In Praise of Jim Mitulski


I don’t think Jim Mitulski ever encouraged me to go into ministry. When I told Jim that I was interested in becoming a pastor, he told me to talk with Penny Nixon. Penny’s guidance was quite clear. “If there is anything else you can do and be happy, do that instead. Don’t go into ministry unless there is nothing else in life that can satisfy you.”

That was good advice.

There was nothing else in life that could satisfy me, so I quit my job, sold my house, and became a pastor.

While I don’t remember Jim directly encouraging me to become a pastor, I wouldn’t have done it without his example.  The team that Jim put together at the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco inspired me and many other would-be pastors.  Whether he intended it or not, Jim gave us an idea of what might be possible, and we wanted to follow the example that he set.

With this said, it is always a mistake to pin the success or failure of a church on one person. Great churches are the result of a community working together, and sometimes a pastor’s most important job is just to get out of the way.  But while a pastor cannot do the work of the church by him or herself, pastors do have a vitally important role in terms of inspiring the congregation, supporting its ministries, and encouraging its members to dream dreams and envision a better future.

One of Jim’s dreams was New Spirit Community Church.  An offshoot of MCC San Francisco, New Spirit was a new kind of church. It was started as partnership between three denominations: the Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Christ, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.  Jim’s dream was that the congregation of MCC San Francisco would plant a variety of churches around the Bay Area, forming new partnerships with other denominations and creating new models of how to worship together.

It was a grand vision, and with the hard work of Rev. Karen Foster and the support of MCCSF, New Spirit Community Church became a reality.

Many changes followed.  After many years as the pastor of MCCSF, Jim stepped down in order to pursue other roles: non-profit executive, denominational leader, interim pastor.  Eventually, Jim became the pastor of New Spirit Community Church, the community that he had such an important role in founding.

After a time pastoring this unique community, Jim took a position at another church.  New Spirit Community Church appointed an interim pastor.  Then, after some time had passed, New Spirit Community Church decided to close.

When a church decides to close, it is always tempting to look to its leadership for the reason.  Was it Jim Mitulski the pastor who was to blame?  Or was it Jim Mitulski the visionary, whose original dream of planting churches was somehow flawed?

Here’s what I think.  I think that every day of life that New Spirit Community Church was the result of Jim Mitulski’s vision.  Every service it held, every person it touched, every soul it inspired – I blame Jim Mitulski for that.  I am sure that he made mistakes, as every pastor does.  But I am grateful for his bold vision and passionate pursuit of that vision.

I was never a member of New Spirit Community Church, but Jim Mitulski’s pastoral leadership transformed my life.  His work, his dreams, and his example inspired me, and they still do.

Thank you, Jim.  And may God continue to open the way before you, even as you have helped open the way for so many others.

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