The Rev. Elwyn Gibbs, who ministered to a tough Sacramento neighborhood as a pastor and community activist, died Jan. 18 following health problems from falls and various ailments, his family said. He was 76.
Social work was the core of the Rev. Gibbs' vocation for more than 50 years, starting with summer camps he led in seminary for children of low-income families in New York. After his ordination as an American Baptist minister in 1960, he worked with underprivileged residents at Christian settlement houses in the Chicago area. He helped churches develop programs to address social issues in Camden, N.J.
"He was always in rough places delivering food baskets to prostitutes, working in areas with criminal activity," said the Rev. George Swank. "He saw people as people, and it didn't matter if they were rich or poor."
The Rev. Gibbs settled in Sacramento in 1976 as associate director of United Christian Centers, a social services agency. In 1982, he became pastor at Prince of Peace Church near Franklin Villa, which was a crime-ridden neighborhood bordered by Franklin Boulevard.
He led the congregation in providing a haven and services for Franklin Villa residents. He worked with neighbors and City Hall officials to improve conditions in the community, now known as Phoenix Park.
"He was a very friendly person and had a way of talking to people that put them at ease," congregation member Arthur Crane said.
The Rev. Gibbs took his calling beyond the pulpit. He was a founding board member of Paratransit Inc. and helped create community services programs for the Southgate Park and Recreation District. He was a longtime member of South Sacramento Rotary and served on a community advisory committee for UC Davis Medical Center.
He reached out to other faiths as a leader in the North State Ecumenical Conference. He was active in the South Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and Greater Meadowview Area Coalition.
"I've been actively involved in a variety of community activities because I believe the Gospel is about creating healthy communities and people," he told The Bee in 1998.
Elwyn Duane Gibbs was born in 1936 in Loyalton and raised in Northern California. He graduated from University of Redlands and Colgate Rochester Divinity School in New York.
He was a caring man and "a really fine listener," longtime friend Sheila Saxby said. He worked to solve social problems with enthusiasm and connected with people in all walks of life with "an unrelenting sense of humor," she said.
The Rev. Gibbs retired as a pastor in 1998 and lived most recently in Carmichael with his wife, Viola Wells, who survives him. He had three daughters with his first wife, the former Mary Elizabeth Shutts, who died after 12 years of marriage in 1970.
"He proposed even though she had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and everybody advised against it," said his daughter Cheryl Campos. "That was true love."
The Rev. Elwyn Gibbs
Born: Feb. 8, 1936
Died: Jan. 18, 2013
Survived by: Wife, Viola Wells; daughters, Marjorie Mierzwak, Beth Rager and Cheryl Campos; sister, Glenda Rankin; six grandchildren; four great-grandchildren
Services: Were held Jan. 23
Remembrances: Donations in memory of the Rev. Gibbs may be made to River City Food Bank in Sacramento.