Bishop V. Gene Robinson, whose consecration convulsed the global Anglican fellowship, said he was announcing his retirement early so the transition would be smooth for the Diocese of New Hampshire. He assured congregants that he is healthy and sober after seeking treatment for alcoholism five years ago. He will be 65 when he steps down.
Robinson revealed his plans at the annual diocesan convention in Concord.
"The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family and you," the bishop said, in prepared remarks released by the diocese. "Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark."
Robinson was surrounded by bodyguards and wore a bulletproof vest under his vestments when he was consecrated in 2003, an event celebrated far beyond the church as a breakthrough for gay acceptance even as it broke open a long-developing rift over what Anglicans should believe.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. body in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, a group of churches that trace their roots to the missionary work of the Church of England.
The spiritual head of the Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has been struggling to keep the fellowship together since Robinson was installed.
Episcopal and Anglican traditionalists overseas formed alliances and created the Anglican Church in North America as a conservative rival to the Episcopal Church.
Under pressure from conservatives, Williams did not invite Robinson to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting of the world's Anglican bishops. Instead, Robinson flew privately to England and spoke at local churches while the other Anglican bishops convened.
Robinson and his partner of more than two decades, Mark Andrew, held a civil union ceremony in 2008, and the bishop publicly advocated for same-sex marriage in New Hampshire, which the state approved last year. Robinson also gave the opening prayer at a concert ahead of Barack Obama's inauguration as president.
The bishop's retirement will not heal tensions among Anglicans, which go beyond Robinson. Episcopalians solidified their support for same-sex relationships last year by authorizing bishops to bless same-sex unions and by consecrating a lesbian, Assistant Bishop Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles.
In his speech Saturday, Robinson thanked congregants for supporting him through the tumult over his election.
"New Hampshire is always the place I remain, simply, `the bishop.' This is the one place on earth where I am not `the gay bishop,"' Robinson said. "I believe that you elected me because you believed me to be the right person to lead you at this time. The world has sometimes questioned that, but I hope you never did."
Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire: http://www.nhepiscopal.org/