Gardening is best therapy, says cleric well used to stress

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The Independent US

The Rev Gene Robinson knows how to relax.

Fridays are when he and his partner, Mark Andrew, try new recipes in their home in the small rural town of Weare, in New Hampshire. But the best therapy for the troubles of ordinary life, he recently asserted, is to get in the garden and pull up weeds.

And troubles he has had. There was the time 15 years ago when he concluded he could no longer hide his homosexuality - from himself, his friends or from his colleagues at the Episcopalian church. He feared the church may strip him of his orders, but that didn't happen.

And there is the stress he is under today. Last night his confirmation as the new Bishop of New Hampshire at a Minnesota convention of the Episcopalian church was in jeopardy as 11th-hour accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Nothing, however, beats the tribulations of his first few moments of life. The son of tobacco sharecroppers in rural Kentucky, Canon Robinson, 56, almost died in childbirth. The delivery was so difficult, officials at the hospital asked his father to name the baby for the purposes of both a birth and a death certificate. The elder Robinson chose Vicky Gene Robinson, imagining the baby would be a girl but assuming it would not matter anyway. The clergyman's full name is still V Gene Robinson.

He emerged paralysed down one side and with a head so badly contorted a doctor had to push his skull into something approaching a normal shape. But as he grew, the child excelled, earning high marks in school. He became an Episcopalian after college and later studied for the clergy at a seminary in New York.

While at the seminary he sought therapy to "cure" what he already recognised as homosexual leanings, but at the same time fell in love with the woman who later became his wife, Isabella Martin. He told her of his sexual confusion, but they married in 1972 and had two daughters.

In 1985 the couple divorced. Two years later Canon Robinson took a trip to the Caribbean island of St Croix, where he met Mr Andrew, who in 1989 moved to New Hampshire. By that time, Canon Robinson was in the job he had when he was chosen last month as Bishop-elect of the diocese - deputy to the retiring Bishop, Douglas Theuner.

"I really thought I might lose my ordained life in the church," he recalled of the day he told Bishop Theuner of the break-up of his marriage. "It was probably the darkest time in my whole life."

In fact, it was the honesty of Canon Robinson that convinced the Bishop to take him on as his assistant. In the 15 years he has served in the job, Canon Robinson earned a reputation for administrative efficiency and for mediating in disputes. He also made a name ministering to troubled teenagers and caring for Aids patients.

The task of finding a successor to Bishop Theuner, who steps down next March, was left to a nominating committee, which put forward the name of Canon Robinson. He was confirmed as Bishop-elect by members of the diocese in June. However, church rules stipulated that his election subsequently required ratification by a full convention of the Episcopalian church.