There aren’t too many perks to being a bishop in The Episcopal Church. Sure you get a fancy hat, a nice ring, and a salary that’s on the upper end of the clergy scale. But unlike their counterparts in England, our bishops don’t get a palace or a seat in Parliament. There are even fewer perks to being a bishop’s spouse. Your partner works long hours, weekends and evenings. One of the only longstanding perks comes once every 10 years or so, when the Archbishop of Canterbury invites you along on a trip to England, for the Lambeth Conference.
The next Lambeth conference has been called, for summer 2020. Invitations went out earlier this month, but one group of spouses have been intentionally excluded. All same-gender spouses were left off the list. This is particularly painful, because this Lambeth conference promotes “For the first time there will be a joint programme. Spouses of bishops will attend combined sessions at key points in the overall programme.” The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church asked bishops and their spouses to “to prayerfully and carefully consider her/his/their response, choices and actions” regarding the invitation, and the choice not to include same-gender spouses.
I want to make a simple proposal, for the bishops and their spouses, and others in The Episcopal Church with ties to Lambeth to prayerfully and carefully consider: If same-gender spouses won’t be allowed to attend, all of our bishops’ spouses should bow out. Bishops’ spouses should choose not to attend. Dioceses should pool the money that would have gone toward the plane tickets and expenses for the spouses. We should use these funds to start a scholarship for LGBTQ+ Anglicans from around the world who wish to study theology. (I think we should call recipients of this funding “Lambeth Scholars,” because it would be cheeky).
The Episcopal Church helps pay for the Lambeth Conference. Usually The Presiding Bishop’s Office and Trinity Wallstreet make a substantial financial contribution to the program. Our diocesan budgets pay for the bishop and their spouse to fly to the UK and attend. Often our dioceses also help to pay for the travel for international partner bishops and their spouses from Latin America, Asia, and Africa to attend. I would encourage our bishops not to use church money to bring a spouse, their own or their companion bishop’s, to Lambeth 2020. Have the awkward conversation with your brother or sister bishop. Explain that your spouse won’t be coming, and you would be happy to donate the money that would have gone to sending their spouse to a scholarship fund for LGBTQ+ Anglicans.
This proposal is not meant to knock the whole Lambeth conference off the rails. Bishops should still attend. We should make every effort to stay in relationship, to keep our seat at the table. But Lambeth can happen without the spouses. If same-gender spouses aren’t invited, let’s ask for some solidarity from the women and men who happen to be married to our bishops. Let’s ask our bishops to stand with their LGBTQ+ siblings. Let’s start a scholarship fund to raise up more Anglican LGBTQ+ folks for ministry.
Just a proposal for prayerful and careful consideration…