Bishop Mary D. Glasspool, Episcopal Diocese of New York bishop assistant, shared these remarks during the March 14 morning session of The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ retreat at Kanuga:
The Way of Love and Lambeth
The Right Reverend Mary D. Glasspool
The Way of Love is nothing if it doesn’t express itself in gratitude, so I begin with offering my own deep gratitude to and for all of you. Thank you, not only for the ways in which you have given your love and concern at this meeting, but also for your hospitality and friendship these past nine years during which I have had the privilege of serving. Thank you, Bishop Andy and Bishop Allen, for your collegiality, friendship, love, and the joy I experience in working with you both. Thank you Bishop Michael, for your incredible leadership of these crazy Christians in the Jesus Movement as we seek to find a balm in Gilead. I’m grateful to Bishop Gene Robinson, who broke the ice in behalf of LGBT+ people, sustained the wounds, and continues to serve God’s People in the world. I am profoundly grateful to and for my spouse of 31 years, Becki Sander, who continues to be a loving, sacrificing, forgiving partner as well as a child of God in her own right. And most especially I thank our loving and gracious God, who makes God’s Presence known even at those times when, like Elijah, I’m trying to hide in some cave; or when, like Jonah, I’m trying to forget about the people of Nineveh. Thank you.
Within hours of my election as the second Bishop Suffragan of Los Angeles – the first being my sister in Christ: Diane Jardine Bruce – the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, issued a statement that began: [This election] raises very serious questions not just for The Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole. He then reminded The Episcopal Church that The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications. [Statement of the Archbishop of Canterbury of December 6, 2009.]
Two years ago, Archbishop Rowan Williams – retired from Canterbury since 2012 – was in New York City, giving Holy Week addresses at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, and we invited him to be part of our Renewal of Vows service on Holy Tuesday at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. I shared with my brother bishops that I was more than a little anxious about meeting him and was planning on making myself scarce in the Sacristy – invisible if I could manage it. As I was vesting in the crowded sacristy, to my horror I saw the Archbishop walking directly toward me, and before I could escape, he was standing in front of me. He said: Bishop Mary, we got off to a rocky start, and I’m sorry. I hope you will forgive me, and we can begin anew. I stammered out Of course. I understand. Thank you. For me this brief exchange was the holiest of gifts, a true balm in Gilead.
On September 22, 2018, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was hosted by Trinity Wall Street to promote the Lambeth Conference. After attending the celebrative Consecration of the Rt. Rev. Carlye Hughes in Newark, the bishops of New York and our spouses joined the Rector and Vestry of Trinity for a reception and dinner honoring the Archbishop. At the reception Archbishop Justin not only greeted us warmly, but specifically sought out my spouse, Becki, and engaged her in friendly and lengthy conversation. It seems they each have a passion for social work, and the Archbishop shared information with Becki about a project he is working on, gave her his card with his personal email address, and invited her to be in touch. Then the Archbishop and our own Presiding Bishop Michael, gave an informal presentation before going to dinner. They joked about the Royal Wedding and were lighthearted with each other. Among the words given by the Archbishop were these: Bishop Michael and I are brothers in Christ, even though we disagree about some issues, such as gay marriage. I didn’t think much of the comment, but Becki – the smarter of the two of us – got suspicious. I tried to assure Becki by pointing out that Archbishop Justin had gone out of his way to engage and befriend her, and that all was well.
I share all of this with you so that you can begin to imagine the shock when, somewhat out of the blue, I received a personal letter from Archbishop Justin on December 4 – the first sentence of which read: Dear Bishop Mary, I am writing to you directly as I feel I owe you an explanation of my decision not to invite your spouse to the Lambeth Conference, a decision that I am well aware will have caused you pain, which I regret deeply. The letter reminded me that The decision as to invitations to the Lambeth Conference is one for the Archbishop of Canterbury. The letter included an invitation for Becki and me to come to Lambeth Palace to speak further about the decision, should we wish to do so, and asked for my understanding although not my agreement with this decision. The letter was copied to +Andy Dietsche, +Michael Curry, and Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.
I shared the letter with Becki, who was shocked, hurt and enraged; and Bishop Andy and I shared the letter with Bishop Allen. I asked for all of this not to be made public until we had time to reflect and pray together about a response. Becki and I also went to see Bishop Michael on December 13 for further consultation, lament, advice, and pastoral care – all of which we gratefully received. I wrote a two-page letter responding to Archbishop Justin, in which I invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, citing particular points concerning just and unjust laws; sharing some of my personal journey; assuring him of my own prayers; and closing with this paragraph:
Perhaps the most important thing I want to say this: It’s about LOVE! I am talking about people who love one another and look to the church to support them in their lifelong marriages. The values of faithfulness, respect, dignity, truth-telling, monogamy and the love that is our loving God’s gift to all of us, are upheld. After a lifetime of discussion, I am relatively confident that The Episcopal Church will never again turn its back on the LGBTQ community. Will the same be said of Lambeth 2020?
Becki wrote a letter to Archbishop Justin and sent it December 24 – so we could have a peaceful Christmas. We did what we thought we should do, and then let it go. We knew it wasn’t just about us – but at that time, it was a personal and private conversation.
I had hoped that this news would not become public until after this meeting of the House of Bishops, when I thought we could consider these matters and others concerning the Lambeth Conference together. But when Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon blogged that it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference in a post titled The Global Excitement About Lambeth Conference on February 15 of this year, the news quickly became public. It likewise became startlingly clear that this was a political issue – not simply about Becki and me, and Bishop Kevin Robertson of Toronto and his spouse, Mohan Sharma, and Bishop-elect of Maine: Thomas Brown, and his spouse, Tom Mousin – but about LGBTQ people the world over and their relationships with our church. The political aspects of the situation quickly went to print: the cost of Lambeth, the purpose of Lambeth, the so-called Instruments of Unity, power, authority, inclusion, exclusion, hospitality and common courtesy, should we go? should we not go? People in the Diocese of New York began to ask their bishops what we were thinking, and we felt the need to share some of our thoughts with our own people – not in any way to pre-empt discussion, but simply to share our thoughts. So, the bishops of New York sent out a letter dated March 1 to the diocese, authored primarily by Bishop Andy, and signed by Bishop Allen and myself. That letter was shared with all of you upon Bishop Michael’s request. Others of you have written letters as well.
I’m going to close by making three brief points, and then offer some questions that we might choose to consider. The points are mine alone, although you certainly may agree or disagree with them. The first is this: Spouses are autonomous people – they are not simply extensions of the bishops to whom they are married. As children of God in their own right, in my view they have the agency and prerogative to make their own decisions about Lambeth. It is my hope that we will listen to their voices, individually, and to whatever degree they can speak collectively, as a group. I trust we will listen, and not attempt to speak for them.
Second, 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?
And third, I want my own life to be centered in the life, ministry, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I dare say you do, too. It is so easy, and at times very tempting, for me at least, to be drawn away from that center. So, I’m asking your help to stay centered. I’m keenly aware that the Way of Love is also the Way of the Cross. You all know this, too. The sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ love for us is also the most precious, and for that, and for all of you, I am eternally grateful.
So here are some questions. How will we continue to be a hospitable house? At the Fall Meeting we will, God willing, welcome into our midst Bishop Thomas Brown and his spouse, Tom, and possibly other LGBT married partners. Certainly before the Lambeth Conference there may be more. How will we welcome them?
What is the best way to bear witness to God’s love and justice at Lambeth? Are there creative ways to do this?
I’m sure there are other things you all want to talk about. So, let us pray.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord: who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP, p. 280
The Rt. Rev. Mary D. Glasspool
March 14, 2019