[Episcopal News Service – Canterbury, England] The Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool made history when she was elected suffragan bishop of Los Angeles in 2009, becoming the second openly gay – and first lesbian – bishop in the Anglican Communion.
At this year’s Lambeth Conference, now assistant bishop in the Diocese of New York, she is making history again, along with her spouse, Becki Sander. Glasspool is among the first few openly LGBTQ+ bishops to attend the conference, though their spouses were not invited. Glasspool and Sander, a professor of social work, have been together for 34 years.
Their relationship – along with those of several other bishops – has taken on added significance at this conference, where bishops opposed to same-sex marriage have said they will not receive Communion with them.
Glasspool and Sander talked to Episcopal News Service about the strange contradictions they’ve experienced here in Canterbury, from the politics of sleeping arrangements to the kinship Sander has experienced with the other “Mauve Spouses” – as they call themselves – of LGBTQ+ bishops. This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
ENS: What does it feel like to be here?
Glasspool: It feels OK. I think I feel stable. I think I’d be inconsolable if Becki weren’t here with me. I asked her to come even though she wasn’t invited. So all along, we’ve known that I was going to Lambeth and Becki’s coming to England. And the housing thing was difficult because it brought out the true colors again.
It was very disconcerting the first 24 to 48 hours, in large part because we had to find a place for Becki to stay. And when we finally secured a room, it was a mile and a half across campus. The Lambeth Conference made, I think, a Faustian deal with somebody that the spouses of LGBTQ bishops who were explicitly not invited – we’re not going to be sleeping in the same room. It’s third-grade. It’s not a very mature outlook on things.
ENS: What did you make of the inclusion of language rejecting same-sex marriage in the first draft of the call on human dignity?
Glasspool: When the [draft] calls came out, eight days before the first day of the meeting, that was an upset. Part of the upset was when you had these working groups who did these drafts, how did this get in without the working group who drafted the thing on human dignity not know about it?
The Lambeth Conference was never a legislative conference. And we’ve been through the Windsor Report, we’ve tried on the Anglican Covenant, and those things … didn’t go anywhere. And there are elements in other calls that are trying to impose a structure that doesn’t exist. The Anglican Communion has never been anything but a loosely knit fellowship of churches identified either by their nation or their ethnicity. And that means that the language we speak is the language of human relationship. We make connections. We network. … The Lambeth Conference is about praying together, listening together, walking together, talking together.
And you know what? I pray for [Archbishop of Canterbury] Justin Welby every day. I mean, this is a huge thing. It’s a tough job.
ENS: Some of the conservative bishops have said that they will refuse to receive Communion with you. How does that feel?
Glasspool: That’s already happened. I noticed it [on July 28], before the press release ever came out. I just noticed [them sitting during the Eucharist].
ENS: Did you think it had something to do with your presence there?
Glasspool: I had my strong suspicions. When talking with friends later, I was kind of admonished – this is what many of us do. Don’t make any assumptions, because you’ll go and [tell] stories that aren’t true. So I tried to stay open. It feels so bad – when anyone for any reason is not receiving Communion, that feels bad! That’s not who we are as the church. We’re trying to express our oneness in Christ.
Sacramentally, they’re excluding themselves. I’m there! I’m receiving Communion! They’re casting themselves out, and that’s what’s sad.
ENS: Becki, what is it like to be here as a bishop’s spouse but be excluded from the official spouses’ events?
Sander: I’m not in pain over not being in a photo. What I am in pain about is the incredible opportunity [being missed]. I heard from straight spouses yesterday; their first small group experience in the morning blew them away, the depth, the realness with people they’ll never meet again. That made me sad because I would have loved to have that experience.
ENS: Have you been able to connect with the other spouses?
Sander: Yes! It’s fabulous. All of a sudden, all these [straight] spouses want to meet us, have tea with us, have lunch with us. I’m meeting with Tom [Bishop Thomas Brown’s husband] and Susan [Bishop Bonnie Perry’s wife] here, because we don’t know what to do, which is exactly the point. That’s what I would have done if I was here and invited!
You know what I would love the most? I would authentically love to talk to spouses who don’t feel I should be married to Mary, because I haven’t heard that. I mean, I’ve been segregated in my world. This is an opportunity.
Somebody who disagrees … or believes in [1998 Lambeth Resolution] 1.10, that’s who I would love to connect with, because I need to hear that. I need to hear where it comes from.
ENS: Why does it say “None” above your name on your badge, where other people have titles?
Sander: Well, that’s a funny story. I didn’t know it said “None.” I have vision issues. [When I was registering,] it was just an online form and I’m whipping through to register as an observer and it said, “Title,” and I just put “none.” Did I think they were going to print it? No! I mean, the options were Ms., Mrs., and I am a doctor, so I could be Dr. Becki Sander, and I’m like, no.
ENS: Does it ever feel like you’re under the spotlight here?
Sander: No. I do feel a little naive. And I don’t want to miss an opportunity to bear witness. Should I have been more prepared? Should I have done more homework? And Mary is great at that with me. She says, “Be you. You just be you.”
I was hoping maybe it wouldn’t be [focused on sexuality]. [We need] to turn towards the larger, more critical issues. Where’s poverty, racism, climate change, war?
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.