Gay bishop thanks Scottish Church for recognising 'all God's people'

GENE Robinson, the openly gay American bishop barred from attending the Lambeth Conference, yesterday praised the "inclusive" outlook of Scots clergy as he spoke of his belief that worldwide Anglican Communion would eventually recognise "all God's people".

The bishop, who was invited to Scotland to preach, said no-one ought to be apprehensive of change within the Church, but that it would adapt and survive.

"I think the Communion will survive. It will change, but the Church has changed many times in its history. We should not be fearful of that," he said.

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In Glasgow yesterday to deliver a sermon, he said Scotland represented a "very appropriate" location for his return to the altar, given it was the Scottish Church that consecrated a bishop for Connecticut in the 18th century, effectively planting the foundations for the Anglican communion in the country.

The 61-year-old's election in 2003 as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire provoked a furore, threatening a schism within the Communion on the issue of homosexuality.

He has lived openly with another man for 20 years, and in June, they formalised their partnership with a civil ceremony and a service of thanksgiving.

So grave is the situation that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said yesterday there should be an extended ban on consecrating another gay bishop until their troubled fellowship can be healed.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Bishop Robinson said he was given a "warm and hospitable" welcome on arriving in Glasgow to celebrate Eucharist at St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral.

"It's a very odd thing for a bishop to be banned from an altar," he said. "But Scotland is a very appropriate place for me to come. This is the place we were given bishops.

"The American Episcopal Church has always felt the support of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It is very refreshing that the Scottish Church has always admitted to its inclusiveness. The English Church may claim inclusiveness, but it is not always in practice."

In his sermon, he expressed confidence that the Anglican Communion would not be able to shun people attracted to others of the same sex.

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"It is going to end with the full inclusion of all God's people in God's Church," he told a full congregation. "I don't know when. It doesn't matter when. But I know it is going to be. None of us is on the selection committee. God is on a committee of one."

He added: "It is time for us to stop worrying so much about the Church. The Church is not ours to win or lose; the Church is God's.

"What a dangerous thing it is to put the Bible into the hands of repressed people. They might read it and believe it. They gave it to black slaves to make them docile, but they read it and became educated. They have given it to disabled people … gay and bisexual people.

"Who knows who they'll give it to next? But God will keep giving it to people too, until there's no more 'them', only 'us'."

Bishop Robinson spoke of his disappointment at being shut out of the Lambeth Conference, pointing out that while his photograph was distributed to security checkpoints, inside the gathered were singing hymns such as All Are Welcome.

His visit to Glasgow drew a small group of protesters. Around 20 strong, several of them from the Zionist Baptist Church in the city's southside, they brandished placards, one of which read: "Christ Does Not Deserve This."

Bishop Robinson, who has received death threats since coming out, said of the group: "(The protests] always make me sad. I wonder what has happened in their lives to reach this moment? What strikes me most is the little joy they seem to have."

He also reminisced about his last visit to Scotland in 1971 when in seminary. Recalling time spent in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness, he said the highlight was a trip to Iona. "When I close my eyes, I am still walking on the beach," he said.

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Yesterday's sermon coincided with the final day of the Lambeth Conference, the proceedings of which have been dominated by the bitter row about the position of gays in the Church.

'We have not overcome our problems … that will still take time'

THE spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans yesterday stated his case for an extended ban on consecrating another gay bishop until their troubled fellowship can be healed.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made the plea during the final day of the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade Anglican meeting in Canterbury.

The 77-million-member Anglican Communion has been splintering since 2003, when the US Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson.

The 650 bishops at the Lambeth Conference said in a statement that there is widespread support among them for a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops and blessing same-sex couples.

Dr Williams said "pieces are on the board" in order to resolve the dissent over the issue of homosexuality, explaining his idea of a "covenanted future" involving a "global church of inter-dependent communities".

He said: "We have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures; that will still take time."

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But he said there was a recognition, "though still with many questions", that a covenant is needed.

He said he intended to convene a meeting of primates as early as possible next year.

"We may not have put an end to all our problems, but the pieces are on the board," he said. "And in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages."

He said it was important the Communion stays together, "but not only as an association of polite friends". And he said it was important to "embrace deeper ways of recognising and trusting each other".