Originally from New Jersey, the Right Reverend Otis Charles was ordained in
1951. In the course of his ministry Charles served variously as a parish priest;
executive secretary of Associated Parishes, a national organization committed to
the church's on-going renewal through liturgy and mission; associate director of
a Roman Catholic ecumenical center; and founder of two schools: the Washington
(Connecticut) Montessori School and the Wykeham Rise School also in Washington,
Conn. From 1968 until 1982 he was a member of the Standing Liturgical Commission
which developed the Book of Common Prayer adopted in 1979 for use throughout the
While a priest in the Diocese of Connecticut (1959-71) he served as president
of the Standing Committee as well as Deputy to General Convention. In 1971, he
was one of three candidates for Bishop of Connecticut. Charles was elected
Bishop of Utah that year and served in that capacity until 1986. In Utah,
Charles served as Chair of the Board of St. Mark¹s Hospital, Salt Lake City and
of Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School. He also functioned as Bishop-in-charge
of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland. He was instrumental in establishing
Hospice of Salt Lake City and took a leading role in creating a coalition of
opposition to the development of Utah and Nevada as the launching site for the
MX missile. In the House of Bishops he served as chair of the Prayer Book
Committee and as a member of the Bishops' Committee on Racism.
In 1985, Charles became Dean and President of the Episcopal Divinity School
in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1997, the Otis Charles Chair of Applied Theology
was established by the Episcopal Divinity School with an initial gift of $ 1.3
million, the largest single gift in the School's history.
Since 1979 he has been among a growing number of bishops who have spoken out
for full and complete inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church without
restriction, recognizing their calling to ministry and rejecting the notion that
a baptized homosexual must live a celibate life. In 1980, he was the recipient of
the national Integrity Award. He is represented in Out in the Workplace: Gay
and Lesbian Professionals Tell Their Stories.
Upon his retirement in 1993, Charles publicly announced his homosexuality,
becoming the first openly gay bishop of any Christian denomination. That
September he sent an epistle to his colleagues in the House of Bishops that
said, in part: "I have promised myself that I will not remain silent, invisible,
unknown. After all is said and done, the choice for me is not whether or not I
am a gay, but whether or not I am honest about who I am with myself and others.
It is a choice to take down the wall of silence I have built around an important
and vital part of my life, to end the separation and isolation I have imposed on
myself all these years."
John McNeil, former Jesuit and author of Freedom, Glorious Freedom
speaks of Bishop Charles' coming out as "an extraordinary example (of the)
public exposure... required... to... provide an image... of what it is to
be mature as Christian and as gay" (pp.82-83). In Last Watch of the
Night, Paul Monette wrote of Bishop Charles' coming out as "an important
moment in gay and lesbian history, and a ringing challenge to the status quo of
invisibility" (p. 304).
The Sunday edition of the New York Times (October 10, 1993) as well
as both gay and straight press around the country reported the bishop's action.
Boston's Bay Windows editorialized: "the news of a 67 year old bishop
coming out of the closet is something at which to marvel. Charles puts it
less grandly, however, saying simply that it was a matter of integrity."
After making his public witness Bishop Charles, who appreciates being addressed by his
baptismal name, Otis, has welcomed the opportunity to share his story.
Whether in an informal gathering or the pulpit, he characteristically begins,
"I am a gay man, an Episcopal (Anglican) bishop, a queer who only just
mustered the courage to publicly acknowledge the truth of my life."
Charles has continued as an active and voting member of the Episcopal House
of Bishops taking many stands on behalf of his community. In 1995, Charles
co-founded Oasis/California, the Bay Area Episcopal Lesbian and Gay ministry. In
1998, Charles was appointed Interim Dean of the School for Deacons serving
northern California. During this time he also served as
Bishop-in-residence at the Church of St. John-the-Evangelist in San Francisco
and a founding editor of Millennium3, an on-line and print publication
distributed to all 13,600 Episcopal clergy. He was an Assisting Bishop in the
Diocese of California until 2004.
Charles is currently working on his memoirs and editing a collection
of personal reflections on the contribution of entheogens as an opening to
mystical experience. Since 1993 he has been a resident of San Francisco where he lives
with his partner, Felipe Sanchez Paris.
(This biographical statement provided by Otis Charles.)