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N.H. may repeat history

The Diocese of New Hampshire, which elected the first bishop of the Episcopal Church who spoke openly of his same-sex partnership, has nominated another openly gay man to become the diocese’s 10th bishop.

Reflecting changes in both the Episcopal Church and civil law since the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson’s election in 2003, the Rev. William Warwick (Bill) Rich wrote about “the love and unwavering support of my husband, Dr. Don Schiermer, now a physician at Exeter Hospital.”

Rich, senior associate rector for Christian formation at Trinity Church, Boston, is one of three nominees for a May 19 election, which will choose a bishop coadjutor. The coadjutor will become the bishop diocesan in January 2013.

The diocese announced the nominees March 15. The other two nominees, both of whom alluded to going through divorce earlier in their lives, praised the diocese’s decision to elect Robinson in 2003.

The Rev. Penelope Maude (Penny) Bridges, rector of St. Francis Church, Great Falls, Va., praised what the diocesan profile has called “modest year-to-year growth.”

“It is significant that the church is growing in a diocese which has led the way in radical inclusion, and we should learn from this and apply the same values across the church,” she wrote. “When our church tries to avoid conflict by shying away from the work of social justice, we lose the possibility of offering a compelling narrative, and membership declines. New Hampshire is living by example in embracing the gifts of all people; this example is to be nurtured and strengthened.”

Figures from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Congregational Vitality indicate that the diocese lost members from 2004 to 2007 and began regaining them in 2007. As of 2010, both baptized members and average Sunday attendance remained lower than in 2003. Pledge and plate income, however, steadily increased from 2004 to 2007, and remained higher than in 2003.

The Rev. A. Robert (Rob) Hirschfeld, rector of Grace Church, Amherst, Mass., compared Robinson’s election to the parting of the Red Sea.

“It seems to me that something in our Church has been split wide open for all God’s children to step in,” Hirschfeld wrote. “And it happened in New Hampshire, and the good people of your diocese bravely, miraculously set forth.”

Hirschfeld added a description of his advocacy for gay marriage in Massachusetts. “In the spring of 2006, I initiated at Grace Church a ‘wedding fast.’ I asked the vestry and parish to support me in a moratorium from presiding at any wedding until we came to some resolution about the jarring practice of performing weddings for heterosexual persons, even those who have no affiliation with the community, while maintaining that homosexuals are disqualified from such blessings,” he wrote.

“This stance was taken in response to a call from the wider church to fast from the blessing of same sex unions and the consecration to the episcopate of gays and lesbians. It seemed to me that when initiating a fast, we do so willingly with free choice. Gays and lesbians have been fasting without their choosing for ages. That’s not fasting. It’s hunger. And to perpetuate it, even while others can join a wedding feast, is simply unjust.”


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