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A service for the brokenhearted

Defiant cry, divided church

DURHAM, N.H. -- As thousands of Episcopalians celebrated the consecration of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson, church members opposed to his elevation held their own service across town, filling the Durham Evangelical Church in a defiant show of unity.

About 200 people attended the three-hour service, in stark contrast to the estimated 2,500 to 3,000 who attended the consecration. As they filed in, many spoke against their church leaders' decision to elevate Robinson, the first officially recognized openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church or any other major Christian denomination.

The Rev. William Murdoch, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in West Newbury, Mass., asked those in attendance to pray "for this church that stands at a historical crossroads and for our own brokenheartedness."

Robinson's elevation has deeply divided the church, with some conservative members calling for a break from a church they believe has split from a long, rich, Anglican tradition.

Many at the Durham Evangelical Church yesterday chastised the Episcopal Church's general convention for confirming Robinson in August.

"We dropped the ball," Murdoch said to the assembly yesterday. He said since the vote, "it felt as though the church was dying. It felt as though something very precious had been sullied."

The American Anglican Council, an organization of conservative Episcopalians, said in a prepared statement: "The arrogance of the leaders of the Diocese of New Hampshire and the Episcopal Church is nothing less than stunning. . . .Today is a grievous day in the history of our Church. The time has come. Our family is now split, and the whole cloth of the Anglican Communion is torn. Realignment has begun."

The 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church is the US branch of the 70-million-member global Anglican Communion.

Many who attended yesterday's service came from out of state, angry and inspired by reports of Robinson's case they had seen in the news.

The parking lot had license plates from Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Bob Davidson, a programmer from Holden, Mass., said opinion over Robinson has turned Episcopalians against each other. Davidson, 53, said he was ostracized and asked to leave his church in Holden because he objected to Robinson's elevation and consecration.

"If I were Gene Robinson, and I had caused this much division, I'd stop what I was doing," Davidson said.

Richard Smith, a computer programmer from Boxford, Mass., criticized what he called a rise in "designer religion," by which people choose some tenets of a religion but not others. The Bible prohibits homosexuality, he said.

"God made it clear what he wanted in Scripture 5,000 years ago. We shouldn't put words in his mouth," said Smith, 54.

Yesterday's service was reserved for Episcopalians, but outside the church, more than 100 people, including members of the Durham Evangelical Church and other local churches, turned out to show that they, too, opposed Robinson's consecration.

As a 15-foot tall outdoor movie screen displayed the slogan, "With One Voice," musicians played upon a makeshift stage in the parking lot. Some held lighted white candles while they sang.

Terry Sharbaugh, pastor of the Durham Evangelical Church, said Robinson's consecration, and the issue of gay clergy, goes beyond any one man or religious denomination.

"Homosexuality has never been accepted in Judeo-Christianity," said Sharbaugh, 49, of Durham. "There's a certain amount of arrogance here."

After yesterday's consecration, Robinson, 56, a longtime assistant to New Hampshire Bishop Douglas Theuner, will automatically become head of the diocese when Theuner retires in March.

Robinson, 56, the divorced father of two grown daughters, has lived in a relationship with another man for 15 years.

Nancy Lomas, a Princeton, Mass., homemaker, said Robinson's selection contradicted the teachings of the Bible. "The church is starting to become secularized -- everything goes, there're no morals," said Lomas, 49. "If you're a church, you go by the Bible."

Her husband, Russ, 50, nodded as she spoke. "There's going to be a split, and it's going to be a messy one," he said.

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