When members of San Francisco's LDS Bay Ward want to meet with the bishop, they'll call Mitch Mayne. When they want to schedule a wedding or a reunion at the Mormon meetinghouse, they'll turn to Mayne. When the bishop convenes a ward council, Mayne will be there.
On Sunday, Mayne was installed in a highly visible role as the bishop's "executive secretary," assisting the local LDS leader in virtually every task.
Mayne is openly gay a fact that has created a buzz up and down the Mormon Internet world.
He is not the first self-identified gay member to hold a key leadership position within the LDS Church's all-volunteer clergy and staffing. A Seattle ward (congregation), for example, reportedly had a gay counselor to the bishop and in Oakland, Calif., a gay man is on the stake's high council and is a temple worker.
But Mayne may be the first local LDS leader to announce his orientation over the pulpit. He also was chosen specifically to help build bridges between the Bay Area's Mormon and gay communities, a gap that was widenedby the LDS Church's overt support of Proposition 8, defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
"I was pretty shocked when the bishop [Don Fletcher] asked me," Mayne said this week. "I never expected to be in a leadership role. It is humbling, daunting and a little scary."
Expectations are high for what Mayne can achieve as an example and as a peacemaker.
"A lot of trust has been placed on me," he said. "It's important for me to live up to that trust."
Though many liberal Mormons and gay activists are heralding Mayne's appointment, it does not represent any change in LDS policy, which says it is no sin to have gay attraction, only to be sexually active outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman.
"Obviously we are not changing the standards of the church in terms of what you have to do to qualify to go to the temple or hold a church position," said Roger Carter, Mayne's LDS stake president. "There is no reason that men and women who have same-sex attraction cannot be participants in our meetings and in our congregations. They should be."
That's especially important in a city such as San Francisco, Carter explained, where three LDS units including the Bay Ward, which encompasses the gay-dominated Castro District have 2,500 members on the rolls and only 500 attending.Among those not attending, a significant number likely are gay or lesbian. Many are lifelong Mormons who have served missions, been to an LDS temple and still have firm convictions about the faith.
Mayne'snew post and visibility provideMormonism with a "tremendous opportunity,"Carter said, to show gays "they're welcome at our church."
The issue of same-sex attraction and the LDS faith is "very painful to many, many families," he said. "It affects people who are longtime members, general authorities and stake presidents and all kinds of members. We are hopeful that we can make a difference in San Francisco."
Don Fletcher, newly appointed bishop of the Bay Ward who chose Mayne, echoes that sentiment.
"I want to reach out to gays and let them know that they are welcome in the ward, wherever they're at," Fletcher said. "If they are, like Mitch, living the commandments, they'll be put to work. But everyone can get spiritual recharging and feel the savior's love by worshipping with us."
Mayne was in a committed, monogamous relationship with a man, but that ended a year ago. Since then, Mayne said, he has lived by LDS standards, and his ecclesiastical leaders found him worthy to serve.
Mayne triggered some criticism by online Mormon commenters when he wrote on his blog that he couldn't promise a "lifetime of celibacy."
"I don't have a crystal ball or psychic powers," he said in a phone interview. "I don't know where the road will lead me, but my intent is to live my life according to the savior's will, with him by my side. That's embedded in my DNA as a Mormon."
In his Aug. 21 farewell talk to the Oakland First Ward, where Mayne had attended church for a decade, he described his feelings as a gay Latter-day Saint and his optimism about his new calling.
"I am exactly as my Father in Heaven made me and exactly where he wants me to be," he told the congregation. "An ordinary man, blessed to be in an extraordinary circumstance. And a man who is willing to bring that experience to bear to help others in my situation."
A woman in the congregation apparently was upset during Mayne's speech and dragged her adolescent son out with her in protest her son wailing, "Why are we going? I don't want to go," said Jason Harris-Boundy, Mayne's friend who observed the action.
A week later, Harris-Boundy was again present to hear Mayne giving his introductory remarks in his new San Francisco ward.
After that meeting, he overheard Mayne telling an attendee, "Look, if you want to change your life, we are super-excited to help you do that. If you just want us to love you and care for you as a brother, we are super-excited to do that, too."
Apparently, Harris-Boundy said, Mayne's enthusiastic outreach has already begun.
Excerpts from speech
From Mayne's Aug. 21 speech to Oakland First Ward:
"I am a gay Latter-day Saint. I don't want pity. To pity me is to make me a victim. I want understanding. To understand me is to love me as an equal.
"I don't want tolerance. If I am tolerated, I am disliked or feared in some way. I want respect as a fellow striving child of God an equal in his eyes.
"I don't want acceptance. To accept me is to graciously grant me the favor of your company. To accept me is to marginalize me with the assumption that I am less than you. I am your peer. I am neither above you nor below you.
"I don't want judgment. My path may be different than yours, but it is a plan built for me by a power greater than any of us. To judge me is to judge the designer of that path.
"If what we truly want is for people to join with us in fellowship and worship, we would do well to remember that there is no recommend interview for sitting in these pews, and no test to take to be the recipient of our love and concern.
"Life is a journey, with our fellows as peers, each of us pressing onward on our prescribed paths, to learn the lessons that life ... intended to teach us."