A major conference for bishops of the Anglican Communion that garnered headlines for not inviting same-sex spouses has been postponed over concerns about the coronavirus.
The Lambeth Conference, which was originally scheduled to be held at Canterbury in the United Kingdom in July and August, has been postponed until summer 2021.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Anglican Communion, announced the rescheduling in a video message posted to the Conference website on Monday.
Welby stated that he believed that “the place of a bishop at a time of difficulty is the place of a shepherd when the wolf is attacking the flock.”
“It is to be with them, to be alongside them, to love them, to suffer with them,” he said. “Because of the coronavirus, travel around the world is deeply restricted and the amount of time that we will face these limitations is unknown.”
“For these reasons, so that we may be good shepherds as bishops in the Anglican world and encourage the Church to be there for God’s suffering world, we have decided to reschedule and postpone the conference.”
Welby stressed that they are “absolutely not canceling,” adding that “when we come together, it will be in a world reshaped by what is going on at the moment.”
“It is ever more important that we meet to pray, to study the Scriptures, to hear the Word of God, to comfort, to gain a fresh vision of what it is to be God’s church for God’s world,” he continued.
“Let us remember that as we come together and share our wisdom, we will need to hear from the Spirit through each other, to think and ponder and study, to worship and pray.”
The first Lambeth Conference was held in 1867 and lasted four days with 76 bishops from across the global Anglican Communion in attendance. It has been held roughly once every 10 years.
The conference originally scheduled for this summer garnered controversy when it was announced that same-sex spouses were not invited to the gathering.
Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, explained last year that while all bishops received official invitations, same-sex spouses are not invited to the conference.
“Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognizing that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend,” wrote Idowu-Fearon at the time.
“But the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.”
Idowu-Fearon added that he believed that in light of the church resolution “it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference.”
The decision was criticized by many in the global church body, namely those in more theologically liberal churches in developed countries.
The Right Rev. Mary Glasspool of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, a married lesbian bishop, planned to lead a service in July at a church in Canterbury partly to protest the decision.
“The LGBT+ community in the U.K. and other places might not understand that they are invited to celebrate at the Christian table,” Glasspool told The Guardian in a recent interview. “We need to make it known that everyone is included — all are invited to this particular celebration.”