The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop returned to Rochester on Thursday night, 11 years after he was nearly elected bishop here.
"I can't tell you how good it feels to be back," V. Gene Robinson said as he began his sermon at the St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene Episcopal Church downtown.
Robinson, 62, was consecrated as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003.
He was also a candidate for bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester in 1999.
Robinson — who spoke at President Barack Obama's inaugural ceremonies last year — said Thursday that he came to speak in Rochester because the Rev. Michael Hopkins, rector of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, is a longtime friend who helped with his election in New Hampshire.
Robinson said when he won that election, "the reaction was pretty strong and pretty negative, not just from people in this country, but from around the world."
By contrast, Robinson received an enthusiastic reception Thursday from the crowd that clapped when he talked about "my partner, now my husband."
About 200 people attended the service. Not all of them were regular members of the church.
Marj Matzky of Irondequoit, who was at the church for the first time, said she was "just really interested in hearing him."
Tom Schultz of Greece said that, as a gay man, he wanted to hear Robinson's "perspective as a gay Christian."
Robinson said he is pleased with the progress the church has made over the past seven years, noting that a lesbian was recently elected as a suffragan bishop in Los Angeles.
"I'm proud of where the church has gone," Robinson said, "but I'm very humbled by the experience."