Lambeth invitation ‘not possible’ for Bishop Gene Robinson

New Hampshire bishop encourages other bishops to attend, says he will visit Canterbury

The House of Bishops was informed March 10 that full invitation is “not possible” from the Archbishop of Canterbury to include Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as a participant in this summer’s Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.

Robinson, addressing the House, urged the other bishops of the Episcopal Church to participate fully in the conference, and thanked all who are willing to “stay at the table.”

Robinson told the House that he respectfully declined an invitation to be present in the conference’s “Marketplace” exhibit section.

Robinson confirmed for ENS that he plans to be in Canterbury during the July 16-August 3 once-a-decade gathering, but not as an official conference participant or observer.

Word about the invitation came in a report from three U.S. bishops, speaking in the House’s late-afternoon session, who worked with Lambeth Palace staff to seek provision for Robinson’s participation in the conference.

The House of Bishops is in session through March 12 at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas.

Robinson, an openly gay man ordained a bishop in 2003, was informed last year that an invitation to the Lambeth Conference would not be extended to him at that time.

Report from Bishops Ed Little, Bruce Caldwell and Tom Ely to the House of Bishops regarding conversations about Bishop Gene Robinson’s participation at the Lambeth Conference
March 10, 2008

Following the September 2007 meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans, the Presiding Bishop appointed Bishops Little, Caldwell and Ely to serve as the team to be in conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office to discuss the possibilities of +Gene’s participation in the Lambeth Conference. This was in response to the hope expressed in our New Orleans communiqu in which we said that it is “our fervent hope that a way can be found for his (Gene’s) full participation.” We have tried to be faithful servants of the House of Bishops and to reflect in our own way some measure of the diversity within the House.

Over the past few months the three of us have been negotiating with Mr. Chris Smith from the Archbishop’s staff and the Reverend Canon Kenneth Kearon from the Anglican Communion Office hoping to arrive at a substantial invitation for +Gene’s participation in the Lambeth Conference. To date we have held five conference calls and have had several internal conversations among the three of us. We have kept the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Robinson informed about our process along the way. Each side of the conversation has participated in good faith throughout.

We began the conversation by sharing several hopes which were developed in consultation with +Gene. Those hopes are:
1. That +Gene have the opportunity to pray with other bishops at Lambeth.
2. That +Gene have time with and access to other bishops from around the Anglican Communion in order to build relationships.
3. That +Gene have a voice at the table regarding the Listening Process and the discussions on human sexuality.

Early on, our colleagues from “across the pond” expressed the understanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury intends to respect the Windsor Report’s recommendation with respect to “exercising extreme caution” regarding +Gene’s participation in the Councils of the Church. Throughout our conversation they referenced the “optics” involved in all of this, meaning the inter-communion perceptions and perspectives attached to +Gene’s participation.

After exploring various categories of participation (i.e. observer, guest, etc.) the three of us felt that the least derogatory, apart from a full invitation, was a consulting role. With that in mind, as well as the hopes earlier expressed, we offered a proposal that included:
1. An invitation to attend the Retreat and worship.
2. An invitation to attend/observe any plenary sessions.
3. An invitation to offer a workshop on several days as one of the self select groups, focused on listening to the voices of gay and lesbian persons.
4. An invitation to participate in some way in the July 31st Indaba groups when the theme is human sexuality.

In response we heard:
1. A restatement that full invitation is not possible.
2. The Retreat session is a closed session at Canterbury Cathedral (i.e. no media, no ecumenical guests) and it would present the Archbishop of Canterbury with a problem for +Gene to attend something so intimate. The same would be true of the Bible Study/Indaba groups.
3. There is really no concept of “observer” built into the conference structure.

The following proposal for limited participation was then offered and we agreed to bring this to +Gene:
1. That if +Gene still wishes to be present throughout the conference that the location best suited for that is the Marketplace where he could be hosted by one of the groups.
2. That +Gene participate in a “high profile” event (yet to be determined) on July 31st (Listening Process day) – something like an interview with a major media interviewer from England.

After consultation with +Gene he respectfully declined the offer, believing that it does not rise to the level of a meaningful and substantial invitation. In declining this invitation +Gene was clear that he is available to serve as a resource to the Lambeth Conference and plans to be available to any variety of groups who are interested in pursuing conversations that would include him. In a moment +Gene will speak more about this and his own thoughts about the nature of his presence in England during the Lambeth Conference.

