Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, announced today to New Hampshire's diocesan convention that he will retire at the end of 2013. It appears as if the decision was made primarily due to the negative attention he has received from all over the world since his historical election in 2003. The reason for the lengthy time period, he explains, is to allow for what he refers to as "a smooth and unhurried process of transition, for the diocese and for (himself)."
The New York Times reports on the unexpected news:
The news took some by surprise because Bishop Robinson is an energetic 63-year-old, and mandatory retirement age for Episcopal bishops is 72. He has led a relatively stable and healthy diocese, despite predictions by some that his election would undermine the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire.
The reason to depart, he said in a speech delivered at the close of the annual convention of his diocese, is that being at the center of an international uproar has taken a toll on him and on the diocese.
“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” and on Episcopalians in the state, he said.
But those who know Bishop Robinson say he has no intention of retiring from public life. His status as a symbol in the international gay rights movement means that after he steps down, he will have no shortage of platforms from which to preach his message that God blesses gay relationships too. (Through a spokesman, he declined interview requests.)
Read the Bishop's full speech to the diocesan convention, AFTER THE JUMP.
Bishop of New Hampshire Calls for Election of Successor
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