A living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community — Part 5: The intersection of God’s work

Posted on March 7, 2017

To round out 1983 and recognize the fifth anniversary of the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, the Diocese of California held a service of thanksgiving for their lives on November 26, which was sponsored in part by The Parsonage. Moving into 1984, The Parsonage began the work of finding its role within the worsening AIDS crisis. It had offered to be a host of the Brother Philip’s program — a weekly social gathering for people with AIDS — but its specific location on Castro Street was outside of the Western Addition, where most of the AIDS population lived at the time, which made it a mostly inaccessible option.

Seminarian Michael Wyatt had begun spending some of his field placement work hours with the AIDS Interfaith Network at San Francisco General Hospital in the outpatient clinic for people with AIDS. Wyatt pleaded for more people to become volunteers. In the May, 1984, Parsonage News periodical he wrote, “Even if I had time for all, I am not the person for which each one looks…the diversity of those who suffer cries out for a diversity of ministers. No one else will do this for us.” That last sentence points to the inaction from the government and then-President Reagan, who had not yet uttered the word “AIDS” in public, even as thousands of gay men were dying.

It was in this political turbulence — during the 1984 presidential campaigns — that Jerry Falwell and his group, the “Moral Majority” came to San Francisco with Phyllis Schlafly to host their “Family Forum III” conference just days before and blocks away from where the Democratic National Convention would be held. To prepare for this visit, Bob Smith, a leader of the Action Council and Parsons’ Orientation and Training Guild at The Parsonage, led the founding of the All Family Coalition — an ‘ad hoc committee to be a faith-based witness to platforms in opposition to those that the Family Forum III stood by’ — with the San Francisco chapters of Dignity and Integrity, the San Francisco Metropolitan Community Church, and the Consultation of Homosexuality, Social Justice and Roman Catholic Theology.

The night before the two-day forum was set to begin, the All Family Coalition — which, from inception in June to the service on July 11, had grown to include “more than 60 religious and social justice organizations in the Bay Area” — began their program of events with an interfaith service at Grace Cathedral, described in the San Francisco Examiner as an “unorthodox service — which included a Jesuit priest, a shofar-blowing rabbi, and mimes passing out a communion of Hershey chocolate kisses.”

After the service, hundreds of those in attendance marched down Nob Hill to the hotel where the Family Forum would be held to begin a 48-hour vigil for all people affected by “political, racial and religious hatred, and social injustice.” For the next two days, volunteers with the All Family Coalition handed out information to break down stereotypes about gay people to the forum attendees.

It was around this same time that the Rev. Bernard Mayes had represented the Diocese of California in Canterbury, England, to visit the Archbishop and his Church of England Board of Social Responsibility. Mayes went with the goal of sparking conversation about homosexuality and the Church’s position on it, and soon after his return, the chairman of that board — Anglican Bishop Hugh Montefiore — visited The Parsonage and spoke with the Parsons on duty.

For the time being, The Parsonage’s leadership had figured out how to work in the many areas it was being called to. The Parsonage became the intersection in ministries related to the AIDS crisis, political activism, and reconciliation. Recently, Holly McAlpen, a friend of Tom Tull’s said about this work, “this brought a lot of folks to the front of leadership because you needed a lot of leadership” to make all of these vital ministries possible.

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