Sunday, August 3, 2008

Spouses Conference

One major aspect of the Lambeth Conference that seems to hardly get mentioned at all is the 540+ spouses who gather daily for their own conference.

Like the bishops, the spouses meet daily for worship, meals, plenary sessions, bible studies, and self-select sessions.

The team that put together the Spouses' Conference, under the direction of Jane Williams, had a very difficult task. They had to build a conference for a group of people who appear to have very little in common other than having spouses with similar jobs. They are, among other things, mothers, wives, fathers, husbands, clergy, professionals, professors, seamstresses, and full time bishops' wives.

While the bishops were discussing issues in the church, and learning about episcopal ministry and each other. There spouses were learning about world issues, each other, taking trips to different parts of England, making art, praying, and for many of them, being introduced to many of the issues facing the church. They had the opportunity to discuss struggles in being a bishop's spouse. A few commented that it was good being able to see the work that was being done around the communion in person.

Many of the spouses have had very different responses to the sessions, with some attending every option available, and others attending only bible studies and plenaries and spending the rest of their time reading, praying, and walking. All of the spouses seem very appreciative and excited about the bible studies, which, unlike the bishops', only have five members. The diversity in the group added to the full experiences, and, as Jane Williams noted in her ending address, the community added to the full study of the passages (which were, as with the bishops, the "I am" statements from John).

While more of the spouses than bishops don't speak English, the bible study groups all seem to be making it work.

A few of the male spouses seem to have stopped attending many of the events, but there significant attention paid to remembering that there were male spouses when the programme was designed.

Though exhausted, the spouses do seem to be enjoying themselves. The fear that was obvious in many attendees has lessened and the atmosphere is surprisingly light, and most of the spouses have seemed to find the experience of meeting other spouses, learning, and exploring the area worthwhile and rewarding.

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