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On Friday, Dec. 10, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak will host the 20th annual liturgical celebration for People Who Care About People with AIDS. This year the service, which was founded by the Reverend Rod Reinhardt, will feature Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly-gay bishop of New Hampshire.
Robinson, who was elected bishop in 2003 and began his new role on March 7, 2004, is the first non-celibate gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. His election lead to intense debate and controversy on a worldwide level regarding the issue of homosexuality in the Anglican Communion, which includes the U.S. Episcopal Church.
Robinson’s inclusion in this year’s ceremony is expected to raise the profile of the event. “We’ve had other speakers who are gay or lesbian, but none who are so well known and so maligned as he, and Pastor Northcraft and I are just honored to be doing this together,” said Harry Cook, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Clawson which, along with St. John’s, is sponsoring the event.
“It’s a liturgy, with all kinds of people participating. It’s always a joyous, joyous event, made more joyous by the presence of Bishop Robinson,” he continued.
Besides his notoriety as a gay man, choosing Robinson for the People Who Care About People With AIDS service is a logical fit. Robinson is a co-author of three AIDS education curricula for youth and adults and has done AIDS work in Africa.
Although Robinson has just recently been thrust into the public eye, he has been active in his faith and service to God for decades. He completed his M. Div. at New York’s General Theological Seminary in 1973. It was his faith that not only enabled him to accept himself as a gay man, but enabled his family to get through the experience.
“Jesus Christ challenges us to take Him at His word, to accept the extravagance of His accepting love, to be the Child of God we were created to be, no matter the costÑin order to better serve Him,” said Robinson in an interview on the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire web site. “I answered God’s call to acknowledge myself as a gay man. My wife and I, in order to KEEP our wedding vow to ‘honor [each other] in the Name of God,’ made the decision to let each other go. We returned to church, where our marriage had begun, and in the context of the eucharist, released each other from our wedding vows, asked each other’s forgiveness, cried a lot, pledged ourselves to the joint raising of our children, and shared the Body and Blood of Christ.”
Robinson continued, “Risking the loss of my children and the exercise of my ordained ministry in the Church was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken, but it left me with two unshakable things: my integrity and my God. I learned that there is no way to Easter except through Good Friday. The Living Christ walked with me on that journey: telling the truth about my life and daring me to be the person God created me to be Ñ for God’s service. It won the hearts of my daughters, whom I feared losing, and, later, the love of a wonderful partner, with whom I’ve made a home for the past 13 years.”
The controversy surrounding Robinson has caused some splits in the church worldwide. Though the controversy is a disappointment, Robinson appears well-equipped to handle the fray. According to his bio, “Much of his ministry has focused on helping congregations and clergy in conflict and in studying congregational dynamics, conflict, and mediation.” The church, like the country, remains sharply divided about homosexuality but, said Robinson, conflict in the church is not a new concept.
“Can we live together while we fight? It should not surprise us that there is conflict in the church. Peter and Paul fought like cats and dogs in the early Church, so why should we be any different? Ironically, they fought over the same thing we fight over today: who should be included in the Church and who should be excluded from it. Whether we focus on race, gender, sexual orientation, abortion or stem cell research, we seem hell bent on proclaiming some people ‘in’ and other people ‘out,'” said Robinson.
“Because we live in a complex world, and because we don’t ask our members to check their minds at the door, faithful Episcopalians will continue to disagree on whether abortion is a moral choice, whether dioceses should be forced to open their ordination processes to women, or whether faithful gay and lesbian relationships should be celebrated and not just tolerated,” he said. “The particular answer to any of these questions is less important to me than how we as a Church deliberate about them.”