NEW YORK: Rev. Daniel England, communications director for the Episcopal Church, didn't view his denomination's late-summer convention as a media crisis, even though some 340 reporters showed up. However, their investigative skills came in quite handy.
The confirmation of the openly gay Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop for New Hampshire drew intense interest from around the world, and continues to fuel speculation about schisms within the denomination.
Explaining church politics became the first challenge for England and his small staff. If the New Hampshire diocese had elected Robinson at almost any other time, his confirmation wouldn't have been such a public spectacle. The denomination only conducts general conventions every three years, and only bishops elected within 90 days beforehand must be confirmed by the full convention, England explained.
The throng of journalists more than quadrupled the largest number ever to have attended an Episcopal convention, England said. His staff worked out logistical details, and convention briefing officers spoke to the press daily. Robinson himself appeared at a press conference after the confirmation.
England was glad to have reporters around when Robinson's opponents raised last-minute allegations of improper touching and indirect links to a pornographic website. "[Reporters] deal with politicians and Congress and the President all the time. It didn't take them long to smell a rat, and they did, and it was over," England says. "Without their scrutiny, the investigation may have dragged on and on."
This month's consecration ceremony drew less media attention, although about 150 reporters attended.
Throughout the process, England and his staff stressed the inclusiveness communicated in the denomination's brand statement, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you." Presiding Bishop Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold avoided criticizing people who disagree with Robinson becoming a bishop. Messaging also positions Episcopals as open-minded and capable of tolerating a range of opinions. "We are able to hold more thought in our head at the same time," England said.
England chose the word "splinter" rather than "split" to describe actions being considered by groups that may leave the denomination over Robinson's consecration, implying they represent a relatively small percentage of church members.
"There are some very unhappy people, and whether they decide at some point to separate is something they have to choose," England said.