CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire is preparing to swear in a new leader to replace Gene Robinson, who made international headlines when he was ordained in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican church.
Bishop-elect A. Robert Hirschfeld is married to a woman, but he made gay marriage news of his own in 2006, when he stopped performing weddings at his church in Amherst, Mass., to protest the Episcopal prohibition of same-sex unions.
Hirschfeld, 50, has been rector of Grace Church in Amherst for 11 years. He was chosen in May from a field of three candidates to lead New Hampshire’s approximately 14,000 Episcopalians in 47 congregations.
Hirschfeld said in an interview this week that he feels honored to take over from Robinson.
"I feel kind of humble the people of New Hampshire would choose me to follow him," he said. "I think all of us have a particular role to play in the opening of the table -- God’s table -- for all God’s children, black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight."
He said Robinson has been a "steadfastly courageous steward of that role I believe God gave him. I think my style of leadership will be a little different, and that’s OK."
Hirschfeld said he plans to spend the coming months listening and learning and getting to know his new congregants.
"My own experience is that we are pulled in so many directions -- sometimes opposing directions, sometimes colliding directions -- and so many of us are just frazzled and tired and we forget what it means to be fully human, to be created by a loving God who wants nothing more than the absolute best beyond our wildest dreams," he said.
Hirschfeld will be ordained in a ceremony Saturday at the Capital Center for the Arts led by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. He will work alongside Robinson until Robinson retires in January.
Hirschfeld graduated from Dartmouth College in 1983 and completed his master’s degree at Yale University’s Berkeley Divinity School in 1991.
He and his wife, Polly Ingraham, are still working out the logistics of their move from Massachusetts. They have three children.