Joshua Loewen-Samuels

To my brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida,

My name is Joshua Loewen-Samuels, and I was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Howard at Holy Trinity, Gainesville, in 2021. I have also been a supporter of Fr. Charlie Holt from day one. For these reasons I have been reluctant to add my voice to the chorus of objectors.

Nevertheless, after waiting 10 months since the first election, I have been persuaded to go public with my experience because I believe that following Christ means bearing witness to the truth even when doing so comes at great personal cost.

I first met representatives from the Diocese of Florida in 2018 when they visited my seminary, Wycliffe College, an evangelical Anglican theological college within the University of Toronto, in order to recruit. Between 2018 and 2019 while I was in discernment conversations, I was told by a representative of the Diocese’s office on multiple occasions that Bishop Howard was retiring soon, and that he wanted to ordain as many evangelicals as possible in order to secure a conservative win in the forthcoming election. Not only did this motivate me to travel to Florida from Canada, taking along my wife and two young children; I even tried to persuade my fellow seminarians to join me precisely because of the time-sensitive window of opportunity for new ordinands.

Looking back, I didn’t think twice about this insight about the upcoming election because it appeared to just make sense: It’s within the best interest of any bishop to ordain as many clergy as necessary for the health and wellbeing of his Diocese, and naturally, any bishop would want their ordinands to reflect the overarching theological vision established by the ordinary.

Fast forward to May 15th, 2022. The first election was over. I was elated that Fr. Charlie Holt had won. But I also recognized that many of my parishioners were upset, including my own rector—Fr. Fletcher Montgomery—who was candidate in that election. It soon became apparent to me as a newcomer in the Diocese and to the parish that this was a delicate and precarious situation to find myself in. As an immigrant, I was aware that my Canadian cultural sensitivities might not easily track the various social cues highlighting conflict. Even so, my insider knowledge about the workings of the Diocese together with my first-hand experience of the situation on the ground at Holy Trinity, home to the “Love Out Loud” group that filed the Title IV disciplinary proceedings against +Howard, put me in an extremely difficult position.

Before the May 14th election, I had reached out to the Bishop for help navigating the complex pastoral and political situation that I found myself in. After the election, I had reached out for help to the Bishop when it became clear to me that I would likely need to conclude my curacy and move to another parish where there was less conflict of interest. Instead of receiving the Bishop’s support, however, the Bishop blamed me, shouted rebukes at me, and left me on my own to navigate the tenuous and broken relationship between Holy Trinity, Gainesville, and the Diocese. Merely days after reaching out to the Bishop’s office for help, I was asked not to return to the parish, the locks on the parish doors were changed, and I had to remove my belongings from my office after business hours. When I asked for help navigating this extremely distressful personal loss which came to me as a surprise, I was told by the Bishop that it was entirely my fault. I was told to ignore everything that happened and to move on. I was even required by him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, despite the fact that I do not have a problem with drinking.

Over the summer of 2022, I interviewed across the Diocese while serving as a supply priest. Multiple parishes registered serious interest in hiring me, including St. Peter’s in Jacksonville where I had done an internship in 2019. I was looking forward to stepping into a new parish, but oddly enough, each time I was closer to receiving an offer, the Canon to the Ordinary would call me to say that the deal fell through, and I could no longer interview there. This was a strange experience because merely days before I would receive his call, I had a supportive message from the hiring parish. I began to suspect I was being stonewalled. This was frustrating because the Diocese knew that I was on a religious worker’s visa, which requires me to maintain full-time employment or risk facing deportation. I was assured by the Canon to the Ordinary that I would land in a new parish by July 31st, 2022.

My suspicion of being stonewalled was confirmed when the vestry at St. Peter’s in Jacksonville notified me late July that they had written a letter of unanimous support to the Bishop’s office asking for permission to hire me as their next rector. Even the interim priest signed the letter. Despite their letter of support, the Bishop never extended the contract as expected.

