Breaking News — Bishop Gene Robinson announces retirement

Sunday, November 7, 2010
By Frank Lockwood

AP Photo -- Bishop Gene Robinson

The first openly-gay man to be elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church just announced that he plans to retire in 2013, at age 65.

The text of his retirement announcement is listed, in full, below.

First, I’d like add a few comments myself. I spent time with Bishop Robinson less than a month ago — something I should have shared with you before now. He was speaking at a gay-friendly church in Sherwood, Arkansas, a suburb of Little Rock.

It wasn’t an Episcopal Church, by the way. It’s a church that was founded by an Assemblies of God-educated, Presbyterian preacher. The audience at Open Door Community Church numbered only about 90 people.

This is a church where people cry a lot, I supposed. It had 100 seats and Kleenex boxes everywhere. More than 40 of them, by my count.

A Grammy winning artist, Cynthia Clawson, sang a song called “This Is to Mother You” — as a tribute to men and women who have dead mothers or mothers who have disowned them because of their sexual orientation. I looked around the room, and saw pain in so many eyes.

As Robinson prepared to preach, a pulled-pork barbecue luncheon warmed in the oven. Jay Bakker, son of evangelists Jim and the late Tammy Faye Bakker, sat attentively in the crowd. A few rows over sat Peggy Campolo, wife of Bill Clinton spiritual mentor Tony Campolo.

Robinson’s message was aimed at gay churchgoers who are despised and rejected and aquainted with grief. The gay rights movement’s march will prevail, he said. Full equality will be achieved. And some of the folks in the audience, he said, may even live to see it all happen.

Before the sermon, I asked the bishop a couple of questions and the subject of retirement never came up. I’m sure he was saving that news for his New Hampshire church family. “What are you doing here?” was the first thing he asked me, expressing surprise that I’d left the Lexington Herald-Leader. He smiled warmly and acted genuinely pleased to see me. I introduced him to my youngest child. We talked about Robinson’s folks — sweet people who live in central Arkansas Kentucky who I interviewed seven years ago. His parents were, quite understandably and justifiably, a bit media shy. And they weren’t talking to hoardes of reporters. But Gene Robinson met me and trusted me enough to let me interview his parents. Given the green light by their world famous son, back in Oct. 2003, they shared with me what they went through when they learned about Gene’s sexual orientation — and what it was like to see him in the eye of an international ecclesiastical hurricane.

My story ran here in Little Rock on a Sunday morning. Bright and early Monday, I got a kind e-mail from the bishop. He had enjoyed the story.

It’s not my task to determine whether gays should — or should not — serve as successors to the Apostles. I know so many good people on both sides of this debate and my task, journalistically, is to be a good referee — not an advocate. But I think people of goodwill can agree on this much: It’s nice that the bishop can (hopefully) live out the rest of his days with fewer death threats and less hate mail. And New Hampshire is a beautiful place to retire.

Bishop of New Hampshire Calls for Election of Successor
Announcement courtesy of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire

Convention of the Diocese of New Hampshire

November 6, 2010

I am using this time for closing remarks to announce to you an important decision I have made regarding our common life. On January 5, 2013, I will retire as your Bishop. To that end, I am hereby calling for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of New Hampshire, who will succeed me in 2013. While this is an excruciatingly long period of time – two years and two months – from now, this period of time is essential for a smooth and unhurried process of transition, for the diocese and for me.

Let me share with you the reasons for announcing my retirement at this time:

I wanted to make this announcement to you in person. While I might have delayed this announcement a few more months, I could not imagine doing so by letter. I have been in the Diocese of New Hampshire 35 years, the last 24 of which have been in a diocesan position. Our time together has always focused on “relationship,” and I could not imagine changing this relationship without telling you so personally.

By January, 2013, I will be approaching my 66th birthday. (This is where you say, “But bishop, you look so young!”) I will have been a bishop over nine years, a reasonable and typical tenure for a bishop my age in the Episcopal Church, in what I consider to be one of the great and healthy dioceses of The Episcopal Church. 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. I received the diocese under my pastoral care in good shape, thanks to Bishops Phil Smith and Doug Theuner, and believe that I will be passing it along to my successor ALSO in good shape. I have tried to be a faithful steward of the trust and responsibility you placed in me. Only you can be the judge of that.

The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and YOU. 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, and in some ways, YOU. While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the Diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate. While my resignation may not stop such pressures completely, it does seem to be the right time for me to initiate the nearly-two-year process for your election of a new bishop. A three-month overlap will allow for a smooth and appropriate transition.

