New Bishop Elected to Succeed Episcopal Church's First Openly Gay Bishop

A Massachusetts clergyman has been elected the successor to the controversial New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, who is retiring at the end of the year.

The Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, rector at Grace Episcopal Church of Amherst, was elected in a vote taken on Saturday. Among three nominees, he received 145 of 252 votes. The other two candidates were the Rev. Penelope Maud Bridges of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Great Falls, Va., and the Rev. Dr. William Warwick Rich of Trinity Church in Boston, who is openly gay.

"I am honored to join you in the holy work of bearing witness to the power of Christ's forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection in this time and in this place," said Hirschfeld in a statement.

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"I look forward to working alongside Bishop Gene Robinson over the next several months, and to joining the strong team that does such fine work at Diocesan House. I am inspired by the powerful sense of collegiality among the clergy and people of this diocese."

Jeff Walton, staff for the Institute on Religion and Democracy's "Anglican Action" program, told The Christian Post that Hirschfeld will be inheriting a diocese that has budget and membership issues.

"Most of New Hampshire's 47 Episcopal parishes are very small – even by Episcopal Church standards – and the coming decade will see several of these close their doors," said Walton.

"From an administrative perspective, if Hirschfeld can grow the Diocese of New Hampshire's budget to the same degree he did in his parish and slow its membership decline, he'll be leaving it in better shape that Bishop Robinson has."

Hirschfeld, who is married with three children, was appointed rector at Grace Episcopal in Amherst in 2001. He was announced as a nominee for the bishop position in March. The vote that took place on Saturday was among the clergy and delegates of the New Hampshire Diocese's 47 congregations.

According to Walton, while both Robinson – the first openly gay bishop to be consecrated in The Episcopal Church – and Hirschfeld are "theologically liberal," one difference that will likely exist between the two bishops' administrations is that now New Hampshire "will probably see is more of its bishop."

"Robinson instantly became a national figure. He was often away from the diocese on speaking engagements and a political advocacy position in Washington, D.C.," said Walton. "The diocese can probably expect the lower-profile Hirschfeld to be able to devote more of his attention to the diocese than Robinson did."

Robinson was ordained as Ninth Bishop of the New Hampshire Diocese in 2004, making him the first openly homosexual bishop ordained by The Episcopal Church. The controversy exacerbated tensions between conservatives and liberals in the church body, as well as tensions between The Episcopal Church and other member churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Hirschfeld will be ordained on August 4 as "Bishop Coadjutor" and then installed as the Tenth Bishop of New Hampshire Diocese on Jan. 5, 2013.

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