Church need not be afraid, New Hampshire bishop tells Putney gathering
Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, whose same-gender partnership has caused debate in the Anglican Communion, on July 13 said the church should not be fearful since “it is not ours to win or lose; it is God’s gift to us, even ours to take some risks with.”
It was one of several public events that included Robinson in the days before the July 16 opening of the Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of the world’s Anglican bishops. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, concerned about Anglican unity, did not invite Robinson to attend the conference, but the Rev. Giles Fraser, rector of St. Mary’s Church, Putney, in the south London-based Diocese of Southwark, was allowed to invite Robinson to preach at the regular Sunday evening eucharist.
Listed in the church bulletin as a “quiet and reflective” service, it was noisier than usual, with a couple of dozen journalists, television camera operators and a packed church in attendance. Two demonstrators were also present, one carrying a placard outside the church and handing out leaflets saying the Bible prohibits homosexuality and one attempting in the church to shout down Robinson as he began his sermon.
Shouting “Repent! Repent!” the demonstrator was eventually drowned out by the congregation, which rose and sang -- with organ accompaniment -- the hymn “Thine be the glory, risen, conquering son.” He was escorted out by ushers.
“Pray for that man,” resumed Robinson, his voice shaking slightly. “Fear is a terrible thing. How sad that the Anglican Communion would threaten to tear itself apart over two men or two women who choose to make a Christian family together.”
Noting that several times in the New Testament, the words “be not afraid” and “fear not” appear, Robinson said “the Anglican Communion is going to be fine. Will it change? Probably. Is it going to be easy? Probably not.”
Referring to the upcoming Lambeth Conference, Robinson said Williams “has gotten it exactly right” as he is calling on the more than 650 bishops who are attending to look at pressing issues such as HIV/AIDS, economic turmoil, rising food prices and poverty.
Speaking under the medieval arches of St. Mary’s, which was the site of a 17th-century discussion -- the Putney Debates -- on the principles of democracy, Robinson said that God’s love is the answer to fear, and can bring healing if there are “things in your life that cause you to feel less than worthy.” The “homosexual agenda,” he said, “is Jesus, the Jesus I know who communicates God’s unwavering love for me,” although, he added, “I’m just as fallible as the next person.”
Robinson, who is visiting England with the protection of a bodyguard, confirmed that threats had been made against his life.
The congregation of more than 250 people applauded Robinson’s sermon, his first in a Church of England parish. Earlier in the week, he spoke at a convention of the 110-year-old Modern Churchpeoples Union and will appear on July 14 at a premiere of a documentary film about gay and lesbian Christians
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