Gene Robinson Chapel

Gene Robinson Chapel Dedicated for Retired Gay Episcopal Bishop

on May 31, 2019

A chapel named for retired Episcopal Church Bishop Gene Robinson was dedicated Thursday as part of the consecration of a newly redeveloped Washington, D.C. church building.

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Parish chose to honor the former New Hampshire bishop who was the first openly partnered gay man to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. The chapel is envisioned as a pilgrimage site for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Robinson’s 2003 consecration as bishop was one of several contested actions fueling a broader Anglican realignment in North America and beyond.

The May 30 consecration service was led by Robinson, Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Maryann Budde, and St. Thomas Priest-in-Charge Alex Dyer. Backed by twin windows of rainbow-hued stained glass and a metal Celtic cross, Robinson prayed “deliver your servants, when they draw near to you in this place, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections, they may worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

Robinson, now divorced, resides in Washington and serves as bishop-in-residence at St. Thomas. He also serves as a senior fellow with the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

Redevelopment of the St. Thomas parish church has been long in the making. Once regularly attended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who served on the church vestry while Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration), the church was heavily damaged by arson in 1970, its main sanctuary destroyed. The parish, located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, became closely associated with the LGBT community, still reflected today in its membership.

St. Thomas has declined precipitously in the past decade, shrinking from 350 to 140 members (-60%) and from a weekly attendance of 150 down to 50 (-66%). In 2018 Dyer cited the ongoing construction of the new church sanctuary and a purge of the parish membership rolls as contributing factors to the congregation’s diminished size. Asked about the decline in attendance, Dyer commented via Twitter “ASA is one measure. @StThomasDC is one of the most best parishes I have served. Check back in 5 years and the story will be different.”

The seven-story project was largely funded by an agreement with a property developer who turned the valuable urban parcel of land into residential units alongside the redeveloped church. The Dupont Circle Citizens Association and other neighborhood critics fiercely opposed the project, which was delayed by a court stop-work order. Dyer was briefly notable in 2017 on social media for wrapping banners around construction fences at St. Thomas in which an image of a face-palming Jesus was accompanied by political messages including the tagline “a progressive church for a progressive city.”

Despite the small size of its congregation, St. Thomas has had outsized influence upon the Washington Diocese. In 2018 Dyer submitted resolutions to diocesan convention to encourage all parishes to make “all gender-specific facilities and activities fully accessible, regardless of gender identity and expression” and “…eliminate, when possible, all gendered references to God and to replace them with gender neutral language.” Versions of both resolutions were adopted.

St. Thomas Parish

  1. Comment by Steve on May 31, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    Congregants apparently are voting with their feet and wallets against the clergy’s agenda. Alas, Episcopal clergy apparently have moved beyond needing congregants, they just leverage the real estate to keep those paychecks and pensions rolling in. Only thing I can think of that could possibly change this calculus is by taking away their tax exemptions. Or, if the bishop decides its all too unproductive and shuts it down. But, as long as the clergy stays well on the politically correct side, they’ll probably be cut slack. Traditional churches that underproduce don’t get the same consideration (compare St John’s in the Village in Baltimore).

  2. Comment by senecagriggs on May 31, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    “The chapel is envisioned as a pilgrimage site for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). ”

    Seriously? A pilgrimage site for non-heterosexual youth?

    This will not be the Vietnam Memorial – where hundreds of thousands have flocked to honor the war dead.

    This will be a memorial to one man who divorced his wife, pursued a relationship with a man, had/has a serious drinking problem, married and then divorced his husband.

  3. Comment by Diane on May 31, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Please. A very recent article on this site glowingly lifted up two white men who acted abominably during their lifetimes. One (Jonathan Edwards) owned African slaves and used the Bible to justify the human trafficking and bondage of his slaves. The other (Van Gogh) was known to use female prostitutes for his sexual pleasures.

    If conservatives can lift up those two men who chose to willfully engage in truly evil, reprehensible behavior (one, a foremost religious leader who found a way to interpret scripture to absolve himself) then conservatives certainly shouldn’t have a problem with lifting up Gene Robinson.

  4. Comment by Stevee on May 31, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    Wow, that’s a wonderful argument to make Diane, that’s he’s similar to those guys. Most intended beneficiaries of such comparisons would say please don’t do me any favors.

  5. Comment by Jason Gray on May 31, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    We can certainly agree that all humans are flawed but trying to venerate someone for the sin they commit is certainly different from praising them for other good works.

    Also the two individuals you mentioned died more than 100 years ago. Maybe you should read Matt Walsh’s article on Martin Luther King.

