While we always make sure to keep Bishop Jennifer in our prayers, this week we send out extra special prayers on her behalf as she joins hundreds of bishops from around the world to participate in the Lambeth Conference. Lambeth Conference traditionally takes place every ten years if possible. It features a gathering of bishops from all around the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part. The Anglican Communion is a body of 80 million Christians around the world who are in communion with each other. A very small percentage of Anglicans (roughly two million) are members of the Episcopal Church in the United States. The last Lambeth Conference took place in 2008 and this year’s conference was delayed for a number of reasons. The conference is called Lambeth because it formerly was held in Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since 1978, however, the conference has been hosted by the University of Kent in Canterbury in order to accommodate more bishops.
This year’s conference would have been slated to take place in 2018. However, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby chose to delay calling a conference that year because of some disagreements amongst Anglican bishops. Among the chief disagreements was the issue of marriage equality. The Episcopal Church had recently passed a resolution creating an authorized rite for same-sex marriage. Some other Anglican and episcopal churches were not quite ready for that, and their bishops voiced their concern. Archbishop Welby did decide to call a conference during the summer of 2020, but we all know what happened that year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event did not take place as scheduled and it was finally rescheduled for this year.
The concerns surrounding marriage equality have not been resolved. You may have seen posts on social media discussing concerns raised by a number of bishops, many of them Americans. These concerns pertain to a piece of the Lambeth agenda seeking to uphold an Anglican Communion statement from 1998 opposing same-sex marriage. Complicating the matter is that bishops were asked to prepare to vote to endorse the statement, even though Lambeth is not supposed to be a decision making body. Originally, bishops were told they were not going to be permitted to vote to reject the statement. Instead, their options included voting to affirm the statement or to say that more prayer and discernment were necessary in order to make a decision. In essence, the options were “no” or “no, but at a later time.” This has now been updated with an option that states “this Call does not speak for me.”
So why is there such an uproar? Many of the more progressive bishops in the Anglican Communion are frustrated that the conference seems to cater toward the comfort level of the conservative bishops. When the 2020 conference was called, spouses of LGBT bishops were not invited to participate. This is true despite the fact that bishops’ spouses have long been a part of Lambeth and are even invited to a tea event with the Queen. The verbiage in the document seems to serve as a continuation of the trend of excluding LGBT sisters and brothers. As Bishop Reddall wrote in a pastoral letter to the diocese recently, “It is simply not true that there is a single mind in the Anglican Communion about same-sex marriage. A number of bishops who are attending will be doing so while their same-sex spouses gather in Canterbury, excluded from the conference as a whole. A number of provinces—not just the Episcopal Church—offer marriage equality, or are on the way to doing so.”
I do not think it is a surprise to anyone to hear that I am an ally to the LGBT community. I serve on a diocesan task force working toward ensuring the Diocese of Arizona continues to become a more affirming diocese. In my time as a priest, I have performed more same-sex weddings than I have opposite-sex weddings. I performed the first same-sex wedding in the history of Ogden, Utah. Yet, I understand not everyone shares my views. To me, it appears that what is taking place in Lambeth is a pushback by people who feel their voices have gone unheard. I feel badly for people who feel unheard. I advocate for listening. For attempting to understand. For kind, healthy, and appropriate dialogue when two sides disagree.
My hope for Lambeth is that the Communion achieve some kind of healing and understanding. While many people in the Episcopal Church and other Anglican churches support marriage equality, it is important for us to remember that a component of Anglicanism is personal discernment. Each of us has to use information available to us to decide for ourselves how we feel about issues. I stand on the side of respecting human dignity. I stand for affirming love in all its forms. I also encourage kindness in times of disagreement. Not everyone sees things the way I do. And you know what? That’s ok.
We continue to pray for Bishop Jennifer and all our bishops as they gather in the United Kingdom this week. We pray for continued dialogue and conversation. We pray for the Spirit to grace our bishops with wisdom and love. We pray for those who are in pain because they are not welcomed as the children of God that they are. We pray for those who agree with us. And, as challenging as it may be to do so, we pray for those who do not agree with us. That’s what it means to be “in communion” with someone. To put our differences aside and to sit together at the table.
For more information surrounding Lambeth, a good resource is the Episcopal News Service. You can find the Episcopal News Service here: https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/