By Kirk Petersen
The priest who’s on track to become the next Bishop of Southwest Florida is about as thoroughly Episcopalian as a person can be.
He’s not just a cradle Episcopalian — he’s the son of an Episcopal priest, and grew up acolyting and participating in youth ministry. He realized as a senior in high school that he wanted to be a priest, and has never pursued any other means of making a living.
The Very Rev. Dr. Douglas F. Scharf was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Southwest Florida on April 2 at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter in St. Petersburg, Florida. Assuming he receives the necessary consents from half of all diocesan bishops and standing committees, he will be consecrated September 24.
He will then work alongside the current Bishop of Southwest Florida, the Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith, until Smith retires, at which time Scharf will automatically become the VI Bishop of Southwest Florida. Smith, 68, has not announced a retirement date, and is eligible to serve until he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72 in December 2025.
“When you get here, we’ll just start calling you, Six,” Smith said, standing at the podium as he called to make sure Scharf still wanted the job.
“There are few moments when a priest is speechless, but this is one of them,” Scharf said, via the speaker of Smith’s cellphone. “I have been so humbled and honored to have been a part of this journey with you all and to be elected, I am truly overwhelmed. I feel the presence of God’s grace in this moment.”
In an interview with TLC, the bishop-elect said: “It really was when I was a senior in high school and I attended ‘Happening‘ — a national renewal movement for high school students” that he sensed a clear call to ordained ministry.
“I entered the ordination process as a teenager and began seminary at the age of 21. I was ordained at age 24, the minimum canonical age,” he said. He received a master’s of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2004 after graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University, and subsequently earned a doctorate in ministry at Emory University.
Scharf also is about as Floridian as a person can be. Since 2017 he has been rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and School in Tequesta, Florida, part of the neighboring Diocese of Southeast Florida. The church had pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance of 343, and the school has 140 students.
But most of his life has been in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, to which he is returning. High school was in Estero, a town south of Fort Myers, and he has served churches in Osprey and Valrico, all towns in the southwest diocese.
Scharf’s father, the Rev. Frederick E. Scharf, Jr., retired about 20 years ago from St. Andrew’s in Spring Hill. He is still canonically resident in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, and serves as a supply priest.
The elder Scharf, like all priests, took a vow at ordination to be obedient to his bishop. Bishop-elect Scharf quoted his father as saying, “I’ll call you ‘your grace’ once, and then you’re just Doug.”
Scharf was elected from a slate of four candidates. The other candidates were:
- The Rev. Thomas P. Reeder, Rector, Christ Episcopal Church, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
- The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist, Hingham, MA; and
- The Rev. Canon C. John Thompson-Quartey, Canon for Ministry Development & Congregational Vitality, Diocese of Atlanta.