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Standing Committee Letter to Bishops and Standing Committees

Beloved in the Lord,

In 2003, the Diocese of New Hampshire asked the Episcopal Church, “Don’t we have the right to elect the bishop of our own choosing?” and the church’s answer was “Yes, you do.” Now, nearly twenty years later, we are asking you to extend the same generosity by offering your consent to the will of the majority of the Diocese of Florida.

Twice now the Diocese of Florida has elected the Rev. Charlie Holt to be Bishop Coadjutor. We are excited that, in him, the Holy Spirit has raised up a faithful servant who is called and particularly equipped to lead the Diocese of Florida towards Christian unity. He is a peacemaker, a collaborator, a reconciler, and a man who has demonstrated a willingness to listen to and learn from those with different views and backgrounds. He is committed to building close bonds within the wider church. He is committed to following the canons of the church and letting individual congregations lead according to their consciences with regard to human sexuality.

Despite allegations made by agitators outside our diocese, Bishop-Elect Holt has a strong track record of working to dismantle systemic racism. Although he was advised to stay quiet by some of his white colleagues, he stood with Black Christian communities after the murder of Trayvon Martin and worked with them to get the local chief of police removed. In Houston, he spearheaded an English-as-a-Second-Language program that supported participants from more than 40 countries as they prepared for employment and life in the United States and welcomed them into the life of that historically white parish.

Today, the Rev. Holt is helping to organize a listening process in the Diocese of Florida with the help of Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, vice-president of the House of Bishops and a trained mediator. Many in our diocese feel a need for healing, and he is eager to help us achieve that goal.  With your consent, the Rev. Charlie Holt will lead the Diocese of Florida forward into the future to which God is calling us.

We have prepared an extensive response to the report of the Court of Review that raised questions about our November 19 election of the Rev. Holt. You can read it online here. But realizing that you are receiving hundreds of pages of reading material with this request for consent, we want to assure you here of several key points:

  • Our November 19 election was procedurally fair and valid. We put extraordinary safeguards in place to protect the electoral process; you can find the details on page 8 of this document. The Court did not find irregularities in the electoral process, which is the extent of their canonical scope under Canon III.11.8. The Court rejected three of the objections that were filed against the election. In response to the other two, the Court raised speculative questions about who was allowed to vote. Those questions have clear answers.
  • The objectors claimed that certain clergy were denied a vote, but none of the clergy they named qualify for canonical residence in the Diocese of Florida—not because of their sexual orientation, their theology of marriage or their views on human sexuality, but because they have moved to the diocese without cure or because they are part-time assistant clergy. None of them have ever presented letters dimissory to our diocese as required by canon. Our standards for canonical residence, detailed in our full response, are the same as or similar to those in many of your You can find them detailed on page 4 of our complete response here.

We regret that the Court of Review refused our request to respond to their allegations that three clergy were denied a vote in our November 19 election. We could have clarified the status of the clergy in question and made it clear they were not entitled to residency, nor to a vote. We could also have clarified that while the Rev. Holt won the first-ballot election by a single vote in the clergy order, there was another candidate who holds conservative views on marriage in the field, and the likelihood of the Rev. Holt prevailing on a subsequent ballot was high.

  • The allegations leveled by the Court of Review against Bishop John Howard are based largely on anonymous and undated reports to which neither he nor the Standing Committee were given the opportunity to respond during the Court’s deliberations. The Court’s mandate to review the election process, outlined in Title III.11.8, does not extend to a review of Bishop Howard’s 19-year episcopacy. These allegations of discrimination against him, which the Standing Committee does not support, are an attempt to advance Title IV allegations in the court of public opinion without following the Title IV process. We believe they represent a misuse of the Court’s authority and a precedent that could put any bishop and any future bishop election at risk.
  • The Court’s claim that duly elected lay delegates were disenfranchised is unfounded and is particularly puzzling because it criticizes procedural changes that resulted only from the Standing Committee’s determination to follow the guidance provided by the Court in its review of our first bishop election in May 2022. In fact, the Court was unable to state that the absence of these delegates had any impact on the outcome of the election.

During the Court’s proceedings, we several times sought the opportunity to meet with its members directly and to provide evidence that would answer any allegations being made against us. We were denied that opportunity each time. In the detailed response that follows, we have outlined for you the ways in which the Court’s process lacked fundamental fairness and objectivity, and failed to acknowledge the faithfulness, goodwill, and competence of our diocese’s leaders during an extraordinarily difficult time.

We want to help our diocese be a place where everyone comes together with mutual respect in the name of Christ. Where it is not, we seek to bridge the divisions and gaps of understanding among us with conversation, acceptance, and grace. And so we are particularly alarmed that, following the logic of the Court’s report, it was never possible for the Diocese of Florida to hold any election for bishop that meets the Court’s standards, because those standards are based in large measure on an evaluation of the lengthy tenure of our outgoing bishop rather than in the election process itself. For the Diocese of Florida to be caught in this bind in any subsequent elections would be disastrous for our ministry and mission and would greatly deepen the divisions that are already being sown among us.

With humility and hope for our future, we ask you to pray and to offer consent to the election of the Rev. Charlie Holt.  We have chosen him to lead us and to help us move forward into God’s future. Your consent to our election will bear witness that Episcopalians can be reconciled to one another even in the most difficult times and share in the love and worship of our Lord.

In the Spirit of Christian Collegiality,
The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Florida
The Rev. Joe Gibbes, President
Mr. Ben Hill
The Rev. Teresa Seagle
The Rev. Sarah Minton
Mr. Arthur Crofton
Ms. Jackie Jones

To read the Standing Committee’s full response to the Court of Review findings, click here.

To read the Rev. Charlie Holt’s letter to bishops and standing committees, click here.

To read more about the history of the diocese during Bishop Howard’s tenure, click here.

To read the Court of Review report, click here.

To read common questions and answers regarding the process, click here.