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Bishop Howard Was Once a Target of Conservatives

Opinion

In the wake of recent coverage of the disputed election in the Diocese of Florida, the canon to the ordinary and one of the unsuccessful candidates have written to offer their perspectives. 

Miguel Rosada

Even With More Voters,
Holt Would Have Won

I was one of the candidates for both elections. I am concerned by the statement made in the Court of Review document and its subsequent reference in multiple articles, as to the margin of the Rev. [Charlie] Holt’s win in the November 19 election.

The number of clergy who voted for the Rev. Holt on the first ballot was 56. The Rev. [Beth] Tjoflat, who was in second place, only received 31. There were 25 votes separating these two candidates, not just one. He obtained a simple majority in the first ballot by one vote.

It was my firm purpose to drop out after the first ballot. I did not have to follow through with that, because Charlie garnered the votes needed for a majority election in the first ballot.

I am on record as being a theological moderate. I pastor a Latino parish and work among Latinos, a demographic which tends to be conservative as it relates to marriage in the church. Even as the Rev. Holt did, I stated that I would follow the canons of our church had I been elected.

I am certain that most of the 10 clergy votes I obtained were from clergy leaning conservative on marriage. I heard as much from some. Most, if not all of them, would have voted for the Rev. Holt in a second ballot after I dropped out.

Because of this, I think it inaccurate to say that the allegedly excluded clergy would have changed the results of the election. That effect would have been limited to the first ballot only. Had the vote then been split between Holt and Tjoflat, I think the Rev. Holt would have still been the clear winner.

The Rev. Miguel Rosada
Canon for Hispanic Ministries
Episcopal Diocese of Florida

By Allison DeFoor

You don’t have to be Southern to understand the truth of William Faulkner’s famous observation, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” But it helps. As a seventh-generation Floridian, I can report that we here in the Diocese of Florida are living in our past.

To understand the uproar over our diocese’s efforts to persuade the wider church to consent to the recent election of our bishop coadjutor, it helps to roll back the clock two decades and understand the furor that was taking place when Bishop John Howard of Florida and Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire were ordained and consecrated as bishops one day apart in November 2003.

Bishop Howard’s consent process at General Convention that summer was unremarkable, while Bishop Robinson’s created worldwide headlines. But back at home, Bishop Howard’s election was anything but routine. It deepened a rift in our diocese that had grown during the 10-year episcopacy of Bishop Steven Jecko, his predecessor. That same rift is evident during this season of conflict over the Rev. Charlie Holt’s election. But it wasn’t created the way you might think.

Surprising as it may seem, given the way he has been caricatured during this recent controversy, Bishop Howard was the via media on the slate when he was elected. Bishop Jecko wanted another candidate — a priest who left the Episcopal Church shortly thereafter and then came back to it quietly in 2020 — to succeed him and participate in his plan to lead the Diocese of Florida out of the Episcopal Church and into what became the Anglican Church in North America.

Chancellor Fred Isaac, who has served our diocese for more than 30 years, remembers accompanying Jecko to a pivotal American Anglican Council meeting in Plano, Texas, in September 2003. Although Howard had been elected and received consents, Jecko was refusing to schedule his consecration.

In Plano, Jecko staged a public reading of a fiery letter he was sending to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, telling the crowd that it was the third time he had told Bishop Griswold not to attend Howard’s consecration. “Your self-perception as a reconciler to the entire Episcopal Church is compromised and no longer tenable,” Jecko read.

Isaac and the elected leaders of the diocese stood firm against Jecko and in favor of Howard, who was consecrated without Griswold present. Soon thereafter, Jecko retired as Bishop of Florida and took a job as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Dallas. He left the Episcopal Church before he died three years later, and is buried under the high altar of the ACNA cathedral in Tallahassee.

What Bishop Howard inherited was an unholy mess. Over the next several years, about 20 percent of the diocese’s clergy left the Episcopal Church and took about 10 percent of the laity with them. Some clergy who left first plunged their congregations deep into debt with large building programs, saddling the parishes with huge mortgages just before departing with core leaders and donors to form new congregations. Bishop Howard was left with both the enormous task of recruiting clergy and rebuilding congregations and the urgent need to raise funds to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

Sometimes the abuse became personal. Longtime clergy in the diocese remember that a frequent tactic of the departing parishes was inviting Bishop Howard to meet with their vestry and then interrogating him about certain passages of Scripture. When he flunked the exam according to their standards, they called him a heretic and publicly denounced him as their reason for leaving the Episcopal Church. On one day in March 2008, Howard had to depose 22 clergy who announced that they would no longer receive Communion from him and were seeking affiliation with other Anglican provinces or movements.

I was one of the clergy who came to the Diocese of Florida as part of Bishop Howard’s effort to rebuild the clericus. After a long career as a lawyer and judge in the Florida Keys, I was ordained by Bishop Leo Frade in 2007 at the Wakulla Correctional Institution in Crawfordsville, where I became a non-stipendiary chaplain. My theology holds no objection to same-sex marriage — I often tell people that the matter was settled in Key West decades ago — and I benefitted from Bishop Howard’s lack of interest in excluding theological voices more moderate than his own.

I have always counted the bishop’s willingness to permit a range of theological opinion among his clergy to be a strength, but in the midst of our current controversy, some have argued that it has backfired on him. Across our border in the Diocese of Central Florida, where conservative views on marriage are required and canonically defined, the election of a bishop who does not support same-sex marriage has occasioned little notice and has easily gained the consent of the wider church. Here in the Diocese of Florida, where people of all theological views live side by side, the election has become a churchwide spectacle.

Which takes us back to Mr. Faulkner. In the Diocese of Florida, the history of the early 2000s is alive and kicking. Objectors — two of whom were unsuccessful applicants in the bishop search process now under scrutiny — are once again attempting to undo the diocese’s election of a bishop. Only three of those clergy objectors lead parishes. This time, the unrest is on the left rather than the right, but the story is remarkably similar and, not surprisingly, has inflamed the still-tender divides of the past. The advent of social media in the last two decades has not helped matters, to put it mildly.

And just like at the beginning of his episcopacy, Bishop Howard is being publicly denounced by clergy of the diocese who want to berate him for his failure to meet their standards of theological purity.

It is time for a new season in the Diocese of Florida. But to embrace the vision that God has for ministry in this part of the vineyard, we must acknowledge that the Diocese of Florida exists today because John Howard made it his life’s work to keep us in the Episcopal Church. We must honor our history and what it has made possible for our future with Bishop-elect Holt, and we must wrestle with the parts of it that have divided us, yet again, from one another. Then, and only then, will the people of the Diocese of Florida finally be able to put our past to rest once and for all and face the future together.

Allison DeFoor

 The Rev. Canon Allison DeFoor serves as canon to the ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida. He will retire from that post later this year and return to non-stipendiary ministry with a drug and alcohol rehabilitation mission he has established in Jacksonville.

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