There are still things left for me to do. First and foremost, there is continuing to be a good bishop for you during the next two years. 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. I intend to continue to be fully engaged as your Bishop in the remaining time we lead the diocese together. You can do YOUR part by not sweeping me aside, either literally or emotionally, over the next two years, while I lead as your Bishop Diocesan.

Let me assure you that I am in good health – having lost 25 pounds put on over the last seven years in part by eating all your good food!! Especially that coconut cream pie in Colebrook! I continue in my fifth year of sobriety, which has been a total blessing to me. I continue to treasure my work and ministry with you, and it is a total joy and privilege to serve you and to serve God in this holy collaboration with you. After two more final, vigorous years with you, there are other things that I hope to do, in a new chapter in my life and ministry.

In the meantime, there is mission and ministry to be done. I have been on retreat with the senior staff, and we have set priorities for the next two years. My first priority during these two years will be to continue to support, nurture and pastor our clergy, lay leaders and congregations. Our School for Vestries, under the able leadership of our new Canon for Lay Leadership, Judith Esmay, is the fulfillment of one of my dreams for us. We will continue our focus on stewardship, vitality and leadership development in congregations. We will continue to be responsible stewards of our finances. We will continue to work with congregations in finding the best clergy available for ministry here in New Hampshire. Our fantastic diocesan staff will continue to see, as their primary mission, serving you, the people of the diocese. The Diocesan Council will shepherd us through a new and exciting accountability process for Fair Share giving. Our Mission Resources Committee, under the leadership of Benge Ambrogi, will be freed to focus on new and creative ministry projects in small and large congregations alike. It is such an exciting time in the life of our diocese, and I intend to jump into it with both feet!

For my own ministry as your bishop, both within and beyond the diocese, I will continue my work of evangelizing the unchurched and the “de-churched.” I get to talk to probably more unchurched people than any other bishop in The Episcopal Church. On college campuses, speaking to various public forums, and also in my work with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, I get the opportunity to make the case for God and for God’s Church – either to those who have never known God’s unimaginable love, or to those who have been ill-treated, in the name of a judgmental God, and who have left the Church. 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 that their lives are doomed to despair and unhappiness. I get to tell them a different story. By all accounts, I have had the privilege of bringing many people into the Church for the first time, or convincing them that the Church is becoming a safe place to which they can return with a reasonable expectation of welcome. This is EVANGELISM, for me, pure and simple. This is my attempt at fulfilling “the Great Commission” to go forth into the world, baptizing in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a calling not just for a bishop, but for each one of us.

I must admit to some anxiety about this change, but I’ve got plenty of time to deal with that. Since I was ordained at the ripe old age of 26, the Church has been my whole life. I love getting up at 4:30 in the morning to pray and to begin work answering your emails and questions and to respond to the needs of our clergy and congregations. Sundays continue with my weekly, official visitations in congregations which have enlivened, nourished and excited me for much of the last decade. I look forward to continuing in being intimately connected with you and your ministries. But as we are told in Ecclesiastes: “to everything there is a season.” And now it seems to be the season to continue that ministry among you over the next two years, as you carefully choose your next bishop. He or she has no idea what a joy and what a privilege it will be to serve you, the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire

I have talked with the Standing Committee about my decision and they will meet on December 9th with Bishop Matthews of the House of Bishops Pastoral Development Office. The Standing Committee will begin the process of choosing both an Episcopal Search Committee and an Episcopal Transition Committee, which will begin their work in the new year. About a year later, in early 2012, nominees will be announced, with an election in the late spring of 2012. Allowing for the necessary consent process at General Convention, we will consecrate our new Bishop on (tentatively, subject to consent) Saturday, September 15, 2012. As with my own election, there will be a few months of overlap for the new bishop to get acclimated and for a smooth transition to occur. On Saturday, January 5, 2013, I will pass over my authority, and the Bishop’s Staff which symbolizes it, to our new bishop, with joy and thanksgiving for what has gone before and for what is to come under new leadership.

I make this announcement with nothing but praise and thanksgiving to God for having the privilege of serving you. While I know that I have not been God’s perfect servant during this time, I will leave in early 2013 knowing that I have given this ministry my best efforts. YOU are, and will continue to be, the reason I have not only survived, but thrived, during this tumultuous time in the wider Church. 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.” 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. You always treat me as a human being, a beloved child of God, and an eager servant of Our Lord. That is what I have tried to be, all along the way – and with every ounce of my being, I will continue. And God willing, I will leave this office in 2013 with even more love, more affection and more gratitude for you than when I assumed this role.

