Robinson will step down as bishop of N.H. in 2013

Says focus on his presence has taken a toll

Bishop V. Gene Robinson was all smiles yesterday after he announced his retirement. Bishop V. Gene Robinson was all smiles yesterday after he announced his retirement. (Mary Schwalm/Associated Press)
By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / November 7, 2010

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New Hampshire’s Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop whose consecration sparked a global religious controversy, announced yesterday that he would take early retirement, citing stress from the years at the center of the firestorm.

Robinson, who has been bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire since 2003, will be 65 when he steps down in January 2013, seven years below the mandatory retirement age for Episcopal bishops. He announced his plans at the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in Concord.

‘‘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,’’ Robinson said in his prepared remarks.

But Robinson made it clear that the stress of being the focal point of an often bitter debate over whether an openly gay man should lead a church that disapproves of homosexuality has been very difficult for him and his family.

‘‘The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and you,’’ he said. ‘‘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.’’

The rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord, N.H, said last night that Robinson was ‘‘very much loved’’ but that she understood his decision.

‘‘We were all very sorry to hear it. We were just glad he was able to tell us a couple years before he’ll actually be going so we’ll have two more years to work with and minister with him,’’ said the Rev. Kate B. Atkinson, who joined St. Paul’s last year after moving from a parish in California.

Robinson said he was giving the two years to allow for a ‘‘smooth and unhurried’’ transition as the diocese seeks and elects a new bishop, who will be subject to approval from the national church.

‘‘There are still things left for me to do,’’ he said. ‘‘First and foremost, there is continuing to be a good bishop for you during the next two years,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘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.’’

He indicated that he would be working with the gay community and hoped he could be a role model for young people.

‘‘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 their lives are doomed to despair and unhappiness,’’ he said. ‘‘I get to tell them a different story.’’

Robinson, who could not be reached for comment last night, said in his remarks that he was in good health and had lost 25 pounds over the past seven years. He also said he has been sober for five years after seeking treatment for alcoholism.

‘‘I think he’s been an excellent bishop, and I am really grateful to him for what he’s done for our church, and I wish him all the best,’’ said the Rev. Sara H. Irwin, the rector of Christ Church in Waltham. ‘‘Announcing his retirement in advance is the responsible thing to do. I just really appreciate the way he’s been able to lead us forward in a really graceful way.’’

In 1998, the Anglican church passed a resolution declaring homosexual acts as ‘‘incompatible with Scripture.’’ But the church also said it condemned homophobia and declared ‘‘homosexual persons ... are loved by God.’’

Robinson’s consecration in 2003 caused some conservatives to turn away from the Episcopal Church and affiliate with more conservative Anglican churches based in Africa and South America. In 2007, the Rev. William L. Murdoch split from the Episcopal Church to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya. In doing so, his flock walked away from All Saints Episcopal Church in West Newbury and a $1 million endowment, purchasing a closed Catholic church in Amesbury, which is now called All Saints Anglican parish.

Irwin called the schism ‘‘tragic.’’

‘‘Certainly, there are people in my congregation who disagree with same sex marriage or consecration of gay and lesbian bishops or ordination of gay priests, but they’re welcome in my congregation, and I love them,’’ she said. ‘‘I just wish we were able to stay in one place, but if that’s not possible, then the church wasted a lot of energy on this, and we need to be moving forward.’’

Earlier this year, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles consecrated Mary D. Glasspool, the second openly gay and first lesbian bishop in the church.

Her promotion led the Anglican Communion to suspend American Episcopalians from serving on ecumenical bodies. And in June, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the Anglicans, called for a moratorium on appointing gays to leadership positions

Robinson was legally united with Mark Andrew in a civil ceremony in June 2008. A blessing followed at St. Paul’s church.

Last year, he was tapped by then President-elect Barack Obama to give a prayer at a preinauguration event.

In his speech yesterday, Robinson was gracious to the people of New Hampshire for the way they treated him.

‘‘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,’’’ Robinson said. ‘‘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.’’

John M. Guilfoil can be reached at