Bishop Thomas Brown, center, one of the few openly gay bishops in the Anglican Communion, was invited to an international conference of bishops in the U.K., but his spouse, Thomas Mousin, the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Portland, was not. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Anglican church’s global conference is inviting gay and lesbian bishops for the first time, but is drawing the line at inviting their spouses, a decision that directly affects the Episcopal Bishop of Maine, one of only a few openly gay bishops in the Anglican Communion.

Thomas Brown, leader the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, is traveling to Canterbury, England, on Wednesday with his spouse, Thomas Mousin, for the fifteenth Lambeth Conference. Mousin, the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Portland, won’t be allowed entry to events on the “the spouses’ programme,” including a retreat, bible studies, seminars and meetings with the other spouses.

Brown, who became the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine in 2019, said his spouse was “expressly disinvited.” Mousin, who will be allowed to attend worship and the other public events, said that while he’s saddened by the conference’s decision, he hopes his presence leads to conversations.

“The fact that I am physically going there is, for me, an important part as much as any conversation,” Mousin said. “Often, this subject gets debated at theoretical levels … as people end up meeting persons and not just thinking about this subject, they find that their hearts and minds are changed.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has previously said he’s “personally conservative” on the issue of marriage equality, according to the Episcopal News Service.

“I am equally convinced that it may be that I am wrong. I think that part of Anglican theology is always an assumption (and) that we need to go on listening,” he said at a 2019 news conference. “I find myself deeply torn.”


The conference, which runs from July 26 to Aug. 8, occurs approximately every 10 years and was postponed to this summer due to the pandemic. The last conference, in 2008, excluded Gene Robinson, then-bishop of New Hampshire and the Anglican Church’s first openly gay bishop. The one in 1998 declared same-sex relationships were “incompatible with scripture.”

The difference now, Brown said, is that there are more openly gay bishops and it’s no longer a focus of only 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 throughout the world required, it seems to me, that the Archbishop of Canterbury reckon with the fact that LGBTQ people are part of our church and they’re part of our faith communities, and they are proclaiming the gospel.”

Brown said there was absolute exclusion for same-sex spouses until January, when the six openly gay and lesbian bishops met with Welby via Zoom. It was decided then that the bishops’ same-sex spouses would be allowed access to worship and the University of Kent dining hall.

Brown said he and the other six bishops who are “out” noticed a change of tone in the letters coming from Canterbury. His invitation letter sent in 2019 from Welby, he said, was very formal and had no niceties, stating that he was invited, and that his spouse was not. Invites sent out the following year to the bishop of Michigan, a married lesbian woman, and the bishop of Missouri, a married gay man, were warmer, Brown said.



“Over time, each one closest to the most recent one, is not as stridently opposed as the first,” Brown said. “So our spouses are still not invited. But it’s been really interesting to see that progression of a somewhat more conciliatory tone.”

Brown and Mousin both said they’ve received support from the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, composed of 57 year-round churches and 18 summer chapels.

“They elected me to be their chief pastor because they saw in me gifts and skills that they needed at this particular moment,” Brown said. “There is also a sense for many in this great diocese of being rightly proud and really excited that they had the capacity 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 worldwide, there is still significant disagreement among Christians about the acceptance of gay 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 that encourages me as I go abroad,” Mousin said. “I feel like I’m going to this conference fortified by my experience … that it doesn’t feel like those two aspects of my life are in conflict with one another at all. I can be a faithful Christian, a priest, and openly gay and in a committed relationship.”

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