The Rev. Canon Charles P. Gibbs
is an Episcopal priest who, from 1996 until his retirement in 2013, served as the founding executive director of the United Religions Initiative
– serving from URI’s gestation to its position as an international network which consists presently of more than 750 cooperation circles (each comprising members of at least 3 faiths or traditions) in 92 countries. As executive director, he worked with thousands of colleagues around the world to guide URI’s growth from a vision to becoming the world’s largest grassroots interfaith network.
During his tenure, URI engaged in a global chartering process, which involved thousands of people, and included the planning and production of five global summits and eight regional conferences. The URI signed its global Charter in June 2000 and now has a global office in San Francisco and regional coordinators on six continents. Their work includes peacebuilding, interfaith education, environmental awareness, human rights advocacy and building social cohesion; and across the globe touches over 2.5 million people each year. The URI is a Non-Governmental Organization with consultative status at the United Nations and was honored by the UN’s Alliance of Civilizations in 2011 for its innovative peacebuilding work.
In describing his journey
, Charles has said: “In the spring of 1993, I said simple words that changed my life – I’d like to help. Twenty years and over a million-and-a-half flight miles later, in June 2013, I retired as the founding executive director of the United Religions Initiative, largest grassroots interfaith organization in the world. Though URI’s impact isn’t yet on the scale of the tragic events of 9/11 or of the perhaps even more tragic actions that flowed from that fateful day, I believe that together we created a living antidote to the poison of hatred, division and violence that manifested in those events.”
In his work for the URI, Charles traveled extensively, working with religious, spiritual and other leaders in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He was a featured speaker at many international gatherings, including: the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists, Doha, Qatar; the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Barcelona, Spain, Capetown, South Africa and Melbourne, Australia; annual symposia of the International Association of Sufism, San Rafael, CA; the United Nations; Unity in Diversity, UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France; the UN’s Alliance of Civilizations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
A poet, he recently published new volume of poetry – Light Reading: Selected Poems from a Pilgrim Journey
, and is working on a book of reflections – I’d Like to Help: A Journey of Awakening
. With colleague Sally Mahé, he co-authored Birth of a Global Community
, a book on the birth of the United Religions Initiative. He contributed a chapter to Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding
, published by the United States Institute of Peace, and co-authored, with colleague Barbara Hartford, a chapter in Positive Approaches to Peacebuilding
. His essay, Opening the Dream: Beyond the Limits of Otherness
, appears in the anthology, Deepening the American Dream
. His reflection, Jesus Appeared to Babaji
, appears in My Neighbor’s Faith
. In addition, he has published many articles on interfaith work and has published blogs on the Huffington Post.
Charles brings to all he does a deep commitment to spiritual transformation and work for peace, justice and healing, and an abiding belief in the sacredness of all life in the Earth community. Before becoming the URI’s Executive Director, he served for six years as Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, CA. For six years previous to that, he served as the Executive Director of the San Rafael Canal Ministry, an interfaith ministry of service and outreach, primarily among immigrants and refugees, in Marin County, California. Before attending seminary, he earned degrees in theater arts and creative writing and worked in both fields.
An Honorary Canon at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Charles recently became Senior Partner and Poet-in-Residence for the Catalyst for Peace
foundation, providing leadership and support for CFP’s organizational evolution. Building on its eight-year transformational partnership with Fambul Tok in Sierra Leone, CFP is exploring a new phase of regional and global engagement focused on community-based peacebuilding, healthy whole systems partnerships and leadership development.
As son, brother, husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather, Charles cherishes and is inspired by his family. He is blessed with dear friends and colleagues of diverse faiths around the world with whom he shares a commitment to serve the world through spiritual transformation and cooperative engagement for the good of all life on this sacred Earth. Mindful of the abundant blessings that come even through life’s biggest challenges, he seeks to live each moment in gratitude.
Five Questions with Charles Gibbs
What Makes You Come Alive?
The poetry of everyday life -- the interplay of light and love and shadow, of life and death, of failure and success, of beauty and gratitude, of receiving and giving, the complex and dynamic weave of relationships in the Earth community -- engaged in service to peace, justice and healing for the entire Earth community makes me come alive.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
I grew up with a younger brother, Eric, who had Down Syndrome. Though he died in his early thirties, he left an extraordinary legacy, helping to transform many people's lives. Eric taught me that there are no other people in this world. We all are sisters and brothers to each other -- united in a common identity as children of one Source and as citizens of Earth. We are called to see and celebrate our unique identities as expressions of our fundamental unity to be cherished and celebrated.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
I have been blessed to receive so much kindness in my life that choosing one act from among countless is like trying to select a small fish out of an ocean of fish. Still, as I let myself settle into the question, I remember a time in my tenure as URI's executive director when I was completely exhausted, at the edge of my resources, during an important Global Council meeting. When I acknowledged my exhaustion to the council members, they responded by showering me with love and affirmations in a way that eased my exhaustion and helped me see that I was blessed with many dear companions who were helping to carry the load I felt I was responsible for all alone.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
To see the transformation of tribal violence into cooperative engagement for the good of all, including the eradication of extreme material poverty.
One-line Message for the World?
The Earth community awaits the awakening and engagement of the light, love, goodness and wholeness that was planted in each of us before the beginning of time.