This week, bishops from across the Episcopal Church are gathered in Minneapolis for a meeting of the House of Bishops. The meeting, which began on September 17, will conclude on September 20. The opening topic for the group was Lambeth Conference, an international meeting of bishops in the Anglican Communion, which begins July 22, 2020. The initial meeting, which sought to share information about the conference, also took up the subject of the exclusion of spouses of LGBTQ+ bishops.
Lambeth Conference, which most recently took place in 2008, has been a topic of controversy in recent months following Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision not to invite the spouses of bishops who are in same-sex marriages to the upcoming conference. Traditionally, spouses of bishops have been invited to attend Lambeth Conference.
In 2008, then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams declined to invite the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson to Lambeth Conference; at the time, Robinson was bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire and was married to a man. In the lead up to Lambeth 2020, current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby decided to invite openly LGBTQ+ bishops to the conference, a departure from the policy of his predecessor, but decided not to invite their spouses. Currently, there are two LGBTQ+ bishops serving in the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev Mary Glasspool, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of New York, and the Rt. Rev. Thomas Brown, Bishop of Maine, as well as bishop-elect of the Diocese of Michigan, the Rev. Bonnie Perry. Glasspool has stated that her wife will travel with her to England despite not being invited to the conference while Brown and Perry, as well as their spouses, have yet to decide how to proceed, though Perry has yet to receive an official invitation since she has yet to be consecrated as bishop.
Meanwhile, other bishops have been also been working to decide how to proceed in light of the exclusion of some bishops’ spouses. Bishop Alan Gates of the Dioceses of Massachusetts will not attend Lambeth Conference at the risk of straining his relationship with other members of the Episcopal Church.
In his opening sermon the House of Bishops, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry briefly commented on the issue of Lambeth, saying,
“And we are going to Lambeth. But some of us can’t. And some of us won’t. And we will each have to make a decision of conscience. And that decision of conscience must be respected. Those of us who go must be witnesses, to our conscience as God is inspiring it, regardless of where you stand. And somehow we must respect others’ decisions and conscience.
Now, I’m going to go . . . I’m already all ready. I’m going as witness. I’m going as a witness to the way of love that Jesus has taught me, that I have to love. I believe what I believe because I believe it reflects the way as a way of love.”
The topic of Lambeth Conference will come up again tomorrow, during the final day of this meeting of the House of Bishops. During this final session, conversations are slated to steer away from general conversations about Lambeth Conference and focus more on individual bishops and their responses to the conference and whether or not they will attend.