Don’t Come Home The Leader (General Convention 2003)


High Stakes

The General Convention of 2003 looked to all who gathered as likely to be the defining moment in the battle for the soul and the future of the Episcopal Church, and indeed, of global Anglicanism. After the fact, most would say it was.

V. Gene Robinson had been elected Bishop of New Hampshire. Gene was the divorced father of two, then living with a same-sex partner. Gene had been a General Seminary classmate, and he and his wife (“Bo”) moved into our apartment in married student housing (fondly known as the “Fertile Crescent”) when Nara and baby Louise and I left for Edinburgh in December of 1972.


Because the election of Gene Robinson took place within six months of a General Convention, it would be the constitutional responsibility of the convention to assent to the election. The House of Deputies would vote first, then the House of Bishops. The House of Deputies voted to confirm the election. On August 5th, 2003, after lunch, the Bishops would debate and vote.

Don’t Come Home The Leader

Nara was wonderfully supportive through all the ups and downs of ministry. She could also be exceedingly clear about her assessment of a situation. Going into the General Convention at Minneapolis (for she always accompanied me to such major gatherings), she had simply said: “Don’t come home the leader.” Bp. Jim Stanton of Dallas had been the acknowledged leader among the orthodox bishops…Nara was able to sense that +Jim’s leadership would not endure the momentous trial which was GC 2003.

Prior to the afternoon session on August 5th the Bishops who knew they must vote against the New Hampshire confirmation met over lunch to map out what needed to be said in the debate and what would happen when the vote was announced. It was agreed that +Jim Stanton would seek to be recognized when the vote was announced. The meeting ended just a short time before the announced hour to begin the afternoon session of the House of Bishops. On the way across the street Bishop Stanton came alongside of me and said: “I can’t do this. Bob, you will have to do it.” Sometimes leadership comes suddenly.

Words from the Holy Spirit

When the vote in favor of assent to the New Hampshire election was announced, I sought recognition. Twenty-two bishops accompanied me to the podium microphone. The Lord gave me the words:

With this action this Church has abandoned the consistent teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the Christian Church throughout all ages. We are in a state of impaired communion. We appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to intervene in the tragic pastoral crisis that has befallen us.

The following day was the Feast of the Transfiguration. Hundreds gathered for the Forward in Faith morning eucharist. I was asked to preach. The text I chose was Luke 9:35: “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” Listen to Him [His Word]…follow Him [His Cross]…Worship Him [His Glory]…Reveal Him [His Love]: These were my four points. None of us knew what would happen next or exactly what the future would hold. Nevertheless, there was a great peace, and the trust that the Lord would carry us through if we kept on listening to him.

Coming Home The Leader

Within forty-eight hours of the vote, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, called an emergency meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to assemble at Lambeth Palace in mid-October.

I came home the leader.

Nara graciously understood. She added: “I do believe you are the only one who can do this.”

This article is excerpted from “Safe For A Week,” Archbishop Duncan’s “autobiographical essays on the Lord’s trustworthiness.”

Published on

January 3, 2023


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