By Kirk Petersen
The Rev. Charlie Holt, who learned July 21 that his election as the next Bishop of Florida had been nullified, announced August 11 that he has been named rector of St. Mark’s in Jacksonville, one of the largest churches in the Diocese of Florida.
“It’s a tremendous blessing for me and my family,” Holt told TLC. “I grew up in Jacksonville, I haven’t lived here for 30 years, but my parents are here and my I have a sister that lives in Jacksonville. And also a lot of good friends and connections.” He added, “St. Mark’s is a beautiful church. It’s a wonderful group of Christian people.”
St. Mark’s, which celebrated its centennial in 2022, is about nine miles southwest of the headquarters of the Diocese of Florida, where Holt had been employed since August 2022. In a move that created some controversy, he was hired by the diocese while an ecclesiastical court was reviewing complaints of voting irregularities in the election for bishop. He left the diocesan role at the end of July after “a nice farewell party,” he said.
Holt was the apparent winner in two diocesan elections, in May and November, 2022. Both elections were challenged by diocesan delegates who objected to Holt’s conservative views on same-sex marriage. The latter election was nullified after Holt fell short of receiving the consent of a majority of bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees.
The current diocesan bishop, Samuel Johnson Howard, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72 on September 8, and must step down not longer than three months later. At that time, the Standing Committee will become the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese, pending election of a new bishop at a time to be determined.
After the second election, Howard was accused of having discriminated for years against LGBTQ priests, to the extent that a church court called into question the validity of the election. The bishop and Standing Committee vehemently rebutted the court’s findings, but Holt’s candidacy probably was doomed at that point. Episcopal bishops and active lay leaders overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, and even voters who might be willing to let a conservative diocese have a conservative bishop had bullet-proof grounds for withholding consent.
According to data from the annual parochial reports, St. Mark’s had an average Sunday attendance of 172 in 2021 — and 308 in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. Plate and pledge income was $1.4 million in 2021, a level that has held steady for the past decade. By either measure, it is one of the half-dozen largest among the 66 churches in the Diocese of Florida that filed a parochial report for 2021.
Holt landed on his feet at St. Mark’s remarkably quickly. A rector search at a large church typically takes a year or longer, and involves interviews of multiple candidates by a search committee. “The vestry was the search committee for St. Mark’s. And so they were probably a little more nimble than a more drawn-out search process,” Holt said. He will preach his first sermon on August 13.
“It’s a church that was extremely supportive of me through the whole process” of the election and consent period, Holt said, adding that he began talking with the vestry the day after the consent process ended on July 21. The church and a diocesan spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
St. Mark’s played a key role in Holt’s formation as a Christian and an Episcopalian, he said. After being baptized and confirmed as a Methodist in his youth, Holt fell away from the church. He was living as a self-described atheist at a fraternity at the University of Florida in Gainesville when he reconnected with a high school friend who was a member of St. Mark’s. “He was really the one that led me back to the Lord,” Holt said.
Holt said he has no interest in running in another election for bishop, in any diocese. “That was a challenging thing to be a part of,” he said. “I am really focused on being rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and doing a great job for them.”