Like many other journalists covering General Convention this week and next, I am here mostly because Episcopalians in New Hampshire have chosen Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, to be their ninth bishop. But unlike most other journalists here, I was writing about Gene before writing about Gene was cool.
In the summer of 1998, as John Shelby Spong prepared to retire as Bishop of Newark, Gene was one of six candidates vying to succeed him (he finished a respectable third). I traveled to Newark for a weekend marathon in which clergy and laity would meet the candidates—what most of us Episcopalians call a walkabout or a dog-and-pony show.
Several hundred people had gathered at a suburban hotel on a Saturday, and the format was simple: we broke into smaller groups of about 30, and each candidate came in to deliver a brief speech and take questions.
I happened to sit in a corner near Gene's partner, Mark Andrew. Gene had mentioned Mark and looked in his direction. During a break, a friendly woman approached me and asked, "How are you handling all this?"
I am not accustomed to such spontaneous pastoral concern for my interior life, so I responded warily: I'm fine. Why do you ask?"
"You're Gene's partner, aren't you?" she said.
I feared that telling this dear soul my true identity—an activist reporter from the theological Right—might give her a heart attack. Instead, I smiled and pointed her toward Mark Andrew. When I saw a chance to talk with Gene, I decided to narrow the emotional distance that sometimes exists between reporter and subject and tell him the story. We both chuckled, Mark added a playful "He's taken," and I believe we're still on friendlier terms than we would have been otherwise.
I wrote about Gene again a year later when ...1