Florida bishop election moves forward despite some delegates’ call for postponement

By David Paulsen
Posted Oct 19, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Florida Standing Committee released a new video on Oct. 19 with additional details on the diocese’s second attempt at a bishop election. Although the video doesn’t directly respond to the recent call from some delegates to postpone the election, the diocese issued a separate statement to Episcopal News Service leaving no doubt that the diocese intends to go forward Nov. 19 as planned.

Those plans will “follow the canons at every turn, so we may have a clean and valid election,” standing committee member Arthur Crofton said in the five-minute video posted to YouTube.

The assurance of a valid election follows a previous bishop election on May 14 that was voided amid complaints that the diocese did not follow proper procedures, particularly its decision to let clergy delegates attend the electing convention online while requiring lay delegates to attend in person. The Rev. Charlie Holt initially was declared the winner but later withdrew his acceptance of the result after a churchwide Court of Review found the election was conducted improperly.

On Sept. 13, the diocese announced that it had scheduled a new special convention for electing a bishop coadjutor, who would become diocesan bishop upon the retirement of Florida Bishop Samuel Howard in fall 2023. This time, in-person attendance will be required for all delegates voting in the election, to be held at the diocese’s Camp Weed in Live Oak. The diocese will offer delegates free transportation from Gainesville, Jacksonville and Tallahassee to the camp.

The candidates are Holt, the Rev. Miguel Rosada and the Rev. Beth Tjoflat, all of whom were on the ballot in May. A meet-and-greet session with an online participation option with the candidates is scheduled for Nov. 12, one week before the election.

In the statement provided to ENS on Oct. 19, the standing committee affirmed its plan to hold a new election on Nov. 19.

“The first election was deemed invalid by the Court of Review strictly due to procedural issues related directly to election day and online voting,” the statement says in part. “All action before the election, such as the formal search process, was held in accordance with our Canons. Thus, there was not a need for another search process. We are focused solely on ensuring procedural integrity in this next election.”

Some concerned delegates, however, have raised doubt about the diocese’s ability to hold a fair election at this juncture. A group of 31 clergy and lay delegates and dozens of parishioners sent a letter to Howard and the standing committee on Oct. 12 raising eight primary complaints to the new process, including continued concerns about the eligibility of delegates. They pressed for greater clarity on the number of canonically resident clergy delegates in the diocese, since two-thirds must vote to reach a quorum.

“We are just over a month from the election,” the letter reads. “This process of clearly defining and examining each priest and deacon cannot be done in a matter of months and must be given time and patience to be done correctly.”

The Rev. Teresa Seagle, a standing committee member, addressed questions about clergy and lay delegates in the video released Oct. 19 without mentioning the delegates’ letter directly. The number of clergy in a diocese is always fluctuating, she said, but as of now, the diocese has 172 canonically resident clergy. A list with their names was released alongside the video.

Seagle also explained that diocesan canons specify that each congregation with an average Sunday attendance of up to 150 assigns two lay delegates to the convention, and larger congregations can add a delegate for each additional 150 in attendance. The diocese is referencing the ASA recorded in the 2021 parochial reports submitted by congregations to the diocese.

“Lay delegates are currently registering for the convention,” Seagle said. “As soon as that is finished, then we will publish that list.”

The video did not address the other concerns raised by the Oct. 12 letter, including what its authors describe as an atmosphere of distrust in the diocese. The letter also objected to the diocese’s decision to hire Holt as a staff priest while the validity of his election was under formal review.

The written statement from the standing committee also did not address some of the additional concerns about the upcoming election. “We reviewed the contents of the letter with our chancellor, continue to receive guidance from national church consultants and are very carefully planning this election in accordance with our Canons,” the standing committee said. “If there are procedural clarifications or updates needed, we will promptly share them with the diocese. Our goal is continued transparency throughout the election process.”

The latest video and statement from the standing committee follow a 16-minute video released Sept. 16 attempting to answer the “many questions” it said it had received regarding the decision to hold a new election for bishop coadjutor after objections were raised about the initial election process.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.