I know that this will have come as a shock to many of you, especially given how much I love being your Bishop and love the work we have undertaken together. I even hope that my energy and enthusiasm for being your Bishop has caused you to forget that I am approaching retirement age. But there it is!

There will be plenty of time in the future for remembrances, thanksgivings and reflection on our time together. For now, though, there is important work to be done. We need to let our fine Standing Committee and the future Search Committee do their jobs, and in the meantime, get on with being the Church and preaching the Gospel in this part of God’s vineyard. New Hampshire has made a name for itself in the last few years, and although unwittingly, we have been on the national and international stage. It has given us the opportunity to proclaim God’s love for ALL of God’s children in profound ways. I do not expect that to be diminished in any way as we move through the next two years of transition and as you move into a new partnership with your new bishop! All I can say is that it is the most profound, blessed and exciting honor to continue as your bishop. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for loving me and working alongside me in bringing the Church in New Hampshire and the world ever closer to the Reign of God.

It’s been a great, collaborative ride, and it will continue to be. All in the name of God, who loves us beyond our wildest imagining, and who will continue to lead us into the future as surely and as faithfully as in the past. Thanks be to God.

And now, I will ask our outgoing Standing Committee President to lead us in prayer, sending us into the world, to care for the People of God, preach the Good News, and continue as faithful witnesses to the Gospel.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, IX Bishop of New Hampshire

No Responses to “Breaking News — Bishop Gene Robinson announces retirement”

  1. perplexed

    It seems the Church has lost so much over this. I wonder if the movement feels like it has accomplished its goals.

  2. José

    Throughout history a great many faithful people have chosen to struggle with adversity rather than discard their trust in the Gospel message. I rather doubt that the Episcopalians of New Hampshire elected Robinson because they figured it would be easy or popular.

  3. Caleb Powers

    My view, perplexed, is that the only thing we’ve lost as a church over this is a few bigots, and frankly I say let them go. The rest of it is posturing: The Anglican Communion is not going to do anything to us, and even the schismatics know that now. They see their remedy in court, not Canterbury, now, as they try to take our property.

  4. perplexed

    Now there is a division in the church that has put religion in the back seat. It has become about separatism instead of unification. Verbally expressing the rights of each faction has caused discord that has lead to altering the fabric of the charter of the church. Is a split in order and what would the splitting faction be called? Is this retirement based on what is best for the whole church? Is it an attempt to let wounds heal so the church can reunify? I guess the question I’m asking, “Is this a snow job?”?

  5. José

    There are divisions but let’s be honest about who is responsible. Division isn’t necessary and it didn’t just happen by chance. Only one side is talking about separation, and that is because the other side pushes for the church to include all of God’s children. It’s the same for all mainstream Christian churches in recent years. The conservative / traditional bloc either wants to push out the more inclusive liberal / modern bloc, or they want to break away from the church and take the assets.

    I have lots of friends who are unhappy with some policies that were set by the narrow conservative majority in The United Methodist Church. Some of these good people have left TUMC peaceably, and others like myself remain in TUMC and work and pray for the church to change its way to be more in line with the teachings of Christ. To the best of my recollection none of the liberals have sued to take ownership of property away from TUMC, nor have they tried to expel other church members because of disagreements over doctrine. There is no symmetry in this conflict.

  6. perplexed

    Does anybody have any idea what the Charter says?

  7. Gene Robinson isn’t the problem. He is a symptom of the moral regression of the century and TEC’s disregard for Church Tradition, the teaching of the Church Fathers, and the Bible.

    Robinson’s narcissim puts him in a class with the self-obsessed Louie Crew.

  8. cheese

    Moral regression? I doubt it. People are not behaving worse nowadays. If they were, crime statistics would be going up. In fact, they are going down. I would call it moral evolution. What was considered sin long ago is no longer considered as such now that religons are losing their control over society. People have always done bad things. Earlier people’s transgressions are lost to history; we of the information age are unlucky enough to have our bad deeds preserved for posterity. We today are hyper-aware, but as a whole, I believe we’re getting better.

  9. Caleb Powers

    I agree, Cheese. The first thing any group does when it wants to demonize another group is to declare that the disliked group has been condemned by the Bible. The second thing they do is promote the idea of the disliked group as morally inferior to the dominant group.

