Lay Episcopalians in Florida sign letter in support of Bishop-elect Charlie Holt

By ENS staff
Posted Apr 25, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] A large group of lay members of the Diocese of Florida, calling themselves “Laity for Rev. Charlie Holt,” have signed a letter to the Florida Standing Committee and churchwide leaders affirming their support for Bishop-elect Charlie Holt while the diocese seeks consent from across the church to its bishop election.

The signature drive was conducted in the diocese in March, with 421 lay members adding their names, including 62 who were delegates to one or both of the elections, according to Rhonda Williams, one of the signatories and a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in East Palatka, Florida.

“Our Episcopal Church’s tradition and polity include both a great respect for the minority voice and a resolution by majority vote, in which decisions of each diocese should be respected in all but the most extreme circumstances,” the group says in its letter. “This mutual respect is essential and the glue which binds us all together.”

Charlie Holt

The Rev. Charlie Holt was declared the winner of the November 2022 bishop coadjutor election in the Diocese of Florida.

Holt, whose first election in May 2022, was invalidated due to procedural concerns, was elected again as bishop coadjutor in November 2022. A churchwide Court of Review, responding to new complains from some Florida clergy and lay delegates, concluded that the second outcome was tainted as well, partly due to alleged anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in how clergy were granted voice and vote in such elections under retiring Bishop John Howard. The Court of Review’s conclusions are not binding, and Howard and Florida’s standing committee have denied its allegations.

On March 22, standing committee issued its official request for churchwide consent to Holt’s election, affirming its validity as part of a package of materials that were sent to bishops and standing committees across The Episcopal Church. Bishops and standing committees have 120 days to give or deny consent. Failure to receive a majority in either group would negate Holt’s election.

Several other groups of Episcopalians have expressed concerns about Holt’s election and his fitness to serve as bishop. Some have cited his conservative views on same-sex marriage and statements that they view as intolerant or insulting to LGBTQ+ people and Black people. In February, a group of LGBTQ+ Episcopal leaders and the Deputies of Color issued separate letters calling on bishops and standing committees to reject the election.

Holt had responded to some of their concerns in a June 2022 video message to members of the diocese and The Episcopal Church. In December, Holt responded further by releasing a “Statement on Unity and Communion Across difference,” in which he pledged, as bishop, to allow Florida congregations and clergy leaders to decide for themselves whether to offer marriage rites to same sex couples.

The lay group supporting Holt suggested the bishop-elect had been targeted by a “media blitz” as part of an effort to subvert the election. (Episcopal News Service has reported on the process as an ongoing news story.) The letter also acknowledged the “very real pain” experienced by the LGBTQ+ members of the diocesan community.

“The undertaking of the long and difficult task of listening and the addressing of this pain has begun within the diocese even as we write to you. It will be a long process, but in any event must be done by us here and cannot be imposed successfully by strangers from afar,” the lay group said. “We ask you simply and humbly, to be allowed to choose our own bishop. We have looked into Charlie’s heart and believe that he is the agent of God sent to address and begin to heal all of the wounds which now exist in our diocese.”

The letter represents “the view of the majority in support of Rev. Charlie Holt,” Williams, the St. Paul’s parishioner, told ENS by email, adding that the signature drive “arose from our hearts and feelings of those of us who voted overwhelmingly for Charlie twice.”

On the first ballot of the November election, Holt received 56 clergy votes, the minimum needed for election, and received 79 lay votes (67 were required), so no subsequent round of balloting was necessary.

This month, the Union of Black Episcopalians’ national board issued its own statement on Holt’s election. The April 17 message did not advocate for or against Holt’s election but addressed what it said were “the cries emanating from the Diocese of Florida” and “the agony of those who are distressed” over the election process.

“We receive with enthusiasm and hope-filled expectation the public commitment Bishop-elect Charlie Holt has made … to spend his first years as bishop engaged in ‘careful mediated listening across the diocese with all members – especially members of the Union of Black Episcopalians,'” the UBE letter says, quoting from Holt’s letter in support of the consent request.

“The Union of Black Episcopalians lives in the hope that all Bishops of The Episcopal Church will strive to dismantle the oppressive systems of segregation and dehumanization that have hurt the people of God by exclusion in our church.”