New Hampshire's Robinson becomes pioneer gay bishop

The ceremony brought 3,000 supporters to their feet for two minutes of whistling applause at the University of New Hampshire’s ice hockey rink turned church-for-a-day.

Minutes after Robinson was consecrated, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams — spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion — said the divisions caused by Robinson’s elevation “are a matter of deep regret.” And a thoughtful protest from conservatives, already moving toward a break with the Episcopal Church, marked the consecration ceremony.

Dissenters say the consecration contradicts the Bible, splinters the U.S. branch of Anglicanism and jeopardizes the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The growing split was evident in Williams’ remarks.

In a statement from London, he said: “The divisions that are arising are a matter of deep regret; they will be all too visible in the fact that it will not be possible for Gene Robinson’s ministry as a bishop to be accepted in every province in the communion.

“It is clear that those who have consecrated Gene Robinson have acted in good faith. … But the effects of this upon the ministry and witness of the overwhelming majority of Anglicans particularly in the nonwestern world have to be confronted with honesty.”

Robinson, 56, accepted the charge to be an apostle of God, while dozens of approving bishops surrounded him. His male partner of 14 years, his ex-wife and two daughters were at his side.

But the consecration began with an acknowledgement that a minority of U.S. believers and more than half the world leaders of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion object.

The ceremony included an opportunity for objectors to speak. Three protesters spoke for 10 minutes, including a Pennsylvania man who launched into a graphic description of gay sex acts.

Two “protest pens” were set up at the arena. One was occupied by about 300 gay-rights supporters, the other by 11 anti-gay activists from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. The leadership of the conservative American Anglican Council (AAC) gathered 500 Episcopalians and activists of other faiths at an alternative service.

AAC leader Kendall Harmon, Diocese of South Carolina theologian, said he was ashamed to be an Episcopal priest Sunday because Robinson and supporters “are turning their back on God.”

Last month, AAC members announced the establishment of their own network. Member churches won’t recognize the authority of bishops who approved of Robinson’s election.

But, with control of billions of dollars in property and pensions hanging in the balance, the AAC has not seceded from the Episcopal Church USA.

“There are faithful, wonderful Christian people for whom this is a moment of great pain and confusion and anger,” said Robinson, addressing the dissent. “They must know if they must leave, they will always be welcomed back.”