US Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay and partnered, has told his diocese that he has decided to retire early in 2013.
The bishop, who has commanded respect worldwide, as well as trenchant opposition and even abuse from some socially conservative Christians, said in making his announcement that the last seven years of ministry had taken a significant toll on him, his family and the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.
"Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, you,” said Bishop Robinson, speaking at the conclusion of the diocese's 208th annual convention.
"While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn't say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate," he added.
In February 2006, Bishop Robinson spent 28 days in an alcohol-treatment centre for what he then called his "increasing dependence on alcohol." He told the convention that his continued sobriety is a "total blessing to me."
When the Rev Gene Robinson was elected 7 June 2003, he was the first openly gay priest chosen by an Episcopal Church diocese to be its bishop. His retirement announcement came just over seven years after his ordination and consecration on 2 November 2003.
In May 2010, Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Mary Glasspool became the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Robinson said that New Hampshire is "the one place on earth where I am not 'the gay bishop.'"
"I believe that you elected me because you believed me to be the right person to lead you at this time," he said. "The world has sometimes questioned that, but I hope you never did."
In his announcement, Robinson asked the diocese to begin a process to elect a bishop coadjutor who would serve with him for the three months prior to his 5 January 2013 retirement. He will be nearly 66 by that date. The Episcopal Church's mandatory retirement age for clergy and bishops is 72.
In a 7 November statement to the Episcopal News Service, the Rev Bonnie Perry, rector, All Saints Episcopal Church Chicago and co-founder of the Chicago Consultation, said "Robinson's episcopacy has been marked by extravagant grace under extraordinary pressure."
"His courage, intelligence and good humour have been a blessing to our church and to the millions of LGBT and straight people around the world who long for God's justice here on earth," she said. "Gene's willingness to risk everything for the sake of the gospel, and to bear patiently with those who could not accept his ministry mark him as one of Christ's own forever."
Meanwhile, Diocese of Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen, General Secretary of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, also known as GAFCON, said in a statement that "the agonising dispute in the Anglican Communion is not about Bishop Robinson personally."
"It is true that his consecration as a bishop seven years ago was one of the flashpoints for a serious re-alignment of the whole communion," he said. "But many things have happened since then."
Bishop Robinson said that the diocesan Standing Committee will begin work next month on a process leading to an election for his successor in the spring of 2012 and a planned ordination and consecration on 15 September of that year. His successor will become the 10th bishop of the diocese.
With thanks to the Episcopal News Service - http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_ENG_HTM.htm