    I have been re-reading some old political literature, and during the struggle for voters’ rights for blacks, the preachers hit the first button, and the politicians the second. On Sundays, the preachers would assure the faithful that blacks were the sons of whatever disliked Old Testament figure they could muster, and therefore worthy of scorn, and the rest of the week, the politicians circulated tracts claiming that the exclusion of blacks from voting was absolutely necessary to bring honesty to elections, on the theory that blacks would sell their votes. It was a one-two punch that kept blacks disenfranchised in the South for a century.

    Here, the right wing has done exactly the same thing. They first declare gays and lesbians condemned by the Bible, then spread propaganda accusing them of everything short of selling their votes.

    And once again the public is buying it. Which, once again, brings us back to my perpetual point about the level of education in our society.

  10. Moral regression is a term used to speak of the flow of ethics from the binary distinctions of the Afro-Asiatics in which they were able to identify the sacred center to the belief that there is no sacred center. The secular term is moral relativism, the prevailing ethical notion.

  11. cheese

    Are you planning on getting that research peer-reviewed?

  12. cheese

    Oops, wrong thread.

    Well, consider me a fan of moral regression. That “sacred center” was an delusion in the first place. We’re better off without it. But I wouldn’t consider it equal to moral relativism. Moral relativism is a straw man. I’ve never met a single person who claims to be a moral relativist. I bet you haven’t either. I myself am partial to utilitarianism. Where does that fit in your binary order?

  13. perplexed

    Cheese, moral regression isn’t part of the church doctrine, yet some folks are hell bent on making their own rules regardless of the structure thats in place, completely ignoring tradition and an established doctrine. The backlash speaks for itself!

  14. cheese

    Perp, tradition just means people have been doing something for a long time. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. I believe there is new knowledge that we have not discovered yet. Clinging to traditions without submitting them to tests of scrutiny will not help you find it. To believe that we already know everything we need to know is the height of arrogance and stupidity. Only sheep need doctrine and tradition; I prefer to think for myself. If God has a problem with it, he can kiss it. I do not care.

  15. perplexed

    Having no respect for tradition and ignoring the past will ultimately lead to failure. I’m sorry you don’t care about God.
    In your life you will encounter things that you will have absolutely no control over. It may be something that has the potential to destroy you emotional and physically. It could be loss of a loved one, a child, a lover, a dear friend, a parent, somebody you care about. It could be an accident that incapacitates you. Thats when all BS you tout will cripple you and then maybe you’ll see what most of us have in our hearts. Then you’ll believe.

  16. cheese

    Perp, I don’t need existential security blankets, and if something truly awful did occur to me, someone who had the power to prevent it is the last person I would cozy up to. You cannot scare me into believing this crap.

  17. perplexed

    Cheese, Its about life, not me! You’ll see, I promise!

  18. cheese

    You can’t promise that.

  19. perplexed

    Life can!

  20. cheese

    Life doesn’t make promises, despite what Ben Frank said about death and taxes. Your certainty that tragedy will lead me to believe in a god is unfounded. There are atheists in foxholes. I understand the universe as random. I don’t see how a personal tragedy, which is never outside the realm of possibility, can change that.

  21. perplexed

    Your lack of belief will weight heavily into your relationships.
    You will have a choice on where to draw your strength from, yourself, which will lead you into a bitter life with relationships that bind you by pity or strength from God, which will help you move forward in life. Regardless, you now know you have a choice. I hope you chose wisely.

  22. cheese

    Those are not my only choices, and there’s no way that you can predict what the outcomes of my choices will be. You don’t know, perp. Can you admit that you don’t know?

  23. cheese

    Does the Lord have plans, perp? Why did he give my dad MS, perp? Was that part of his plan? Does that make me a stronger person? Does that make my dad a stronger person? Does that help anything, perp? The Lord conspicuously doesn’t answer his damn phone. It’s supposedly within his power to cure this sort of thing, but he chooses not to. Why do you think that this, perp?

    I think it’s because he’s a piece of shit. And if the Lord gave a shit about any of us, he’d do something about it. The fact that he doesn’t tells me everything about the Lord that I need to know.

  24. perplexed

    You wrong cheese. Bitterness will make your life hell, there will be not a ray of sunshine to warm your heart. You still have your Dad. Mine had Alzheimer. He was big strapping man reduced to a bag of bones when he died. I don’t blame God. I wonder what environment or medicinal practiced may have alter the proteins in his brain to cause it. Life isn’t fair, but you have to realize there are great things that happen to a person in life. If you are consumed with anger, these things will pass you by.
    Cheese, what if you have children one day, what will you teach them? Do you know how much a child pines for their parent?
    Accept this situation and go on cheese. I beg you. Your life is worth much more than bitterness.

