By Jim Naughton
The Bishop of New Hampshire's day ended with Chinese food and chocolate ice cream. He sat with some 15 friends in a second floor conference room in St. Mary’s Church in Putney, talking about nothing in particular, as though he had passed a normal day, with another on the horizon.
Three hours earlier, the church had been filled beyond its seating capacity, as more than 500 worshippers jammed into the sanctuary, gallery and overflow areas to hear Robinson preach for the first time in an English church. The crowd included Ben Bradshaw, a member of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cabinet; some 20 clergy, including Marilyn McCord Adams and Giles Goddard, activists like Katie Sherrod and Davis Mac Iyalla, a passel of press, and scores of plain old parishioners--the folks who keep St. Mary's running.
Robinson had been talking from almost the moment he woke up that morning. Before arriving at the church at noon, he had done three interviews with the BBC. Two of those were radio conversations, one for the BBC World Service and the other for a national news feed. In between, he and his friend and ally Sir Ian McKellen sat for a conversation with Andrew Marr on his influential Sunday morning program.
Once he hit the church, Robinson dove into the first of a dozen more interviews, this one with Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press. Over the next five hours he spoke with Robert Pigott of the BBC, ITN television, Sky TV, Channel 4 TV, Ruth Gledhill of the Times of London, Steve Daughty of the Daily Mail, Mary Jordan of the Washington Post, Solange DeSantis of Episcopal Life Media, a reporter from the Press Association and others.
In the midst of this media blitz--which continues tomorrow with an interview with Reuters and several other outlets--it is worth remembering that after Rowan Williams decided not to invite Robinson to the Lambeth Conference, Lambeth Palace, by way of a peace offering, offered to procure for him a single interview with a major media outlet.
All day Robinson spoke of his sympathy for Williams, whom he said cannot make a move without disappointing or infuriating someone. However, he said he was unwilling for the bishops to meet without reminding them, in a friendly way, that there are marginalized gay and lesbian Christians in every province of the Communion, who were no longer willing to remain unseen and unheard.
Robinson was far from unseen. For the first two minutes of his sermon, eight newspaper photographers snapped away as he thanked people for coming and urged them to come back on subsequent Sundays. Meanwhile, a pool camera, manned by a crew from the BBC, recorded the events.
Robinson was in the midst of telling the crowd in St. Mary's that the Communion was tearing itself apart of the secondary issue of sexuality while millions struggled through life on less than $1 per day, when a broad-chested man with shoulder length brown hair rose and began shouting. Dressed in a black Triumph t-shirt and black leather pants, he waved his motorcycle helmet at Robinson, called him a heretic and demanded that he repent. The St. Mary's congregation quickly began rhythmic clapping, the organist struck up a hymn, and several members of the congregation escorted the man from the sanctuary. Outside, he stood for several minutes near his bike, pulled on his black leather jacket and matching gloves, and departed.
Before the night was over, a journalist who wasn't present got in touch with St. Mary's vicar, the Rev. Giles Fraser and jokingly asked him whether he'd pulled the man off of the street and paid him to disrupt the service to create as unfavorable an image as possible of Robinson's adversaries.
Robinson resumed his sermon by asking the congregation to pray for the man who was outside preparing to ride away. The remainder of the Eucharist, was like any other, except the music was better than most churches, and the temperature higher due to the overcrowding.
When the service was over, the impromptou dinner party broke out on the terrace outside Fraser's office overlooking the Thames, then moved indoors when the weather got cool.
Tomorrow evening, Robinson and McKellen will host the British premier of Dan Karslake's documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, which tells the story of how six conservative Christian families, including Robinson's, came to terms with having a gay child. Until then, readers might want to look in on The Guardian, which sent five or six reporters, each of whom will write about the evening for a different section of the paper.
Report of Gene's sermon is here