Nominees Announced to Succeed Episcopal Church's First Openly Gay Bishop

One of The Episcopal Church's most controversial bishops will soon be stepping down from his position and the three nominees for his seat have been announced.

The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual bishop to be ordained by The Episcopal Church, will be ending his term as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. On Thursday, the diocese announced the nominees for his position.

The nominees are the Rev. Penelope Maud Bridges of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Great Falls, Va.; the Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld of Grace Episcopal Church, Amherst, Mass.; and the Rev. Dr. William Warwick Rich of Trinity Church, Boston, Mass.

Although none of them are from the New Hampshire Diocese, according to Rev. Adrian Robbins-Cole, president of the diocese's Standing Committee, this is normal.

"Sometimes there may be a nominee from within the diocese, but it is typical for clergy from all over the national Episcopal Church to be involved in a search process for a diocese," said Robbins-Cole in an interview with The Christian Post.

"In the end the search committee chooses the candidates which it feels are best suited to the needs of the diocese as the final nominees."

The Rev. Bridges of Virginia told CP that she was "delighted" and "humbled" by her nomination. She looks "forward to continuing in the discernment process with the other nominees and the people of New Hampshire."

The Rev. Dr. Rich of Boston told CP that he deeply respected the "process of discernment conducted by the diocese through their Search and Nomination Committee."

"[The process] was marvelous in every way – deeply grounded in prayer, Christian hospitality, kindness, and respect," said Rich.

At the beginning of May, the three nominees will take part in three "Meet and Greet" events that will take place at various locations in the Diocese.

The election for the position of Bishop Coadjutor will take place on May 19, with the votes being cast by clergy and delegates from the diocese's 47 congregations. The coadjutor will be installed as Tenth Bishop of New Hampshire at St. Paul's Church in Concord on Jan. 5, 2013.

Jeff Walton, staff for the Institute on Religion and Democracy's "Anglican Action" program, told CP he was skeptical that any of the three nominees would be able to help revive a diocese that, like the rest of its denomination, is suffering from declining membership.

"The parishes that Bridges and Hirschfeld led have had either flat or declining attendance during their tenure, while the large Boston parish that Rich serves has seen an almost 40 percent drop in attendance over the past decade," said Walton.

"Considering that the Diocese of New Hampshire has struggled with a 13 percent membership decline and almost 20 percent attendance decline over the past decade, I don't see how any of these three candidates bring the needed experience to revitalize the diocese."

Robinson was ordained as Ninth Bishop of the New Hampshire Diocese in 2004, amid much controversy over him being openly homosexual. The ordination exacerbated tensions between conservatives and liberals in the church body, as well as tensions between The Episcopal Church and other churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

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