  6. Comment by Steve on May 31, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    a term Oliver called “whataboutism,” a fallacy with roots in old Soviet propaganda that shifts any given topic to another, potentially irrelevant one. “It implies that all actions regardless of context share a moral equivalency,” says (John) Oliver. “And since nobody is perfect, all criticism is hypocritical and everyone should do whatever they want … It doesn’t solve a problem or win an argument. The point is just to muddy the waters…”

  7. Comment by Lee D. Cary on June 1, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Well done, Steve. Brilliant retort.

  8. Comment by J on May 31, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    Good to know I need to change my views because of what people did 200-plus years ago, and one of them disavowed his views. This argument is tired.

  9. Comment by Loren Golden on May 31, 2019 at 11:50 pm

    “Jonathan Edwards owned African slaves and used the Bible to justify the human trafficking and bondage of his slaves. … Van Gogh was known to use female prostitutes for his sexual pleasures.”
    George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, Aaron Burr, most of the early presidents, and most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence—the 18th century’s of the liberal elite, if you will, all owned slaves, many using the Bible to justify the practice, too.  Indeed, most of these also resorted to the practice of mating with their female slaves to increase the slave population.  Alexander Hamilton, although not himself a slave owner, married into a slave owning family and conducted several transactions regarding the buying and selling of slaves.
    Likewise, Benjamin Franklin, though married, had numerous affairs with (mostly younger) women through most of his long life.  And Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton also had mistresses on the side.
    For that matter, Abraham was a liar when it came to his wife (Gen. 12.11-16, 20.2-12); Jacob was a conniving thief (Gen. 25.29-34, 27.5-29, 30.37-43); David, of whom God said was “a man after my own heart, who will do all of my will” (Acts 13.22, I Sam. 13.14), was an adulterer and a murderer; Peter, despite his bravado, was a coward who thrice denied his Lord in all four gospels, calling God as a witness to corroborate his lie, because a servant girl identified him as one of the Lord’s disciples; Paul, before he became an apostle, had a distinguished career persecuting Christians; Martin Luther was an anti-Semite; John Calvin believed heretics should be burned at the stake; John Wesley plagiarized other writers; and Jonathan Edwards owned slaves.
    “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3.23)  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” (Is. 53.6)  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3.9)  All the heroes of the faith (save the Lord Jesus alone) have feet of clay, all (but Jesus) are sinners in need of a Savior.  But they are heroes of the faith because of their testimony to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, irrespective of their sins.  Gene Robinson, by contrast, is known for his testimony to sexual immorality—both for his participation in it, and for his approval of those who practice it (Rom. 1.32).  He may be a regarded as a hero to those in the church who willingly embrace and identify with their sexual immorality, yet he points not to God and His Kingdom, but to man and his.  Thus, he is not regarded as a hero of the faith to those who find their identity first and foremost in the Crucified and Risen Savior.

  10. Comment by Steve on June 1, 2019 at 10:15 am

    Against my better judgment I return to the subject of Van Gogh. I don’t think the fact that a Van Gogh painting happened to bee on the cover of book reviewed here amounts to “lifting him up”. Sometimes a nice painting is just a nice painting. Van Gogh doesn’t require any lifting up, his paintings are among the most beloved in the world, priceless, with prices in the tens of millions that presumably continue to increase. He is an example of the tortured lonely impoverished artist, not privilege. He cut his ear off, he painted a field, then walked out into it and killed himself. He was not appreciated until after he was dead. Contrast this to Gene Robinson, who as far as I know has contributed nothing notable to theology, arts, culture or anything else I can think of, but receives endless amounts of self serving promotion and encouragement from his denomination simply because of his sexual orientation. Just goes to show, there’s no white privilege like white baby boomer gay Episcopal priest privilege.

  11. Comment by Steve on June 2, 2019 at 6:07 am

    Corrections: Van Gogh was not poor (his brother Theo provided regular financial support) nor unprivileged (his father was a church pastor). Sorry for these and any other errors.

  12. Comment by David on May 31, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    So….you sent someone to the consecration to take a picture? That’s creepy. I’d say it’s “journalistic,” but the writing is just too bad to merit that description. IRD really IS a hate group. Sigh.

  13. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on June 3, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    The chapel dedication was shared via streaming video by the parish.

  14. Comment by Steve on June 3, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    David shoots himself in the foot again regarding official Episcopal Church photography of an event. Evidently he can’t believe the Episcopal Church could possibly make the poor impression it often does. Must not have attended much.

  15. Comment by Tom on June 1, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Check back in 5 years and the story will be different.”

    Yes. The church won’t exist in 5 years.

  16. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on June 4, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Oddly, St. Thomas has possibly become a victim of its own success. In the 80s and 90s St. Thomas was the “gay parish” for DC. Today there is a large gay presence (and gay clergy) in many parishes, including some of the high church congregations and, of course, the National Cathedral. The dynamics at play here are probably complicated, but St. Thomas is understood to be the politically liberal “activist” parish, whereas many LGBT-identifying Episcopalians are seeking a different kind of church community.

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