In August, merely days before my daughter was supposed to begin grade 3, I received a call from the Bishop. I imagined that this was the green light my family had had been waiting for. Instead of giving me the encouragement I needed after a difficult summer, Bishop Howard expressed how disappointed he was with me, how I had been disobedient all summer long, and how I hadn’t done anything he asked of me. I had the impression that the Bishop was just saying this in order to let me go because it really made zero sense. When I asked if he would write a reference letter on my behalf if I did have to return to Canada, Bishop Howard said that he would have to tell the church in Canada how I have a hard time listening to my bishop. I took this as a threat, and as a clear indicator that I didn’t have the least of the Bishop’s support.

Immediately after this conversation, I called the Canon to the Ordinary to ask what had gone wrong. After all, I did everything that was asked of me all summer. I even missed my own father-in-law’s funeral in Canada to avoid missing a single Sunday. Canon Allison DeFoor explained that because things didn’t work out for me at Holy Trinity, that I didn’t have the Bishop’s confidence moving forward. The irony is that nothing had gone wrong at Holy Trinity, except that I was loyal to my Bishop and to Fr. Charlie Holt, and had reached out for help navigating the mess that was the fallout from the Diocese’s own controversy surrounding the first election. In other words, the Bishop was blaming the victim here.

Despite St. Peter’s request to hire me, the Bishop was stonewalling. The religious worker’s visa that I had paid for had lapsed because of the negligence of the Diocese. Therefore, I had no other option but to return to Canada. I said goodbye to my friends in the Diocese, and returned to Canada with my wife and children in August. We had to sell our house in Florida and return to Canada without notice and without a plan for what to do upon our return. This experience of rejection without cause and subsequent ejection out of the United States of America was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.

I subsequently became depressed and questioned everything, including my own loyalty to the Episcopal/Anglican Church, and decided I would explore ACNA/ANiC and even Roman Catholicism. I tried to return to school but on account of the depression, I could not function. I eventually found work as an insurance broker, and I have slowly begun to arrive at a renewed sense of vocation. The healing process has been slow, but God is faithful. 10 months later I now see things differently. I believe that what happened to me was fundamentally unfair, and it was the bullying I received that brought on the feelings of despair and disillusionment. I did not deserve that harsh treatment.

The reason I decided to go public with my experience is because I continue to hear echoes of my story in the testimonies of others. I have come to the conclusion that my experience is one of discrimination, too, although not for reasons of sexuality. Perhaps it was because I am an immigrant or because I asked difficult questions, or because I knew too much. Whatever the case might be, I believe that I was denied the ability to vote in the November election. What I lost along the way, however, was much more than just a voice and a vote. My vocation to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments in the Episcopal Church was taken away from me without due cause. I am sharing my story here because I believe that my experience can help to clarify why the Diocese continues to suffer. I believe the Diocese is suffering because the Bishop has failed to model the way of reconciliation and peacemaking.

If my story illustrates how Bishop Howard treats clergy who agree with him theologically, imagine how he treats those whom he fundamentally disagrees with.

May God grant the grace of repentance to the Episcopal Diocese of Florida. With love from Canada, Fr. Joshua Loewen-Samuels.

Anyone who doubts my story or wants to paint me as a bigot please see the references and photos . I used to identify as queer, and have deep roots with lgbtq+ community (Photos show queer teenage self). I am also a person of colour, family suffered under apartheid. Take my memo or leave it but please don’t attack me here.

Also want to add that I absolutely love bishop Howard, all of his staff, Fr Fletcher, HT GNV, and the whole diocese. I love love love them all, and only wish that I could still be there for sweet communion in the lord. My hope is only for reconciliation and healing.

I would ask your prayers because I feel called to share this truth of my experience, but also a lot of pressure to hide it. I’m not out for vengeance; you don’t have to like me. I only want to share my experience for the sake of God’s will—which I believe is for the healing of the diocese of Florida. Please pray for me, a sinner! If I have sinned against you, please have mercy! Lord knows I need it.

March 27, 2023: I want to preempt any claim that I am out for vengeance. If I was out for vengeance I would have gone public when doing so would have kept me in the USA. I was never under disciplinary action, never received corrective action, and was a priest in good standing at all times. I have spared all the gore in what I have shared. I have been kind but honest, protecting the identity of others where possible. If I wanted vengeance there is more I could say, but I am keeping the details at a minimum, and have shared only what is absolutely necessary. I am telling the truth, and I am not lying.