It seems something positive is coming out of all the recent controversies in the Church: people are finally interested in running for office at a diocesan convention. Conservatives and progressives who have been organizing support groups within the Diocese of Southwest Florida have helped create a crowded but diverse slate of candidates for its October 9 convention ballot. Forty-five people filed nomination papers before the July 1 deadline. Eight people are running for more than one position, for a total of 53 names on the ballot, competing for 19 seats on seven different entities. There are enough names that the ballot will have to split into two sections -- one ballot solely to select deputies to the 2006 General Convention and another ballot for all of the other elections.
Encouraged to run
Two support groups for people on either end of the theological spectrum are encouraging their members to get involved in diocesan leadership. A leader of Southwest Florida Via Media Episcopalians, a group that supports the Church's recent decisions, including the election of a gay bishop in New Hampshire, said raising up new leaders is crucial. "It seems to be a very important kind of ministry, when you're concerned about the Episcopal Church, to encourage a variety of people to present themselves for leadership," the Rev. Ted Copland said in March. On the other hand, the local chapter of the American Anglican Council (AAC) is looking for leaders who share its point of view. The AAC opposed the election of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire and has called on the Archbishop of Canterbury to sanction the Episcopal Church for its actions.
While the local AAC group was thinking about organizing before Via Media was formed, "it did, perhaps, provide a catalyst for people to become more involved," said its moderator, Doug Spangler. And getting people involved -- particularly lay people -- is what the group is all about, according to Spangler. "The Church is not going to reform itself unless it's kick-started by the laity," he said. "If you care, you need to be visibly out there," by serving on vestries, parish and diocesan committees and running for elected positions. "We will definitely encourage more people to run for key offices in the diocese," Spangler said.
The race to Columbus
The ballot that has attracted the most attention is the election of deputies to the 2006 General Convention. Four clergy and four laypeople will represent the diocese when the Episcopal Church USA meets in Columbus, Ohio. This will be the first convention since 2003, when Robinson's election was affirmed by both the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. The 2006 convention will also elect a new presiding bishop, as Bishop Frank T. Griswold completes his nine-year term. By the nomination deadline, 28 people -- 12 laypeople and 16 priests -- had filed papers in Southwest Florida to stand for election as a deputy.
More information about each candidate, along with photos, position statements and descriptions of the positions can be found on the diocesan web site: http://www.episcopalswfl.org/.