A living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community — Part 6: Learning and leading, near and far

At the close of summer 1984, The Parsonage put on a “Founders’ Day” potluck to celebrate three years of ministry and seminarian Michael Wyatt’s year of work. On that August afternoon at St. Aidan’s, San Francisco, anyone in “The Parsonage family” was invited to reflect and revisit the founding purposes of The Parsonage, rejoice in the areas where they were fulfilling those hopes, and look to the future to plan for the “further shaping of Parsonage goals.” To respond to questions regarding the justification of The Parsonage from his supervisor, founder Rev. John Williams, Wyatt wrote in his farewell letter in the monthly newsletter that “it is our own reconciliation, our own liberation, that is still unfinished.” He went on, saying, “There is no turning back — except to look, to understand. We have an important place in gay history, in the history of The Episcopal Church, of the whole Church.”

And they did, and still do. At their regular meeting in Burlingame in June of 1984, The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church had adopted a resolution saying, “The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church expresses its appreciation and support to The Parsonage, and to the Rev. Bernard Mayes, for their ongoing witness, for their love of God’s people and for their witness in the San Francisco community.” The Parsonage recognized its place in history again at the end of 1984, when the Diocesan Commission on Liturgy — which had been set out with this task almost two years prior — came to The Parsonage in December to meet with members to “discuss and approve their preparation of a liturgy for the blessing of same sex relationships.” The Rev. Robert Cromey was thanked for his continuing advocacy for this liturgy; an advocacy that had been condemned just a year earlier.

While progress was being made in lessening that taboo, the taboo of being a person with AIDS was growing. In January of 1985, David Hummel announced that he would be that year’s Parsonage representative to the AIDS Interfaith Network, which held semimonthly spiritual support groups for people with AIDS and those close to them. However, to protect the identity and safety of those attending, the locations of these meetings could only be gathered by calling the network; it was left off any fliers or print material. AIDS worsened the backlash experienced by those coming out, a process that left many gay youth homeless. Rick Daugherty began the Young People’s Ministry to help the youth who struggled with homelessness, substance abuse, and addiction. “Yes! Kids 14, 15, 16 years of age” are the people this new ministry was for. Bill Lorton, clerk of The Parsonage, wrote in the March, 1985 issue of The Parsonage News about the hundreds of people, particularly teenagers, who came to The Parsonage to “survive” Christmas of the year prior. For 48 hours, The Parsonage stayed open continuously so people could have a place to stay for Christmas where they could stay clean and sober. The immense sacrifice of those who put this on and the importance of this type of ministry cannot be overstated, and it is an incredible example of showing the world what Christ’s love looks like.

The work with the AIDS Interfaith Network and the Young People’s Ministry were just two of the nearly countless local ministries that The Parsonage either headed or were involved in. In May of 1985, The Parsonage was home to six different anonymous-type groups that held eleven weekly meetings, and those numbers grew to seven and nineteen respectively by July. The Parsonage dedicated “The Templar Library,” which housed thousands of books about human sexuality, theology, church doctrine, and other gay and lesbian research and issues. Before The Parsonage held its first annual Bishop Parson’s dinner, Bishop Paul Moore from the Diocese of New York dedicated the library with the Rev. Mayes. At the time, Moore was also the chairman of the AIDS task force appointed by the governor of New York, and he was an early ally to gay and lesbian folks, having ordained a gay woman to the priesthood in 1977. Later in the evening, Moore gave the keynote address at the event, which raised over $3,000 — a good deal of The Parsonage’s annual operating budget. At this inaugural event, Bishop Swing was given the Bishop Parson’s Award for Social Justice.

Thanks to the consistently answered calls to leadership, The Parsonage was able to balance all of the aforementioned events and ministries with the now ‘regular’ or ‘standard’ ministries. Two more classes of Parsons totaling seventeen people had been commissioned, another Gay Pride parade marched in (where The Parsonage was joined by the communities of Nostri/Trinity, St. John the Evangelist, All Saints, and St. Aidan’s, all of San Francisco), and regular healing services, seminars, and self-care events held for The Parsonage family.

So, in the midst of so much local work, The Parsonage still wanted to be more widely recognized (an aside worth mentioning is that The Parsonage received a letter of support from the Rev. Kim Benton of the Auckland Community Church in Auckland, New Zealand, which she described as “an ecumenical outreach to the gay people in Auckland,” who were much more of a minority than gay people in the Bay Area, but who faced similar problems). To do this, The Parsonage prepared to have a booth at the 1985 General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Anaheim, California. Up for discussion and vote was a resolution stating “that this 68th General Convention of the Episcopal Church recognizes with love and compassion the tragic human suffering and loss of life involved in the AIDS epidemic.” Resolution 1985-D062 bound the Executive Council to developing special prayers for those affected by the AIDS crisis and to finding ways to fund programs and ministries for the spreading of awareness, education, and prevention of AIDS within six months. To rally support for this resolution, The Parsonage enlisted the help of seniors at St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, where people helped clip rainbow ribbon and pin it to donation cards to be handed out at General Convention. It seems to have been a very successful campaign, as the resolution passed the House of Deputies with a unanimous vote. The presence of The Parsonage at General Convention was two-fold, as this success helped advertise and plan for one of the first (and possibly the first) AIDS conferences, in March of 1986.

For more of the living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community series, click here.