RIP: Service set for retired Diocese of Utah Bishop E. Otis Charles

By ENS staff
Posted Jan 2, 2014

ens_010214_otisCharles[Episcopal News Service] The burial office for retired Diocese of Utah Bishop E. Otis Charles will held Jan. 11 at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Charles, 87, died Dec. 26 at Coming Home Hospice in San Francisco. He had moved to the hospice in early December.

Charles ashes will be interred at a later date in the Diocese of Utah’s Cathedral Church of St. Mark in Salt Lake City.

The eighth bishop of Utah, Charles was the diocese’s first bishop after it transitioned from being a Missionary District in 1971. He served until 1986.

“With few resources, he led the diocese through a period of growth in southern Utah, the calling of priests from congregations, and the church’s opposition to the Vietnam War,” the diocese said in announcing Charles’ death.

Charles also served the church during a time of change, the diocese noted, citing the ordination of women and the adoption of a new Book of Common Prayer. Charles championed of the new prayer book, having served on the Standing Liturgical Commission, which authored it, the diocese said.

Current Utah Bishop Scott Hayashi called Charles a “friend, companion, guide and mentor.”

“He carried the diocese forward during a time of great challenge and few resources, Hayahsi said. “Where others might see scarcity, Bishop Charles saw an abundance of spiritual resources from God and in the hearts and wills of the people of the Diocese of Utah. Bishop Charles demonstrated fidelity to the vows of Baptism.  He steadfastly modeled, proclaimed by word and example, and strove always ‘for justice and peace among all people,’ and he ‘respected the dignity of every human being.’”

Hayashi reported that Charles was “especially joyful” when a federal judge struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage just before Christmas.

“As a bishop, I have been privileged to be with Otis as a fellow bishop, colleague and friend,” Hayashi said. “My prayers are being offered for Otis and all his family and friends who, like me, will always be grateful for his life and witness, and who will miss him terribly.”

Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 1926, Charles was ordained a priest in 1951 and served churches in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York prior to being called to Utah.

While serving in Utah, Charles helped organize opposition to the MX missile, cost-effective health care, the first Utah hospice, housing for elderly and handicapped citizens, and advocacy for minorities, women, the handicapped poor and unemployed.

Charles and his then-wife, Elvira, raised five children during his episcopate. He also served for two years as the bishop in charge of the Navajoland Area Mission during its inception.

After he left the Diocese of Utah, he was named dean of Episcopal Divinity School which he served until 1993.

“Otis’s 60 years of pastoral leadership — at EDS, in the Diocese of Utah, and at Oasis California — leave an indelible legacy. In every community he worked, in every life that he touched, Otis embodied this seminary’s ideal of working to advance God’s mission of justice, compassion, and reconciliation,” said the Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, EDS’s current president and dean.

Just after he retired from EDS, Charles sent a letter to his colleagues in the House of Bishops telling them that he was gay. The bishops discussed his disclosure during their meeting in Panama in September 1993. He was the first Christian bishop of any denomination to come out as gay.

He married Felipe Sanchez-Paris in 2008 (who died in August 2013) and continued living in San Francisco, where he had moved in mid-1993. Charles remained in active parish ministry. He also continued regular attendance at the House of Bishops until this year.

Charles is survived by his former wife, Elvira Nelson of Salt Lake City, five children, 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.


Comments (5)

  1. David Krohne says:

    Apparently no one edits or proofs this stuff. Verbalizing nouns like “transition” is so bad. I guess all of us English majors have retired and there’s no one to replace us at the editor’s desk.

  2. Edward A Scully says:

    Give rest O Christ to your servant with your saints,
    where sorrow and pain are no more,
    neither sighing, but life everlasting.

    Otis was Dean at EDS the last 2 years I was there [Class of 87].
    He did good work moving the seminary forward,
    in reconnecting EDS with the NE Dioceses,
    moved married students onto campus
    thereby integrating married, partnered and single students.

    Into your hands O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Otis . . .
    receive him into the arms of your mercy,
    into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
    and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

  3. Mary Ellen and I remember fondly our time at EDS during Otis’ Deanship. I served as Administrative Dean and he and Elvira lovingly took us under their wings as friends and mentors. He created a deeply pastoral and spiritual climate (spirituality his discipline) complimenting the strong academic and justice culture of the school. While his “coming out” was a surprise to us he sought to do so with caring sensitivity to family and friends and detractors, qualities of love which marked his life as priest and bishop and person. That love was also reflected in his life with Filipe, who we also came to know and love. May light perpetual shine upon him.

  4. The Rev. Fred Fenton says:

    Otis Charles was bright, caring, and compassionate. He had a charming personality and was easy to like. Everyone who knew the man will miss him.

    I believe it is inaccurate to report that, “The bishops discussed his disclosure during their meeting in Panama in September 1993.” It is my understanding that no one discussed his letter at that meeting, except for a brief reference to it by Bishop Harris near the end of the proceedings. If Otis’s letter was discussed it must have been in private conversations between the bishops.

  5. James Nicholls says:

    I was in the neighborhood. I didn’t know. I called.
    Disconnected. He is at rest. He has been in The Lord in Christ.
    I am thankful for him. Love to the family he left.
    Thank you.

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