  25. Caleb Powers

    Cheese, I’m sorry about your father. I don’t have any answers, either, other than to suggest that you enjoy your time with your father while you have it. Life’s not fair sometimes, and I don’t see a belief in God as believing that it is. There are things we simply don’t know and can’t understand.

  26. perplexed

    Cheese, while I was working today, thinking about you, I turn over a gallon of red paint. While I was cleaning it up, I was thinking about my mentor who is 70 and his girlfriend. I knew that his wife would be expecting an explanation from me. Yesterday a lady I dated when we both were much younger didn’t wake up, She has 2 college age children who are now devastated. Cheese, this is life, this is what it is. If you deal with your fathers MS, it will help the both of you. He can feel your tension, he knows how you feel. Only you can change you but by doing that, it may help him. Don’t be bitter, life just flies by, it would be a defeat for you to wake up at 60 and realize what you missed. Good luck, we are here for you.

  27. Life and belief in God is no existential security blanket. If anything, the righteous suffer. That’s the meaning of the book of Job. Suffering doesn’t lessen love for God or fellow human beings. That’s the reality of true love.

  28. perplexed

    Alice, I think we have a very intelligent young person who is struggling with life. The things that knowledge can’t teach you or shield you from have been laid in their lap. Its a struggle for anybody to see somebody you love drift away. I guess the only comfort here would be to consider the state of mind of the loved one, if you can, and try and make the journey as comfortable as one can be. I see a person looking for something, some revelation or maybe a miracle as a non believer yet ignoring what has drawn them here. Hope! As long as you have it, you will survive. The journey is hard, the reward is great.

  29. peach


    Does the Lord have plans, perp? Why did he give my dad MS, perp

    God did not give your dad M.S. God never promised a soul, that they would not acquire some sort of disease during their lifetime (He only promised to stand beside them, holding their hands)

    Many of our illnesses and diseases (trails/tribulations) can be traced back through genetics. Most of the problems stem from intermarriage of relatives, or eating things like pork, shrimp, lobster, etc. and we may also include man made materials, chemicals and the like, which have all played heavily on the genetic makeup of future generations. While the sins of the past may have been forgiven the consequence of those sins remain forever. An example would be a mother telling a child not to play with matches, the child lites the match and gets burned. He may not ever play with fire again, but may retain the scar from the burn till he dies.

    To say that God gave man disease is tantamount to admitting in a supreme being (therefore not an atheist) but also admitting to being angry at Him. Anger never cured a disease, healed a broken heart, stopped wars, or ended famine. Anger only creates more chaos.

  30. cheese

    If I were to leave my son in a car on a hot summer day with the windows rolled, he would die, and I would be charged with criminal neglect. Would it make any difference to any of you if I said I loved my son? If you have any morals at all, you would say no, if you loved your son, you would have done everything in your power to protect him from harm. Why is it okay for God to be indifferent to the suffering of his children? Why are charges of neglect not hurled in his direction when an infant is left to starve or being raped and tortured by a man of the cloth? Is it love to stand by idly and let powerless creatures suffer for no point whatsoever? If you have any morals at all, you must say that it is not. If God does exist, then he is worthy of all our scorn, but he probably doesn’t exist, so let’s stop making a big fuss out of it.

  31. peach

    you are trying to twist logic: if you loved your son ( and would do anything to protect him-you would do anything to protect him from harm) then you would not have left him in a hot car to be baked to death. Can you honestly state that you have never had the knowledge or common sense not to leave a child in a car on a hot day and not understand that he could die–and how does that make it God’s fault that you left him there?

    If you read the story of the richman and poor man (Luke 16) you will find that the richman’s only claim to fame of being in hell is that he was given many opportunities to feed the poor man-yet failed to do so (I cannot find any other sin of his in the Bible that would have placed him in hell). Many Evangelists claim that there is no God, else he would not have let all the starving children in the world to die–yet feed the children program did not start until 1979–hummmmm.
    Like it or not there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing that God warned us about–yet man has stood by and allowed them to stand behind the pulpit and preach–instead of executing these ‘brute beasts’ we allow them to continue with a slap on the wrists–God has stated over and over–send them to me for judgment. We ourselves have a court system (12 jurors on each) that could properly send these brutes to God-yet we choose to just walk on by and not be the Samaritan who stopped by to help–is that God’s fault?

    I guarantee you that if you go to any public school you will find at least one child that needs fed, needs shoes, or even a winter coat–does that make it God’s fault that you chose to ‘walk on by’? So do tell us–what have you (yourself) done to stop these atrocities?


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