SAN FRANCISCO – Rev. Jim Mitulski bid a fond farewell Sunday to his Protestant congregation at the Metropolitan Community Church, a place in the heart of the city’s predominantly gay Castro District where locals flock to hear sermons of compassion.
Mitulski, who has built a national reputation by speaking out for tolerance and acceptance for gay and lesbian communities, says it is time for a change of pace.
“I’m committed to continue to do AIDS work, but I need a change of scenery,” Mitulski said. “I don’t want my life to be defined by the grief I feel for having lived through those years.”
Mitulski grieved for many of those who filled his pews and later succumbed to AIDS. Despite the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and early 1990s, the church’s congregation grew from 100 to 500.
Mitulski himself is HIV positive. He has conducted more than 500 funerals and almost as many gay wedding celebrations in his years at the San Francisco church.
It is those many funerals that Mitulski wants to put behind him
“Now that we’ve moved through the difficulty of the AIDS years, I have to get away from the sad memories,” Mitulski said.
The Metropolitan Community Church has been through tumultuous times as the San Francisco community and the nation grappled for a way to deal with bias against gays. The church was firebombed twice, but reopened its doors with the help of Mitulski and others.
In the mid-1990s, AIDS patients could drop by the church and get marijuana which many claim helps alleviate pain. Mitulski personally handed the drug out from the altar.
Several nonprofit groups have headquartered their operations at the church, which also provides support and counseling for gays and lesbians each day of the week.
Mitulski will take a job as program coordinator for the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at San Francisco’s Main Library, which houses tomes of literature for gay and lesbian history.
San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano applauded Mitulski’s history of work at the church.
“He withstood the test of time,” Ammiano, who is openly gay, said. “For gay people particularly, there has always been a large mistrust of organized religion. I’ve always found him understanding of that. He’s been very beneficial to the gay community. We’re going to miss him.”
Mitulski gave his three final sermons Sunday.