CONCORD, N.H. -- Across the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, congregants and clergy today reacted with heavy hearts to word that Bishop V. Gene Robinson is retiring.
Robinson, 63, whose consecration seven years ago as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church divided the Anglican Communion worldwide, yesterday announced at the annual convention of the New Hampshire diocese that he plans to retire in January 2013, short of the mandatory 72-year-old retirement age for Episcopal bishops. He cited death threats and the considerable strain that the worldwide rift has placed on him, his family, and the church.
"The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and you," Robinson told the convention. "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."
Robinson, who has declined to comment to the media beyond his convention address, made a quiet parish visit to All Saints' Episcopal Church in Wolfeboro this morning, where he mentioned his retirement while leading the 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. services and spoke about it more directly while meeting with the vestry, or church board.
"He explained that the pressure -- particularly some threats on his life, one of which apparently was pretty gruesome -- just has gotten to the point where he's saying I just can't keep doing this forever," said Lee White, a retired physician who serves as senior warden, or lay leader, of the Wolfeboro church.
White said Robinson is a frequent presence beyond Concord, visiting parishes throughout the state. The bishop led services in Wolfeboro yesterday while the rector at All Saints' was attending a 50th high school reunion.
"He's a gem," White said. "I'm sad to see him go, but I totally understand."
At Robinson's home parish, St. Paul's in Concord, Susan Milliken expressed sorrow at the retirement of the spiritual leader many in Concord and the state -- where he said he has aspired to be known as "the good bishop," not "the gay bishop" -- know simply as Gene.
"Everybody loves him," Milliken said during coffee time in the parish center, after the 8 a.m. service. "He's just a wonderful man. So kind, so open. It was all so divisive when he became our bishop. It really didn't need to be. He's just a man."
Robinson's state-level election and national ratification by the Episcopal Church in 2003 exposed a growing division in the Anglican Communion, or worldwide Church of England, among religious liberals and conservatives. It also made Robinson an international figure. In January 2009, then-president-elect Barack Obama selected Robinson to deliver a pre-inauguration prayer at an event at the Lincoln Memorial.
But in New Hampshire, where Robinson has lived and worked for 35 years, there was less fallout to his selection.
The last seven years "have been a great gift for all of us," said the Rev. Robin Thomas Soller, rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Meredith, N.H., and a member of the search committee that selected Robinson. "In some ways I think it's been more of a challenge for the rest of the world, because they haven't had the opportunity to meet Gene Robinson . . . to see how genuine he is, to see his love for God and the people here."
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more