Episcopal bishop of Maine attends Anglican conference, but her husband was ‘expressly disinvited’
Church of England world conference invites gay and lesbian bishops for first time, but stops inviting their spouses, a move that directly affects the Episcopal Bishop of Maine, one of the few openly gay bishops in the Communion Anglican.
Thomas Brown, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, travels to Canterbury, England, Wednesday with his wife, Thomas Mousin, for the fifteenth Lambeth Conference. Mousin, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Portland, will not be allowed to participate in “spouse program” events, including a retreat, Bible studies, seminars and meetings with other spouses.
Brown, who became the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine in 2019, said his wife was “expressly uninvited.” Mousin, who will be allowed to attend worship and other public events, said while he is saddened by the conference’s decision, he hopes his presence will lead to conversations.
“The fact that I go there physically is, for me, an important part as much as any conversation,” Mousin said. “A lot of times this topic is debated at theoretical levels…when people end up meeting people and not just thinking about it, they find that their hearts and minds have changed.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has previously said he is “personally conservative” on the issue of marriage equality, according to the Episcopal News Service.
“I am also convinced that I may be wrong. I think part of Anglican theology is still guesswork (and) we need to keep listening to,” he told a 2019 press conference. “I find myself deeply torn.”
The conference, which runs from July 26 to August 8, takes place approximately every 10 years and has been postponed to this summer due to the pandemic. The last conference, in 2008, excluded Gene Robinson, then bishop of New Hampshire and the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church. The 1998 one said same-sex relationships were “inconsistent with Scripture.”
The difference now, Brown said, is that there are more openly gay bishops and it’s not just the focus of the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Communion.
“It’s a big deal to be invited,” Brown said. “The presence of LGBTQ people around the world required, it seems to me, that the Archbishop of Canterbury take into account that LGBTQ people are part of our church and part of our communities of faith, and proclaim the gospel. ”
Brown said there was an absolute exclusion for same-sex spouses until January, when the six openly gay and lesbian bishops met Welby via Zoom. It was then decided that same-sex spouses of bishops would be allowed access to worship and the dining hall at the University of Kent.
Brown said he and the six other bishops who are “absent” have noticed a change in tone in the letters coming from Canterbury. His letter of invitation sent in 2019 from Welby, he said, was very formal and had no subtleties, stating that he was invited and his wife was not. Invitations sent the following year to the Bishop of Michigan, a married lesbian, and the Bishop of Missouri, a married gay man, were warmer, Brown said.
“Over time, each closest to the newest is not as fiercely opposed as the first,” Brown said. “So our spouses are still not invited. But it was really interesting to see this progression in a little more conciliatory tone.
Both Brown and Mousin said they received support from the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, which has 57 year-round churches and 18 summer chapels.
“They elected me to be their chief pastor because they saw in me the gifts and skills they needed at that particular time,” Brown said. “There’s also a feeling for many in this great diocese of being justifiably proud and really excited to have the ability to elect someone who was a gay man.”
Brown said this is largely true in the Episcopal Church, but not necessarily with the Anglican Communion as a whole. Mousin said that around the world there is still significant disagreement among Christians about the acceptance of same-sex relationships within the church.
“One of the remarkable things is the degree of progress I’ve seen in this country and in our church and that encourages me when I go abroad,” Mousin said. “I feel like I’m going to this conference strengthened by my experience…that I don’t feel at all that these two aspects of my life are in conflict with each other. I can be a faithful Christian, a priest, openly gay and in a committed relationship.