In a recent filmed conversation at Lambeth Palace, Caroline Welby, Comfort Idowu-Fearon and Jane Poggo – all spouses of Archbishops and bishops – shared their reflections about both the opportunities and challenges that some bishops’ spouses experience in the Anglican Communion.
They also expressed their hopes that the Lambeth Conference in 2020 will enable people to share their stories and learn from one another. The Lambeth Conference is convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury approximately every ten years in Canterbury. The fifteenth conference happens next summer, and will see active bishops and spouses attending from over 165 countries of the Anglican Communion.
Caroline Welby, is married to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She has a wide portfolio of ministry and public office responsibilities, and plays an instrumental part in work with Women on the Front Line.
In preparations for the Lambeth Conference, Caroline is playing a key role in supporting the Design Group for the event. The programme will be providing some bespoke and joint sessions for spouses attending the conference.
The conference will provide space for spiritual reflection, growing connections and sharing stories about the vocation and ministry experiences of spouses across the Anglican World.
Jane Poggo (married to Bishop Anthony Poggo, the Archbishop’s Adviser on Anglican Communion Affairs) is also supporting the planning group for the Lambeth Conference. Comfort Idowu-Fearon is married to The Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.
A conversation shared – discussing the role of bishops spouses
The situation and experience of bishops’ spouses is different across the communion, so the film is certainly not typical of every setting; neither is it aiming to suggest a ‘blanket’ picture. But the conversation nevertheless does serve to shine a light on some of the real and felt issues of the role.
Like the bishops attending, spouses represent a wide variety of cultural and vocational contexts. Some spouses play a very active and complementary role in the bishopric ministry. Others pursue more distinct and particular vocations, to that of their spouse.
Either way, the pressures and demands on bishops’ spouses can be considerable. These might include: Juggling the demands of the role alongside alternative vocational priorities; managing additional family commitments; or responding to the diverse social, cultural and ministerial expectations that others place on the role.
The trio discuss questions like: What do you do when you feel like the role doesn’t fit? How do you manage the pressures of a young family with your diocesan and travelling responsibilities? What do you do when the role feels like a burden and challenge? How do you develop the right skills when it’s not your background and adapt to the demands of the role?
Jane Poggo, recalls some of her experiences in managing her spouse role during conflict and political strife in Sudan.
The group go on to talk about some of their hopes for the Lambeth Conference, in providing an opportunity for people to share stories and create an environment for mutual learning.
Caroline shares, “One of the things I’m looking forward to about the Lambeth Conference is the Bible Study groups.’ Reflecting on comments from people that attended in 2008, she says ‘…It’s the Bible Study groups which do the most in terms of being able to get to know spouses from other cultures, from other parts of the world, beginning that two-way understanding…”
Comfort Idowu-Fearon talks about the importance of the value of story sharing and learning amongst the spouse network. “I think this is what Lambeth Conference does…These wives, along with the burden of the ministry, have an opportunity as well to experience what their husbands have experienced. And they can come back and tell stories, and stories are very important in our lives…”
Registrations for the Lambeth Conference still continue to come in from Bishops and Spouses around the Anglican Communion. Further information on the conference can be found at: https://www.lambethconference.org
Read an article from the Eamonn Mullally – husband of the Bishop of London and his excitement for the Lambeth Conference here.