THE spouses’ programme has followed the same subject-matter as the Bishops’, but in a slightly different way. We’ve tended to focus on sharing our own stories, and those stories have been extraordinarily wide-ranging. Some of them have been really heart-rending.
Just to give you a flavour, we had a story from Alice [Chung Po Chuen] from Madagascar, whose husband has to walk eight hours to church, where there isn’t a public pathway or proper road to do that. He’s away from home for anything up to six weeks at a time; so Alice has to hold together a household and keep the family together. She resigned her job as a leading product-development manager in Mauritius after her husband’s consecration, and relocated to Madagascar. There is a very painful story, but one that Alice is living and working with great joy and fortitude.
Then there is the story of Mugisa [Isingoma] from the Congo. Congo suffered many, many years of conflict, and still does, and she and her family felt called to come and exercise a ministry in the role of reconciliation, bringing together two ethnic groups.
Her husband was arrested and his life was in danger, and had it not been for the intervention of the then Archbishop of Canterbury and others he would not be alive. When you hear Mugisa tell her story, again you’re touched by the passion and commitment with which she feels called to minister alongside her husband.
It is very humbling, and it has been a good learning experience sharing with our brothers and sisters from across the Communion.
We’ve also done things with our hands. We’ve created the vine, which is very symbolic — it illustrates our interconnectedness.
There is immense diversity in the spouses’ conference. We have not seen this as a barrier, but as a blessing, and we have sought to work with it, and we have sought to focus on those things that unite us.
Having said that, we also carry the same burdens as our spouses the Bishops carry, because we talk to them, and we also want to practise the unity that we all pray for as a Church. We share those burdens, but we are seeking to focus on those things that unite us.
We have learned to share together, to eat together, and to cry together. We’ve been out and enjoyed the Kentish countryside and had lots of fun there, and we shall go away taking with us in our hearts the men and women we have met at this conference.
Above all, we’re going away determined to do something, each one of us as individuals, but also to encourage our dioceses and provinces to do something to reach out to our brothers and sisters across the continents.