While nearly 800 bishops meet at the Lambeth Conference this summer, some 600 of their spouses will hold concurrent Bible studies, attend workshops and spend time in some of the world's most famous gardens. Plans also include the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, hosted by Queen Elizabeth, lunch at Lambeth Palace, and a boat ride down the Thames.
According to Eileen Carey, wife of Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, the program "is very varied and will enable spouses to learn together, enjoy and encourage one another, and, above all, study the Bible and pray together."
Planning began "as soon as I knew there was to be a conference in 1998," and has involved asking spouses all over the world what they wanted and needed in a program, she said.
Spouses from across the Anglican Communion and from vastly different social, economic and cultural conditions will have a chance to share their particular experiences with each other in a presentation titled, "For Better, For Worse."
"We hope the program will help us all in our demanding and sometimes discouraging role," Mrs. Carey said. "We are coming together from many different countries and backgrounds. We can learn from our diversity, stimulate and encourage one another, and, above all, enjoy being together and having fun."
Already there have been some unusual requests, such as the plea from Marion McCall, wife of the bishop of Willochra in Australia, for lessons in light aircraft maintenance. She flies her husband around the diocese, which is several times larger than the British Isles. A course has been arranged for her.
There are also logistical challenges given the sheer size and diversity of the group.
A team of translators will be working in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Swahili and Japanese. And the logistics are complicated, too. "It will take 50 buses to move the group from one location to another," said Barbara Payne, wife of Bishop Claude E. Payne of Texas. She is one of 11 spouses world-wide invited by Eileen Carey to help plan the spouses' program.
A full program
Spouses may attend the bishops' main plenary sessions, and will meet together themselves in full session five times under a special tent or "marquee" erected overlooking the City of Canterbury and its historic cathedral. They will be divided into small groups for an extended Bible study of the book of II Corinthians, just like the bishops. Workshops and seminars covering diverse subjects will be offered as well as many short trips.
Garden trips may include visiting Sissinghurst, in nearby Cranbrook, as well as other private gardens in the Canterbury area.
"Each attending husband or wife will be invited to the Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury on one of the three Wednesday evenings, for a smaller get-together hosted by Mrs. Carey," said Mrs. Payne.
One of the most anticipated events is an evening with world-renowned author Susan Howatch who wrote a series of novels, including Glamorous Powers, Glittering Images and Mystical Paths, depicting characters in the Church of England over the span of a century of church and intrigue. Also, Mrs. Payne added, "many of the evenings will be free, which I expect will allow smaller get-togethers."
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold of the Episcopal Church in the United States plans an evening reception for American bishops and their spouses and his wife, Phoebe, will hold a tea for the spouses.
Topics for the spouses' workshops will include health and social issues, mission and evangelism, poverty and environmental concerns, parenting, marriage, children at risk, and dealing with stress. Archbishop Carey will speak on the Vocation of the Anglican Communion in the 21st Century.
One of the spouses who is a musician has composed a musical, "Crowning Glory," which she will cast, rehearse and produce for the evening of the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6.
Years of planning
Mrs. Payne, who has been working on her portion of the planning for the last two years, has made several trips to England for planning meetings and has "sent mountains of faxes back and forth" to pin down the details. She said that she is particularly grateful for the opportunity to work with Lady Christine Eames of Ireland and Dorothy Peers of Canada.
Most of the planned conference events will be held in the tent or in a nearby theater because sufficient space was not available in other venues. There is little wiggle room in the 12-plus hour-a-day schedule for bishops and their spouses, which begins each morning with Holy Eucharist and ends with dinner.
As one of the few male spouses planning to attend, Phil Roskam, husband of Bishop Catherine Roskam, suffragan bishop of New York, said he is "going with an open mind" and expects that his previous attendance at gatherings of bishops' spouses will serve him well at Lambeth.
"My experience of being with the spouses of bishops before was very comfortable," he said. "I was the only male at a conference in San Francisco and everyone was open, inviting and gracious. I'm hoping for a similar experience in England."
Roskam, a psychologist, said people keep pointing out his minority status but he "just doesn't think about it in those terms."
All spouses have received materials to help them prepare for the Bible studies, and "there has been an incredible amount of work done by Mrs. Carey and her assistant Sally Sargeant, besides what we have done," said Mrs. Payne. "No stone has been left unturned to make this a memorable occasion for the spouses, both husbands and wives. We are all looking forward to strengthening friendships and making new ones."