front of the church shortly after 10 a.m., interrupting the service, and began reading from a nine-line statement. They insisted they would not accept communion from a priest who has accepted Robinson's ordination. As they were inviting the rest of the congregation to walk out with them, the Rev. Canon Marthe Dyner snatched the paper the message was written on out of Ellwood's hands while shouting at them to stop interrupting the service.

"I've not been accosted by a priest before," Ellwood said at a news conference outside the church immediately after they walked out. "It's a terrible day, a sad day that this could happen."

In the walkout, planned the night before, about 40 parishioners followed Ellwood and Carbaugh out the door as Dyner, visibly shaken, asked the remaining 20 congregants to come closer to the altar.

The protest was the latest flashpoint in a deepening ideological rift between those who support Robinson and those who do not. On Saturday, the Episcopal Diocese in Pittsburgh, one of the country's most conservative, passed an amendment aimed at allowing the diocese to ignore some of the national church's policies. And US conservatives in the church who believe gay sex violates Scripture have said they want the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion to authorize a separate Anglican province for them in North America.

Robinson is now serving as bishop coadjutor in New Hampshire, assisting the Right Rev. Douglas E. Theuner, bishop of New Hampshire, and is scheduled to replace Theuner in March.

In Rochester, a small town about 80 miles north of Boston, some parishioners say that when Wilson spoke out against Robinson's consecration last week, he became a target of church leaders. In a tersely worded letter dated Thursday, Theuner accused Wilson of insubordination and rescinded his license to officiate in the Diocese of New Hampshire, effectively barring him from leading services at the Church of the Redeemer.

That punishment set the stage for yesterday's protest. Although Dyner, who was asked to fill in for Wilson, said she was unaware of the planned walkout, she opened the service by asking congregants with concerns to wait until after the service before expressing them.

Standing outside the church yesterday after the group filed out of the building, organizer Lisa Ball said the protesters had no intention of leaving the church permanently but were incensed that Theuner had removed Wilson, and they wanted to let church leaders know their displeasure.

"What's going on here is that this is becoming a dictatorship," Ball said. "This has nothing to do with homophobia, and this has everything to do with them trying to decide for us how and what we will believe."

Church of the Redeemer, which has about 80 members, recently voted 28-10 to oppose Robinson's selection. Wilson, former rector of St. Paul's Church in Peabody who was called out of retirement to fill in at the church in August, was at the church during the service yesterday, parishioners said, but he did not walk outside and would not comment to assembled media who had been alerted to the protest.

"Our church is being destroyed by outside forces," said Kathy Lewis, a protest organizer. "We're here to appeal to Robinson, who said he wanted to work with us. . . . Give us our priest back."

Speaking after services at All Saints Parish in Peterborough, Robinson said the disagreement was unfortunate but that Theuner did not remove Wilson simply because the minister opposed Robinson's election and consecration.

"What he said was he . . . would not submit to my authority as bishop. That's a violation of his ordination vows," Robinson told the Associated Press.

"No one has to agree with the new bishop in order to get diocesan support," Robinson said, adding that the diocese has put close to $100,000 into the Redeemer parish over the last few years. "You don't have to march in lockstep to be in communion."

After the service, Dyner scoffed at the accusation that she had "accosted" anyone and said she grabbed at the papers held by Ellwood and Carbaugh because "we cannot allow the service to be interrupted," she said. "I'm sad, this is a very sad day . . . it doesn't feel to me that we're holding together as a family in Christ."

Yesterday, the American Anglican Council, representing conservative Episcopalians, issued a statement calling on Theuner to rescind his revocation of Wilson's license and restore his position as priest in charge of Redeemer.

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