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Mass. Priest Chosen As Next NH Episcopal Bishop

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Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld has been chosen as the next  Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Grace Episcopal Church In Amherst)

Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld has been chosen as the next Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Grace Episcopal Church In Amherst)

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A Massachusetts priest was selected Saturday to succeed Bishop Gene Robinson as New Hampshire’s next Episcopal bishop.

A delegation of clergy and lay people chose the Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, 50, of Grace Church in Amherst from a field of three nominees. If approved at the church’s national convention in July, Hirschfeld will succeed Robinson when he steps down in January after serving nine years as the state’s ninth Episcopal bishop.

Robinson’s consecration in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican church created an international uproar and led conservative Episcopalians to break away from the main church in the U.S.

Hirschfeld said he was humbled and overjoyed to be selected.

“What I have discovered over the past few months of getting to know you is that I have not felt called to be a bishop so much as I have felt called to be your bishop, the bishop of New Hampshire,” he said in a statement. “God has been doing a good and holy work in New Hampshire and I am deeply delighted to share in it.”

Robinson said he will work with Hirschfeld to ensure a smooth transition.

“He is a man of faith and vision, and he is eminently qualified to lead the Diocese of New Hampshire in this next period off its life and ministry,” Robinson said.

The three nominees were chosen after an 11-month national search by a committee of clergy and lay people. The other nominees were Penelope Maud Bridges, rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Great Falls, Va., and William W. Rich, senior associate rector for Christian Formation at Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston.

Hirschfeld prevailed by securing a majority of the votes cast by both clergy and lay delegates at St. Paul’s Church in Concord. He was selected on the first ballot.

Hirschfeld was born in Minnesota and grew up in Connecticut, where he served at a number of churches. He is a 1983 graduate of Dartmouth College and received his divinity degree in 1991 from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University. He and his wife have three children.

Hirschfeld will lead approximately 14,000 Episcopalians affiliated with 47 congregations throughout the state. Each congregation elected delegates to send to Concord to vote on the nominees. All three nominees toured the state earlier this month to meet with congregants and answer questions.

“We’re a small diocese, a friendly diocese and we tend to be very collaborative,” said Margaret Porter, moderator of the diocesan council. Porter served on the most recent search committee as well as the committee that led to Robinson’s selection.

That one of the nominees — Rich — is openly gay registered barely a mention in the selection process.

“I believe people will always notice, but it’s not 2003,” Porter said. “Those days are over.”

The Episcopal Church in the U.S. imposed a moratorium in 2006 on putting forward gay and lesbian nominees. The moratorium was lifted in 2009 and the church’s General Convention affirmed gay and lesbian priests were eligible to become bishops. Later that year, the Rev. Mary Glasspool of Maryland, a lesbian, was elected assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

Hirschfeld will be a bishop coadjutor until he is approved as the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Dioceses of New Hampshire at the church’s national convention in July. The new bishop will be consecrated on Aug. 4 but continue to serve as bishop coadjutor until Robinson steps down Jan. 5.

The New Hampshire Episcopal diocese dates back to 1802.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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