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In Memory of . . . Philip R. Giles (1917-2013)

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Rev. Dr. Philip Randall Giles died on July 2, 2013 at the age of 96. Dr. Giles was born in Haverhill, MA on January 23, 1917 to Ina (Butler) and Nelson Giles. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Tufts College and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Crane Theological School, both in 1942. He is the recipient of honorary degrees from Tufts College in 1958 and St. Lawrence University in 1961.

Dr. Giles was ordained by the Massachusetts Universalist Convention in Southbridge, MA on May 10, 1942. He served the Universalist Church in Southbridge, MA from 1939-1942. From 1946-1949, he served the White Memorial Universalist Church in Concord, NH.

In 1949, Dr. Giles began a 25-year career in the executive offices of the Universalist Church of America (UCA) and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). From 1949-1951, he was Director of the Unified Appeal of the UCA; from 1953-1954, he served as Assistant to the General Superintendent of the UCA; and from 1954 until his election as the UCA’s General Superintendent in 1957, he served as Director of the UCA’s Departments of Ministry and Extension.

Charles Howe’s book, The Larger Faith, states:

The new superintendent was determined that whether or not it eventually merged with the Unitarians, the Universalist Church of America should be strengthened in every possible way. His efforts bore fruits. By the time Giles left office, many of the detailed recommendations made by a management consulting firm has been implemented; a number of congregations had erected new buildings, and others had renovated their existing facilities; a development program had been initiated to strengthen the denomination’s financial base; the format and contents of both The Universalist Leader and the annual yearbook had been significantly improved; the Universalist Publishing House had been revitalized, and several basic books on Universalism had been produced; and communications within the denomination had been substantially strengthened.

In 1961, after helping to steer the final stages of the consolidation of the UCA and the American Unitarian Association (AUA) to form the UUA, Dr. Giles became the UUA Vice President for Field Relations. He remained in that position until 1963, when he became the District Executive of the Joseph Priestly District. In 1970, he returned to UUA headquarters as the Vice President for Development, remaining there until 1974.

Wishing to return to parish ministry, Dr. Giles served as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Muncie, IN from 1974-1978. He then served the First Universalist Church of Denver, CO from 1978-1982; and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Corpus Christi from 1982-1983. He began a career in interim ministry and served the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Providence, RI from 1983-1984; the Croydon Unitarian Church in Croydon, England, from 1984-1985; First Parish in Needham, Unitarian Universalist, in Needham, MA from 1985-1986; the Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church in Melrose, MA throughout 1986; the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro, MA from 1987-1988; the Unitarian Universalist Church of Corpus Christi during the winters of 1988-1990; and the Unitarian Church of Barnstable, MA from 1992-1993. He was named Minister Emeritus of the First Universalist Church of Denver in 1988.

A veteran of World War II and the Korean War (during which he was a Wing Chaplain at James Connolly AFB in Waco, Texas), Dr. Giles retired in 1977 with the rank of Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve.

Dr. Giles came from a family of outdoor enthusiasts. He enjoyed camping, birding, fishing, and swimming. He and his family spent summers at various Universalist and Unitarian camps, institutes and retreat centers around the country. He led workshops at Ferry Beach and Star Island in Maine, Camp Unirondack in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Bridgman on Lake Michigan, and the Rocky Mountain District summer institute at Estes Park, CO.

A family member noted,

His commitment to the liberal religious movement mirrored his philosophy that each generation is responsible to help succeeding generations move forward. He always said, "Your generation doesn’t owe anything to mine. We hold you on our shoulders and you will do the same for your children.”

Dr. Giles’ tract on liberal religion, The Liberal Way in Religion, was published in 1963 by Beacon Press.

In a letter of sympathy to an old friend, Dr. Giles once wrote,

I have never been able to bid adieu, even for a time, gracefully and easily. It has always been easier to take refuge in a casual "See you later.” But that won’t do now…I have often wished I could take comfort in the Christian myth of immortality. But my mind won’t permit it. My comfort has to be with those we leave behind—immortality enough for me—but it does not assuage the hurt, the grief, the loss when dear ones go on ahead. It’s a lonely business, made tolerable only by the evergreen memories and pride of having been the recipient of their trust and love and friendship.

Dr. Giles is survived by his daughters, Lee Giles Hirstein and Susan Giles Godsey; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held at a later date in St. Albans, ME.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Society for Ministerial Relief c/o Glen Snowden, Secretary, 34 Meeting House Ln #201, Stow, MA 01775.

Notes of condolence may be sent to Lee Giles Hirstein at 2442 Charleston Drive, #6, Schaumburg, IL 60193; or Susan Giles Godsey at P.O. Box 128, Nehalem, OR 97131.

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