Gay Bishop Out of Anglican Summit

( [email protected] ) Mar 12, 2008 11:20 AM EDT

The first openly gay Episcopal bishop announced he will have no official role in a meeting this summer of world Anglican leaders, saying restrictions that organizers wanted to place on his involvement had caused him "considerable pain."

New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson had been told last year that he could not fully participate in the once-a-decade gathering in England, called the Lambeth Conference, as the world Anglican Communion sat on the brink of schism over his 2003 election.

Still, Episcopal leaders had been negotiating with the Anglican Communion Office to allow him to join the event in some capacity. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the U.S.

At a Texas meeting Monday night of the Episcopal House of Bishops, Robinson said that the final offer to include him was in effect a "non-offer," and he had declined it.

The House of Bishops was informed that full invitation is "not possible" from the Archbishop of Canterbury to include Robinson. But Anglican leaders said Robinson could "be present" in the conference Marketplace, or convention hall, where exhibitors and church agencies set up stalls, and that he could participate in one "high profile" event, such as a news conference, at the 20-day summit. The exhibit hall is open to the public, while the Lambeth discussions are private.

Robinson told the bishops in Texas that ever since he got word of the proposal late last Friday, "I have been in considerable pain." He said he had hoped to participate in Bible study and small group discussions with other bishops.

"I am dismayed and sickhearted that we can't sit around a table, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and study Scripture together," he said. "It makes me wonder, if we can't sit around a table and study the Bible together, what kind of Communion do we have and what are we trying to save?"

A spokesman for the Anglican Communion did not respond to a request for comment.

The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, didn't invite Robinson to Lambeth, partly to appease theological conservatives, who believe the Bible bars gay relationships. Some had threatened to boycott the meeting if he attended.

Williams also didn't invite Bishop Martyn Minns, who leads a network of conservative breakaway Episcopal parishes in the U.S., that have aligned with the like-minded Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Still, five Anglican archbishops from Africa and South America said recently they would boycott Lambeth because they could not share communion with the Episcopal bishops who had consecrated Robinson. The five are among several Anglican conservatives who are holding an international gathering in June in the Mideast that is seen as a rival to Lambeth.

The Lambeth Conference is scheduled July 16 through Aug. 3 at the University of Kent in England.

Some Episcopal bishops who believe that committed gay relationships are acceptable in Scripture had discussed boycotting the event if Robinson couldn't attend.

But Robinson repeatedly urged them to go.

"For God's sake, don't stay away," Robinson said. He plans to travel to the event on his own, staying in the Marketplace to be available for with anyone interested in talking with him.

"Pray for me," he said. "I will need that. A lot."

The Episcopal House of Bishops is in session March 7-12 at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas. The retreat meeting focuses on private conversations that are closed to media and other visitors.

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