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Holt saga ends in Florida after other dioceses withhold consent

24 July 2023

DIOCESE OF FLORIDA

The Revd Charlie Holt (left) with the Rt Revd John Howard

The Revd Charlie Holt (left) with the Rt Revd John Howard

THE consecration of the Revd Charlie Holt to be the next Bishop of Florida has been blocked, against the wishes of the diocese’s electors, by other dioceses in the Episcopal Church of the United States.

It means that when the current Bishop, the Rt Revd John Howard, reaches mandatory retirement age this autumn, the diocesan standing committee will have to assume authority of the diocese and organise episcopal oversight until a new bishop is elected.

Bishop Howard described the result as a “reactionary rejection” that “disenfranchised” voters.

The election of a bishop in the US Episcopal Church must be confirmed by a majority of the bishops and standing committees of the other dioceses. This is almost always a formality.

The refusal of a majority other dioceses to give their consent in this instance marks what appears to be the final twist in the long-running saga to appoint Fr Holt as bishop.

Fr Holt, widely seen as a conservative, has twice topped the ballot for the election as Bishop Coadjutor of Florida, but has faced repeated objections and claims of discrimination against LGBTQ+ clergy, and concerns about some past comments on issues related to diversity and inclusion. Formal objections were raised over procedural issues in his first election in May 2022, which resulted in a second ballot last November, from which Fr Holt again emerged as the favoured candidate (News, 25 November 2022).

New objections were raised during the course of the second election. The Church’s court of review investigated, and ruled partly in favour of the objectors, again on matters touching discrimination (News, 31 March).

The court’s finding was not binding on the diocese, however, and it pressed ahead with the process of getting consent from the wider Episcopal Church. In the 120-day period for consent — requiring consent by a majority of 106 diocesan bishops and 110 standing committees — several groups urged both for and against Fr Holt’s confirmation.

The deadline for consents passed last week, and, 24 hours later, the diocese announced that it had not secured enough votes to confirm the election. It did not release details of the number of consents gained.

The Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, published a statement after the result, saying: “A bishop election is a process that involves the whole Church, and we acknowledge that many have been and will continue to be affected by the process.”

The standing committee of the diocese of Florida issued a letter to the diocese saying the lack of consent meant that the election was “null and void”.

“We are asking that you please join us in praying for our diocese and for one another. We also ask that you pray for the Holt family as they find a way forward that looks very different from the one they had planned,” the letter read.

Fr Holt, who was given a staff position at the diocese while the process was under way, said in his own letter last Friday that he planned to remain in the diocese: “For our part, Brooke and I plan on staying and supporting our diocese, if you will have us, as there is much work to do, and this is our home.”

Later in the day on Friday, Bishop Howard published his own response to the result. He said that he was “troubled” by the “reactionary rejection” of Fr Holt. “Our diverse diocese has established, maintained, and promoted a big-tent culture in Florida open to all followers of Jesus Christ and those who seek to know Him. Deep divisions beset the Episcopal Church, but the diocese of Florida has labored intently for twenty years to prevent another schism which would in any way resemble what we saw in 2004-2005.

“My vision of our Church is of one that is spacious enough to accommodate inquirers and worshippers of every ideology, age, race, ethnicity, origin, and orientation — one that does not superimpose a litmus test of secular politics on the sacred life of our Church or its mission.

“Decisive majorities of the clergy and lay leadership within our diocese voted twice for Charlie Holt to succeed me upon my retirement this fall. Florida Episcopalians’ clear preference for their own diocesan leader should have prevailed. We are a diocese that takes pride in the leadership of our laity, who led two conventions in selecting Charlie Holt as their next Bishop. That leadership has, I fear, been undermined and their voice has, I fear, been disenfranchised.”

The diocese of Florida is known for its more conservative stance on issues of sexuality, and Bishop Howard was one of the last Episcopalian bishops to permit same-sex marriage in their dioceses.

 

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