The Bishop’s E-pistle: Bishops at the Table

Last week, I attended my first House of Bishops meeting at the Kanuga conference center in North Carolina. It was a fascinating week of being embraced by new colleagues, and spending time together in prayer, song, learning, and discernment.

Highlights included joining the “bishops’ choir” to help lead music for our daily Eucharist and sitting at Bishop Barbara Harris’ feet to hear her tell stories of her stained-glass-shattering episcopate. We collectively celebrated the 30th anniversary of her consecration, and she expressed gratitude at how the House has changed in those 30 years, particularly in the last two years. But there is still a ways to go: out of about 130 bishops present, 27 of us were women. That is progress–but it is not yet parity.

The most significant topic for the wider church that we tackled was our discussion of the 2020 Lambeth Conference. This is the gathering of all Anglican bishops that transpires about once every 10 years. Lambeth 2008 was controversial because Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was not invited because he was gay; Lambeth 2020 is offering some early controversy because while this time all Anglican bishops are invited—even those who are gay or lesbian—their same-sex spouses are not being invited to participate in what is being promoted as a conference desiring the full participation of all bishops’ spouses in Bible study and all other activities.

I have many thoughts and feelings about this, both in terms of the injustice of disinviting the three spouses of gay or lesbian bishops, and in the assumption that spouses are an extension of any bishop’s (or priest’s, or deacon’s) ministry. I have reservations about participating in a conference which, once again, demands that the full dignity of LGBTQ+ persons, and the validity of their sacramental relationships, be presumed to be an obstacle to faith and communion rather than an outward and visible sign of a gracious and loving God.

However, I was inspired and grateful for the witness of Bishop Mary Glasspool, with whom I served in New York, and who offered a personal and theologically sound statement to begin our conversation and discernment that included the following memorable statement explaining why she will be attending Lambeth 2020:

“I really believe that it is better to be at the table when you’re on the menu. How will people come to see and know the love of Christ as it lives and bears fruit in the lives of married LGBT people if we are not at the table to bear witness to that love?”

So, as Bishop Glasspool is planning to go to Lambeth–with her wife, Becki, staying outside the official housing so they can be together–so, I will plan to attend. I desire to be at that table so that I can bring the witness of the love of Christ as shown by the lives of married LGBTQ+ people in Arizona with me. And between now and July of 2020, we will be working together–both in Arizona and in the Episcopal Church more broadly–on how to creatively and faithfully witness to that love of Christ and the blessing that so many of you experience in your lives and relationships. I want to carry your stories with me to that table.

You can read the official statements by both the House of Bishops and the Bishops’ Spouses Planning group, and excerpts are below.

“At this time, the majority of bishops invited plan to attend the conference. Through our presence we will participate fully in the program of the conference, as well as seek to further the conversation around the various cultural expressions of marriage. We intend to build relationships and missional partnerships that will be inclusive vehicles for building communion across the Anglican world in all its beautiful diversity. We will seek to reflect our varied understandings of marriage, as well as our profound commitment to the dignity of all human beings, including the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons.” –House of Bishops’ statement, dated March 16, 2019.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated that the theme of this Lambeth Conference is “God’s Church for God’s World: Walking, Listening, and Witnessing Together.” The spouse community understands that the Anglican Communion is not of one mind with regard to marriage, and that, in the life of the Communion, this is a complex issue. Exclusion of same gender spouses, however, seems like a simplistic reaction to this complex issue. It saddens us that all are not welcome to walk, listen, and witness with us, and that all voices will not be heard at this gathering.” –Bishops’ Spouses Planning Group statement.