With this report, we think our assignment is complete and we are grateful for the confidence expressed in us by the Presiding Bishop, Bishop Robinson and the members of the House of Bishops, who we know have been holding us and our conversations in your thoughts and prayers. We hope we have served the House faithfully in this matter and request now to be discharged.

Faithfully submitted,
Ed, Bruce and Tom

Response from Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire

I first want to thank Ed and Bruce and Tom. They have been so true to what they were asked to do by the Presiding Bishop. They have been in close communication with me. I have felt very supported by them. They have represented me extremely well.

I want to be clear than I am not here to whine. I learned of the result of this negotiation on Friday evening. I have been in considerable pain every since.

But I want to acknowledge that I am not the first or last person to be in pain at a House of Bishops meeting.

My own pain was sufficient enough that for 36 hours I felt the compelling urge to run, to flee. My inspiration for staying came from my conservative brothers in this house. I have seen John Howe and Ed Salmon and others show up for years when there was a lot of pain for them. I see Bill Love and Mark Lawrence, and I know it is a very difficult thing for them to be here right now. For me, the worst sin is leaving the table. And that is what I was on the verge of doing. But, largely because of you, I stayed. Thank you for that.

I want to tell you why I declined the invitation as it was proposed. I really had high hopes that something might work out. I have been talking with the Anglican Communion Office for almost a year now. I got my first phone call four days before the invitations to Lambeth went out. I thought something would work out.

The offer to be hosted at the Marketplace is a non-offer. That is already available to me. One workshop on one afternoon and being interviewed by the secular press was not anything I was seeking. I wasn’t going to Lambeth to have another interview with the secular press. If interviewed at all, I want to talk with a theologian. I want to talk about the love of Christ. I want to talk about the God who saved me and redeemed me and continues to live in my life. I want to talk about the Jesus I know in my life.

But my mind boggles at the misperception that this is just about gay rights. It might be in another context, but in this context it is about God’s love of all of God’s children. It’s a theological discussion, it’s not a media show. I have been most disappointed in that my desire was to participate in Bible study and small groups, and that is not being offered. 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?

I am dismayed and sickhearted that we can’t sit around a table, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and study scripture together.
It has been a very difficult 48 hours sitting here and hearing your plans for Lambeth.
In my most difficult moments, it feels as if, instead of leaving the 99 sheep in search of the one, my chief pastor and shepherd, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has cut me out of the herd.
I ask two things of you. Some of you have indicated that if I am not invited, you won’t go either. I want to say loud and clear – you must go. You must find your voice. And somehow you have to find my voice and the voices of all the gay and lesbian people in your diocese who, for now, don’t have a voice in this setting. I’d much rather be talked to than talked about. But you must go and tell the stories of your people, faithful members of your flock who happen to be lesbian and gay.

For God’s sake, don’t stay away.

And second, please don’t let them separate me from you. Please don’t let that happen. It will be difficult, and we will have to be intentional. I know that the last thing you will need at the end of the day is another meeting just so I can catch up with you. But I hope you will be willing to stay in touch with me.

From the day I have walked into this House I have been treated with respect and welcome, even, and perhaps especially, by those of you who voted no on my consent.

I can never thank you enough for that. I will always and every moment treasure your welcome and your hospitality.

Don’t let them cut me off from you.

All this is really sad for me and for my diocese. I won’t have the experiences you will have, to share with them. But I will be there in the marketplace, willing to talk with anyone who wants to talk, especially with those who disagree with me. If you know me at all, you know that that’s true.

Now, my focus has to change. Maybe this is what God has in mind. I had hoped to focus on the community of bishops at Lambeth, making my own contribution to its deliberations. But now, I think I will go to Lambeth thinking about gay and lesbian people around the world who will be watching what happens there. I will go to Lambeth remembering the 100 or so twenty-something’s I met in Hong Kong this fall, who meet every Sunday afternoon to worship and sing God’s praise in a secret catacomb of safety – because they can’t be gay AND Christian in their own churches. I will be taking them to Lambeth with me. They told me that the Episcopal Church was their hope for a different, welcoming church. They told me they were counting on us. Yes, the things we do in the Episcopal Church have ramifications far, far away – and sometimes those ramifications are good.

I hope we can talk about the ways we can stay in touch in Lambeth. I will be praying for you, all the time. I know it will seem very strange, being separated from you. But we can do it if we want to. I have nothing but respect and sympathy for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the difficult place he is in. I was trying to help him, and it just didn’t work.

Pray for me. I will need that. A lot.

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