The Rev. Jonathan Folts will be consecrated the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota on Saturday, Nov. 2, in Pierre.
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, will be in charge. Curry is known as the first African-American to be presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. And he is sort of famous for being invited to preach at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a U.S. citizen, in May 2018 at Windsor Castle outside London.
Curry is presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. arm of the Worldwide Anglican Communion based in England.
In the 60 years since it reached its top population of about 3.45 million members, the Episcopal Church has lost nearly half of them and has about 1.8 million baptized members today.
In South Dakota, there are about 9,000 Episcopalians, and unique in the Episcopal Church across the United States, most of them are Native Americans, Folts says of his new charge.
“We have 78 congregations, 50 of them are on reservations,” he told the Capital Journal on Thursday as he prepared for the big weekend. “The Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota has a higher population of Native Americans than any other diocese in the Episcopal Church.”
Folts, 51, grew up in West Texas.
“For the past 15 years I’ve been rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex, Connecticut. Prior to that I was a priest in West Texas for eight years.”
His father, Bishop James Folts, who ordained him a priest, will be a part of his ordination as a bishop and consecration to the Diocese of South Dakota on Saturday.
“My father is retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas,” Folts said. “I’m not preaching at my consecration service, my father is taking that role.”
Folts was elected in May at the diocesan convention in First United Methodist Church in Pierre, which had more room to handle the convention than Trinity Episcopal, he said.
He succeeds Bishop John Tarrant who retired after serving as bishop since February 2010 and moved back to his home area in Massachusetts.
Tarrant will be part of the new bishop’s consecration, Folts said.
“One of the things I like about what Bishop Tarrant did ... the bishop used to be in Sioux Falls. During his tenure he decided to move the office of the bishop out of the cathedral in Sioux Falls and into Trinity Episcopal Church in Pierre. It was to make the offices more central.”
Tarrant was thinking of the needs of the entire diocese, making the bishop more accessible to the 9,000 members spread across a big state with big spaces, according to Folts.
That’s especially important in a church where the bishop spends Christmas and Easter not preaching to a big congregation in the cathedral but usually filling a pulpit at a small parish that needs a priest on the big holidays, Folts said. “We cover as much as possible.”
His wife, the Rev. Kimberly Folts, and their youngest, a daughter, will remain in Connecticut this year so she can finish her last year at high school. Their two sons are in college in New Hampshire and at Ohio State, he said.
They and his relatives from Texas are traveling up to be part of his consecration this weekend in Pierre at 11:30 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 2, in Riggs High School.
His childhood and parish work in Texas around San Marcos and Abilene makes him at home in West River, South Dakota’s cow country, Folts said.
“I believe the state of South Dakota is only about 4,000 square miles larger than the Diocese of West Texas.”
But as other mainline Protestant churches, the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota has seen membership decline, about 29 percent, nearly 4,000 people, in the 30 years from 1980 to 2010, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. More clergy are needed.
His theme as he becomes the Episcopal bishop in South Dakota will be: “That we in the diocese are seeking to be the bringers, the bearers and proclaimers of God’s hope.”