The Rt. Rev. E. Otis Charles, former President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, former Bishop of the Diocese of Utah, and founder of Oasis California, a gay and lesbian ministry, died on December 26 in a San Francisco hospice at the age of 87.
In 1993 Bishop Charles became the first Christian bishop of any denomination to come out as gay—an act that galvanized the Episcopal LGBTQ community and presaged the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.
“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 President and Dean The Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale. “The EDS community extends its condolences and offers its prayers for Otis’s family and all those who loved and admired him.”
Bishop Charles was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1951 and began his ministry in the Diocese of Connecticut. From 1971 until 1986, he served as Bishop of Utah, where he was active in anti-war causes, opposing the installation of government MX missile sites in the diocese.
In 1986, Charles was named President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and in many ways the progressive western bishop was an ideal choice for the historically progressive Cambridge seminary. At EDS, Charles continued the school’s pathbreaking commitment to feminist liberation theology and LGBTQ inclusion. Charles came out shortly after his retirement in 1993 and moved to San Francisco, where he founded Oasis California, the LGBTQ ministry of the Diocese of California. In 2004, he married Felipe Sanchez-Paris, a retired college professor who predeceased Charles in July of 2013.
Bishop Charles is survived by his former wife, Elvira Nelson ’93 of Salt Lake City, five children, 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. His funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. on January 11 at St. Gregory of Nysaa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.