A group of 60 clergy and lay Episcopalians in the Jacksonville-based Diocese of Florida have signed a letter to diocesan Bishop Samuel Howard and the standing committee, asking that the bishop coadjutor election set for Nov. 19 be postponed.
The diocesan convention in January, 2021 called for the election of a bishop coadjutor who would succeed Howard, who has served the diocese since 2003 and will reach mandatory retirement age in late 2023.
However, the election held on May 14, 2022 was nullified after an Episcopal Church Court of Review ruled that there were serious irregularities such as allowing canonically resident clergy to participate remotely while lay delegates had to appear in person.
Following the report, the successful candidate, the Rev. Charlie Holt, withdrew his name and the diocese set the second election for Nov. 19. Holt is again a candidate, along with the Rev. Miguel Rosada and the Rev. Beth Tjoflat, who also ran in the May election.
“We believe that this election is being rushed forward without systematically and thoroughly addressing some key issues that have become evident in the Diocese of Florida. We are concerned that this election will not be valid canonically, nor are the candidates being fairly and impartially presented by the diocesan office,” the letter reads. The signers of the letter, dated Oct. 12, include 31 delegates to the electing convention.
Among the issues cited: “Trust has eroded in the diocese. Previously and long-scheduled opportunities for dialogue and communion among diocesan clergy and laity have been shut down by the diocesan leadership.”
Other issues cited in the letter were concern about an outdated search profile, continuing instability in the election process, unanswered questions about which clergy are considered canonically resident and therefore qualified to vote, and potential candidates refusing to run due to “lack of fidelity to rules and procedures.”
The letter also noted that “the diocese has now hired one of the candidates and endorsed said candidate by placing that person on their payroll and having that person systematically visit parishes, effectively campaigning.”
While the election was under review, the diocese announced on July 28 that Holt would join the diocesan staff, focused on enhancing and expanding prison ministry, supporting Episcopal schools and helping to plan the future of the camp and conference center.
A member of the diocesan standing committee, the Rev. Sarah Minton, told Episcopal News Service that the committee was reviewing the letter and would respond in the coming days.
Theological issues have also been raised during the process. At the 2018 General Convention, Howard opposed a resolution that allowed Episcopalians access to same-sex marriage liturgies. Holt addressed the issue in a video posted during this year’s election process, saying that, “While my traditional beliefs on marriage are known, I’m committed to leading faithfully according to our church’s enacted canons. Parishes and rectors in the Diocese of Florida who choose to offer same-sex marriages will have them.”
“While Fr. Holt has agreed to uphold General Convention Resolution 2018-B012 in his diocese, which is a minimum requirement, this does nothing to ensure even a base level of acceptable treatment for most LGBTQ+ Episcopalians and our allies. Would a Bishop Holt stymie the clergy of his diocese who were in favor of officiating same-sex weddings? Would he prohibit congregations from hiring an LGBTQ+ clergy or layperson? These forms of discrimination are the current reality in some dioceses that only meet the minimum requirements of 2018-B012.”
A group of clergy in the Diocese of Connecticut released a statement after the May election, urging the diocesan standing committee to withhold consent. “Withholding consent is a stand against white supremacy, homophobia, and bigotry. Nowhere in the Church should these systems of oppression be allowed to flourish. Please consider the statements of the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Florida as a disqualification to be a bishop of the Church,” it reads.
A majority of diocesan standing committees and bishops must consent to the election of a diocesan bishop, usually a formality.