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US gay Episcopal bishop to be consecrated

October 29, 2003

CONCORD, New Hampshire — The first openly gay Episcopal bishop will be consecrated before some 4,000 people, mostly supporters, a few opponents, his family - and a former inmate he befriended while she was in prison.

The woman met Bishop-elect V. Gene Robinson when he visited the New Hampshire women's prison last summer. She asked him to baptize her, which he did this fall, then invited her to the ceremony Sunday in Durham, where she will sit with his family.

Prison officials would not release the woman's name without her permission, which they could not obtain Thursday. But another inmate who met Robinson said she and her fellow offenders were impressed by Robinson.

"He was very down to earth," said Valerie Hall, a Massachusetts woman who is serving a 10- to 12-year sentence for killing her mother.

Hall, 19, wrote to Robinson that she was neither gay nor Christian, but his election gave her hope there was a church that would accept her.

"I just really appreciate how brave and courageous he is in a world that doesn't accept homosexuality," she said in a telephone interview Thursday from the New Hampshire State Prison for Women in Goffstown.

Many conservative Episcopalians do not share Hall's positive view of Robinson's election and they will have an opportunity to speak against him during the ceremony Sunday.

Allowing a moment for objections is standard when Episcopal bishops are consecrated. What's unusual this time is everyone involved expects a response Sunday when Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold says: "If any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it now be made known."

A clergyman representing the American Anglican Council, a national association for conservatives opposed to ordaining gays, plans to make a statement against the consecration at that time.

Griswold - head of the 2.3 million member church - will deal with objections in a dignified way, said James Solheim, a national church spokesman. If there are more than a handful, or if the objectors become unruly, they may be asked to register their complaints in another room.

"At some point, it becomes a security issue, not a liturgical issue," Solheim said.

Robinson was open about his sexual orientation when he was elected to lead the Diocese of New Hampshire earlier this year, and when the denomination's national convention ratified the vote.

Conservative Episcopalians are moving toward a break with the denomination over Robinson, and the bishop-elect has faced a torrent of objections from Anglican leaders worldwide who believe homosexuality is contrary to Scripture.

If any evidence is presented against Robinson, the ceremony inside a sports arena would stop while the bishops considered it, said the Rev. Jan Nunley, Solheim's associate.

"If there are any substantive reasons, not just, `We-don't-like-him-because-he's-gay,' ... then they probably would take them off to another room," he said.

Protesters also are expected outside the University of New Hampshire arena, and the American Anglican Council will hold an alternative service at a church about two miles (three kilometers) away.

In the ceremony, Robinson, 56, will be presented by his two daughters, his ex-wife and his partner, Mark Andrew.

He will become bishop after the laying on of hands, when all the bishops present - 49 were expected at last count - gather around and touch him, asking God to "pour out upon him the power of your princely Spirit."

The Rev. Alice Roberts, the prison chaplain and a fellow Episcopal priest who invited Robinson to visit the inmates, said many of the women were inspired by Robinson's honesty and caring.

"He thinks that what's happening to him is a message - the world is changing to a better, kinder place," she said. –Sapa-AP

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