Gay Bishop tests church unity

UNITED STATES

The Episcopal Church has become the first main Christian denomination to make an openly gay man a bishop, consecrating Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. The act almost certainly means disgruntled conservatives will break from the church.

Bishop Robinson 56, was consecrated yesterday, 55 bishops surrounding him for the laying on of hands.

The historic moment came more than an hour into the ceremony and after two Episcopal clerics took advantage of the traditional opportunity to object.

Conservatives have made moves to split the church over Bishop Robinson and leaders of the global Anglican Communion have said his consecration puts their worldwide association with 77 million in jeopardy.

Assistant Bishop David Bena of Albany New York, spoke for 36 opposing bishops in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. He said they and most bishops in the Iiternational Anglican Communion would not recognise Bishop Robinson as a fellow prelate.

Bishop Bena said "Bishop Robinson's 'chosen lifestyle' is incompatible with scripture and the teaching of this church".

He spoke after presiding bishop Frank Griswold asked if there was "any reason why we should not proceed," a traditional part of Episcopal consecration services. Clergyman Earle Fox from the Pittsburgh Diocese also objected. But when he began citing specific behaviour, Bishop Griswold politely cut him off.

The consecration was held before an audience of about 4000 at a University of New Hampshire Sports arena

Outside, a handful of anti and pro-gay demonstrators were kept apart by police. Armed officers stood on the roof.

Dissenting traditionalists held a competing communion service at a nearby church.

The consecration sermon by New Hampshire's retiring bishop, Douglas Theuner was interrupted twice by vigorous applause as be defended Bishop Robinson's gay commitment against detractors.

He said Bishop Robinson would 'stand as a symbol of the unity of the church in a way none of the rest of us can" because he would 'bring into our fellowship an enire group of Christians hitherto unacknowledged in the church".

All previous gay bishops were closeted when they were elevated to their posts.  Bishop Robinson has been open about his 14-year relationship with his partner throughout the process, in which he won election.

The title conferred on Bishop Robinson, long an assistant to Bishop Theuner, is "bishop coadjutor," meaning he automatically becomes head of the diocese when Bishop Theuner retires in March.

A national association for conservatives opposed to ordaining gays, the American Anglican Council, said parishioners were already drifting away in protest at Bishop Robinson's elevation.  It plans to hold the denomination's conservative flank together by building a network of "confessing" dioceses and congregations.

The network will exist more or less separately from the national denomination, claiming to preserve the traditional beliefs of the  Episcopal Church and the international Anglican Communion of which it is a part.

Some predict this will develop into the worst Episcopal split since the denomination was founded in 1789, and that a spate of church lawsuits will result.

But Bishop Griswold, the leader of the 2.3 million-member US denomination, has played down the negative fallout. He said two weeks ago that members who opposed Bishop Robinson's elevation "for the geatest part ... are committted to remaining within the Episcopal Church and living with "divergent points of view". 

Rowan Willianis, Archbishop of' Canterbury and Anglicanism's spiritual leader, said he believed divisions in the worldwide Anglican Communion over Bishop Robinson's selection would heal.

"One day we shall be led, 'in both thankfulness and repentance, to share with onother what we have learned apart, to bring to one another a history not without its shadows and stresses, but still one in which something quite distinctive has been learned," he said in London.

The 37 senior bishops of the world's Anglicans met last month to affirm the faith's opposition, to gay clergy and same-sex behaviour. They also warned that churches in many nations would refuse to recognise Bishop Robinson and would suspend ties with the  Episcopal Church. - AP