One of the three priests nominated to succeed Bishop Gene Robinson at his Diocese of New Hampshire is an openly gay man and married to his partner, Boston Globe reports.
Bishop Robinson was the first openly gay bishop to be elected by the New Hampshire Episcopalians, which resulted in a rift in the worldwide Anglican Communion, rifts which have threatened to split the alliance into two factions.
Now, the Rev William W. Rich, a senior associate rector at Trinity Church in Boston has been nominated by the Diocese, and his sexuality, and the fact that he is married to his partner, will be considered irrelevant at best, according to insiders familiar with the matter.
Roughly 200 members of the clergy and elected lay delegates will vote by secret ballot on May 19 in Concord, New Hampshire. The three candidates, the other two being Rev Penelope Maud Bridges, rector of St Francis Episcopal Church in Great Falls, Virginia, and the Rev A Robert Hirschfeld, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, will visit New Hampshire later this week, ahead of the election.
All three candidates have declined to be interviewed ahead of the election, saying the period prior to it was time for prayers. But, all three have affirmed that they saw Bishop Robinson’s election as a positive step, with Rev Bridges calling it “a standard for radical inclusion,” an example of “the broad umbrella of Anglicanism.” Rev Hirschfeld in his turn said that in 2006, he went on what he called a “wedding fast,” refraining from presiding over weddings after the Episcopalians put a temporary moratorium, now lifted, on blessing same-sex couples.
Rev Rich holds a doctoral degree in psychology and religion, and until last year was a lecturer at Union Theological Seminary in New York. In his application, he has written that as a young priest in 1992, he presided at the ‘holy union’ of a lesbian couple in Baltimore, where he spent much of his young days. There was much publicity surrounding the blessing, though he was exonerated in both formal and informal church trials.
Margaret Porter, vice chairman of the bishop search committee at the Diocese, said that there wouldn’t be much of a fuss this time around. When Bishop Robinson was elected in 2003, it drew worldwide attention to the Diocese, and caused a significant backlash from the traditional factions within the Anglican Communion, particularly those in Africa.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, urged the Episcopal Church to reconsider its actions, and repeatedly pleaded for unity over the issue. To much controversy, he excluded Bishop Robinson from the Lambeth Conference in 2008, when the conservative Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans was formed. The Fellowship members are gathered in London at the moment to discuss future direction for the Communion, with Archbishop Williams set to step down later this year.
However, the fears that there will be a traditionalist backlash within the Episcopal Church in the US have proved unfounded. Rather, the membership within the church has increased, according to Ms Porter, and the one parish that did close had had an acrimonious relationship with the main church anyway.
Bishop M Thomas Shaw of the Diocese of Massachusetts underplayed the threat of schism within the Anglican Communion, in a statement to Boston Globe. He said that there is a greater recognition of cultural differences between various churches, and therefore the understanding for a greater need of autonomy between them.