- The eucharist will come as the Lambeth Conference prepares to battle over same-sex marriage and LGBT+ inclusion in the Anglican Church.
Two married lesbian priests will lead an LGBT+ church service as Anglican bishops from around the world gather for a conference to be dominated by conflicts over sexuality and marriage.
The Lambeth Conference will take place in July in Kent, England. It is held every 10 years and is the major forum for deciding the future direction of the Anglican Church around the world.
And it will bring together 1,000 bishops from 165 countries.
This Lambeth Conference has already faced a two year delay amid a row over same-sex marriage. It should have taken place in 2018 but in 2017 leaders decided to delay it until 2020.
At the same meeting it was delayed, the Anglican Communion suspended the US Episcopal Church from decision-making on ‘issues pertaining to doctrine or polity’ for three years because of its support for same-sex marriage.
Now that suspension will end in time for this Lambeth Conference.
Meanwhile, divisions over same-sex marriage and LGBT+ inclusion have not gone away.
And the LGBT+ inclusive service is likely to rile conservative bishops who maintain that homosexuality is a sin.
The ‘inclusive’ eucharist will be at a church in Canterbury on 25 July. That is one day after Lambeth Conference delegates finish their spiritual retreat and one day before the official Lambeth Conference Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral.
And two married lesbian priests will preside over the service.
One is the Right Reverend Mary Glasspool, the assistant bishop in New York. The other is Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth. She is a daughter of Desmond Tutu, the veteran South African anti-apartheid campaigner and LGBT+ ally.
Spreading a positive view of inclusion
Luke Dowding is executive director of One Body, One Faith, one of five progressive organizations which are co-organizing the special eucharist.
He told GSN the reaction to the service, announced just a few hours ago, has already been overwhelming.
He said: ‘We expect it to be a packed service with the need to stream it live to other venues.
‘So far the reaction has been really positive. In terms of how the Lambeth Conference will react we are expecting there to be some negative thoughts towards it.
‘But we hope this changes the narrative slightly and speaks to a positive view of including LGBT+ people.’
He added the service will be free. But they are issuing tickets to ensure people who wish to attend are not disappointed.
However, in a sign of the controversy that is likely to accompany the celebration, he admitted that they are not yet naming the host church to avoid it becoming the victim of anti-LGBT+ trolling in the run-up to the service.
Jesus wanted outsiders to be insiders
The split over sexuality which will mark the conference has continued for more than 10 years.
At the last Lambeth Conference, Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, warned the church faced ‘grave peril’.
In subsequent years, it has deeply affected the lives of many LGBT+ Anglicans.
Indeed Tutu van Furth had to quit as an Anglican priest in South Africa after her same-sex marriage. She now lives with her wife in the Netherlands. But she is sticking to her principles.
She told the Guardian: ‘Jesus was always determined to make those who society sees as outsiders be insiders.’
Moreover, Glasspool, the first married lesbian bishop in the global Anglican church, said the inclusive service would carry an important message:
‘The LGBT+ community in the UK and other places might not understand that they are invited to celebrate at the Christian table. We need to make it known that everyone is included – all are invited to this particular celebration.’
And she criticized the current Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the global Anglican Church, Justin Welby.
Glasspool said bishop’s spouses have traditionally been guests at the Lambeth Conference. But Welby had decided not to allow same-sex spouses in 2020.
Glasspool received a letter from Welby in December 2018 informing her of his decision ‘not to invite your spouse to the Lambeth conference, a decision that I am well aware will cause you pain, which I regret deeply.’
But they won’t be the only ones staying away. The primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda – all homophobic – are refusing to attend. Indeed, the new head of Church of Uganda made an attack on same-sex marriage his first priority after his enthronement.
Sex, love and marriage
Welby has already faced one major humiliation this year over same-sex marriage and LGBT+ inclusion.
In January he and other bishops dictated that marriage should only be between ‘a man and a woman’. And because they said only married people can have sex, they put a life-ban on all lesbian and gay people from having sex.
Their message massively backfired when LGBT+ people lined up to talk about times they’d had gay sex with Church of England clergy.
Moreover theologian Andrew Graystone pointed out: ‘The bishops of the Church of England have issued 1,600 words of “pastoral guidance” on marriage and civil partnerships. The word “sex” appears 49 times. The word “love” does not appear once.’
And bishops, clergy and others rebelled – signing an open letter condemning the guidance.
In the end, Welby had to climb down and admit the statement had caused ‘hurt’. But he still refused to change his mind.
Meanwhile a poll this week showed that Church of England members are shifting to support sames-sex marriage.
Conducted by YouGov, the poll showed the 34% believe same-sex marriage is wrong down from 47% in 2013.
Moreover, the number of Church of England members who agree same-sex marriage is right has risen from 38% in 2013 to 48% in 2020.