Pursuing a Calling Along a Winding Road
By Rick Mixon ’69
Rick Mixon ’69
makes himself at home with his new Ohio congregation.
In September 1965, I boarded a train in Boise, Idaho, bound for
New York City and Columbia. I rode with a half-dozen other boys,
all recruited by legendary Columbian Gideon Oppenheimer ’47,
’49L. We were full of life and excited by the prospects of
college and life in the big city. Along with the new metal trunk
that held most of my meager worldly possessions, I carried a secret.
I had known for some time, maybe all my conscious life, that I was
attracted to males.
There was little or no language for such thoughts and feelings
in the environment in which I grew up. Boise of the late ’50s
and ’60s was culturally conservative and was trying to live
down the taint of the “Boys of Boise” scandal, in which
it had been alleged but never proven that a group of prominent community
men had engaged in sexual activity with high school boys. Not a
good time or place to grow up gay.
In addition, my sense of self was complicated by having been born
and raised in the church. My father was a Baptist preacher from
Louisiana who served churches in Kansas, California and Idaho before
his death at 47, when I was 17. Early on, I had a sense that I,
too, was called to ministry, but, being a teenager at the time of
his death left me confused about my place in the world. Even before
I entered college, my mother had me on mailing lists for a number
of seminaries so I could finish my father’s work. With a young
person’s natural tendency to reach for independence, in addition
to my personal circumstances, I decided that entering the ministry
was the last thing I would do.
Though I did not “come out” during my college years,
I did discover a wider world of cultural diversity and was challenged
to think in ways I had never imagined possible. Not a particularly
distinguished student, I sometimes say I majored in glee club and
New York City. Whatever the venue, these were years of tremendous
learning for me, and more of that happened in the classroom than
I realized at the time. By senior year, I was on my fourth major
and realizing that I had neglected to prepare myself for graduate
school or a career. What I did know was — my anti-ministerial
stance notwithstanding — whenever I chose a paper topic, I
invariably turned to issues related to theology, faith, Christian
ethics and the church. It was in my blood more than I knew.
In my senior year, I gave in to the inevitable and attended a
“weekend on the ministry” at Crozer Seminary (Martin
Luther King Jr.’s alma mater), which was then located in the
Philadelphia area. I discovered that intellectual inquiry and challenging
social and cultural analysis were going on in these hallowed halls
right alongside the study of theology, church history and the Bible.
I was thrilled to imagine that seminary really might be for me.
Even with the modern gay movement unfolding in the Village, I knew
I wanted to be in the San Francisco Bay area, so I moved to Berkeley
and entered the American Baptist Seminary of the West. Naïve
at the time, I gave little consideration to the conflict between
pursuing this career and my emerging sexuality. I split them into
separate compartments and kept the door between the compartments
under lock and key.
I flourished in seminary, serving as student representative to
the Board of Trustees and student body president. I was one of a
handful of students who really wanted to pursue parish ministry
in 1969, when many students were enrolling in theological training
to avoid the draft and to pursue “alternate ministries”
such as counseling and social work. In the middle of my time at
seminary, I served for 15 months as a full-time intern at the First
Baptist Church of Seattle. There, I met my first gay friends, and
the door between my carefully separated “compartments”
began to creak open. I realized that I might be able to integrate
my sexuality with the rest of my life, but it seemed obvious that
this would not happen in the American Baptist Churches of the early
1970s. I announced that I would finish seminary but I would not
pursue ministry as a profession. I used the old excuse that I questioned
whether ministry was really my calling or something being imposed
on me by family expectations as well as unresolved feelings about
father’s early death.
After I graduated from seminary and had spent some time exploring
theater as an alternate career, I made a solitary car trip from
Berkeley to Boise to visit family, to Seattle to visit friends,
and back to Berkeley. It was on that journey that I realized I was
running away from my call to ministry. One of my classmates had
been the first openly gay person ordained in the United Church of
Christ. Given what I had learned in seminary about the need for
trust in sustaining faith communities, it seemed fundamentally wrong
to lead such a community without being honest about my full identity.
Also, I knew I had not been given the “gift of celibacy”
and believed it would be absurd to try to hide what would become
my most important human relationship from any faith community I
In fall 1973, I approached the pastor of the Lakeshore Avenue
Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif., where I had worked as a seminarian
and was a member, and asked to be ordained by that congregation.
I had chosen this church and its pastor because they had consistently
preached and practiced inclusivity through the years and were significantly
integrated racially. The pastor greeted me warmly until I added
that I wanted to pursue ordination as an openly gay man, news that
was met with some consternation.
I had chosen well. Despite some initial reluctance to take on
this battle, the pastor and the congregation eventually saw it as
the logical consequence of everything they believed in and stood
for. For the next 23 years, this congregation (though not unanimously)
supported my call to ministry and on three occasions presented my
name to a regional ordination council, American Baptist Churches
of the West. Each time, the congregation’s desire to ordain
me was rebuffed by the region on narrow votes. In the last such
vote in 1995, I received a majority, but the rules had been amended
to require a two-thirds majority, which I barely missed.
At that point, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church decided to proceed
with ordination at the local level. (In Baptist polity, it is technically
the local congregation that is the ordaining body.) On a hot June
Sunday — San Francisco Gay Pride Day — in 1996, I was
ordained. The decision of Lakeshore Church was supported in various
ways by another 25 Baptist congregations from around the country,
making it more than a local ordination in significant ways. As far
as I know, I was the first openly gay Baptist to be ordained (though,
with the great diversity within Baptist circles, it is difficult
Though ordained, opportunities to serve were few and far between.
While pursuing my calling through the many years, I needed to support
myself, so I obtained a master’s in counseling from California
State University-Hayward and a California state marriage and family
therapist license in 1991. I earned my Ph.D. in religion and psychology
from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley in 1995. While persisting
in my struggle to become ordained, remaining an active member of
Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, I supported myself as a therapist,
administrator and professor.
It was not until 2000 that I was called as interim pastor of Dolores
Street Baptist Church in San Francisco, where I served for 13 months.
In March 2004, I packed up my belongings and left the Bay Area after
35 years to assume the interim pastorate of the First Baptist Church
of Granville, Ohio.
Mine is one story in a growing movement that seeks fair treatment
for sexual minorities. I helped to found American Baptists Concerned
in 1973 (the “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex,
queer, questioning and allies” movement within the American
Baptist Churches/USA), and I served as co-chair and staff person
of the group for many years. That group spun off the Association
of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, an organization of more than
50 congregations that formally identify themselves as being welcoming
to and affirming of persons with a range of sexual identities.
Though it has been a long and winding road, my current work has
substantiated for me the rightness of my call to ministry, the one
I felt so long ago, with which I struggled personally, and which
became such a hotbed of controversy within my denomination. Still,
it seems to me that when God calls, God also makes a way.
Randle R. (Rick) Mixon Jr. ’69, after
graduation, lived for 35 years in Berkeley and Oakland before becoming
interim pastor of First Baptist Church in Granville, Ohio, in March
2004. In the intervening years, he was a psychotherapist and adjunct
faculty at Holy Names College (Oakland), Pacific School of Religion
(Berkeley) and Saybrook Graduate School in Humanistic Psychology
(San Francisco.) He makes music as a member of the Denison University
Concert Choir, the San Francisco Bach Choir and the San Francisco