With the ceremonial laying on of hands by a cluster of bishops, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson was consecrated the next bishop of New Hampshire and the first openly gay prelate in the Episcopal Church U.S.A. on Sunday, laying the groundwork for a split in the American church and a break with fellow Anglican churches abroad.
In a solemn and celebratory ceremony, Robinson accepted his bishop's stole and chasuble from his parents, the gold miter for his head from his two daughters and his gay partner, and his shepherd's crook from his predecessor, New Hampshire Bishop Douglas Theuner.
The nearly 4,000 people in an arena at the University of New Hampshire rose to their feet, applauding, cheering and whistling. When Robinson quieted them down, he said, "It's not about me. It's about so many other people who find themselves at the margins." Addressing the crowd, he said, "Your presence here is a welcome sign for those people to be brought into the center."
The consecration went ahead despite proclamations from the primates who lead Anglican churches in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America that a gay bishop will not be recognized in their churches, and will prompt them to break ties, as soon as Tuesday, with their American affiliate, the Episcopal Church U.S.A.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, released a statement on Sunday night that acknowledged the Americans' right to choose their bishops, but also lamented the Americans' disregard for the objections of their more conservative church cousins in other parts of the world.
"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," the archbishop said. "It is clear that those who have consecrated Gene Robinson have acted in good faith on their understanding of what the constitution of the American church permits. But the effects of this upon the ministry and witness of the overwhelming majority of Anglicans particularly in the non-Western world have to be confronted with honesty."
The controversy over homosexuality has sharpened a long-brewing power struggle between the more established branches of the Anglican Communion, which include the Church of England and the Episcopal Church U.S.A., and what were once the mission churches in the developing world. The Anglican Communion includes about 70-million members throughout the world, only about 2.3-million of them American. The church in Nigeria, with about 17-million members, has helped lead the objections to a gay bishop.
Nevertheless, the consecration was a vindicating moment for many Episcopalians who had long hoped the church would formally acknowledge the many gay men and lesbians who serve as priests, deacons and laypeople.
At an appointed moment during the ceremony, the crowd was asked if there were any objections to Robinson's installation. A laywoman from New Hampshire, a priest from Pittsburgh and a bishop from Albany, N.Y., stepped to the microphone one by one.
The Rev. Earle Fox of Pittsburgh reeled off an explicit recitation of the sexual practices of gay men, but was interrupted by the official leading the consecration, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church. Proceeding with his speech, Fox concluded that people who are "made in God's loving image would not engage in or bless or consecrate such behavior."
Margaret Harwood, a parishioner at St. Mark's Church in Ashland, said, "We must not proceed with this terrible and unbiblical mistake, which will not only rupture the Anglican Communion, it will break God's heart." And Suffragan Bishop David Bena of the Diocese of Albany said he carried greetings from 36 other bishops in the United States and Canada who objected to Robinson's installation.
Outside the arena, a small group of antigay protesters held signs and faced off against a far larger crowd of supporters, among them many students and members of other churches.
Griswold thanked "our brothers and sisters in Christ for bringing their concerns before us." But he said, "The bases of their objections put forward are well known and I think have been considered." He said Robinson was elected by the Diocese of New Hampshire in June and approved by the general convention of the Episcopal Church in August.
He acknowledged the move could cause divisions in his church and in the Anglican communion, but he said that what held the church together was more fundamental than one bishop.