I am just back from the semi-annual meeting of the House of Bishops. One of the topics on the agenda was to respond to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to all Anglican bishops and spouses to attend the 2020 Lambeth Conference, with the special provision that same-sex spouses of bishops not attend.
At the time it was announced, in the Episcopal Church this only affected Bishop Mary Glasspool and her spouse Becki. But the Diocese of Maine has just elected the Rev. Thomas Brown, and his spouse Tom will also be uninvited. And it is possible there may be more bishops elected in the coming months who also will be married to people of the same gender, and their spouses would not be invited, either, in the name of maintaining the unity of the Anglican Communion.
It was a hard conversation. The members of the House of Bishops are not all of one mind about same-sex marriage, but that is not what made it hard. What is difficult is that, as someone said, we are one church, and by not inviting part of the church we are all diminished. Bishops on all sides of the conversation about marriage spoke of the pain it is causing for us to not all be allowed to attend, much less feel welcomed. I was very much taken by Bishop Mary’s words (and Becki’s words) to the House of Bishops. She acknowledged the pain that the Archbishop’s decision has caused but also reminded us that the Way of Love is also the Way of the Cross. Part of our vocation as followers of Jesus is to do the hard things that we believe are the right things to do.
In this case, the House of Bishops intends to do two things. First, we intend to have a conversation about this with our spouses. They have their own ministries — they are not accessories to Episcopal ministry. Karen and other spouses of clergy in the Episcopal Church have roles to play. They will decide for themselves what they wish to do. The plan is to have a working group of bishops and spouses prepare a process for all of us to use to discuss the next steps. This discussion will take place at our scheduled meeting of the House of Bishops and Spouses in Minneapolis this fall.
The second thing we intend to do is to go to the Lambeth Conference and participate as fully as possible. As Bishop Mary reminded us in her address, “when you are on the menu, you should be at the table.” I believe this Lambeth Conference will be an opportunity for us, for me, to share the stories of ministry and service in which the entire body of the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island participates. Karen and I will be attending the conference and sharing what God is up to here in Rhode Island. I hope you will be proud of what we will do to represent your ministries to the people of the wider Communion. And I hope you will join me in prayer in the months to come for all the people who will be attending the conference – and those who have been asked to not attend. We are one Church, together walking the Way of Love.