|Dressed in “blankets with sleeves” for Grand Duke Patrick Noonan’s San Francisco Night Ministries “Snuggie Up” fundraiser at The Mix, Omar Acosta and Zac Berlik rest their heads on columnist Pollo Del Mar’s dirty pillows.
Notorious Sainted Glamazon About Town
“God has committed to the San Francisco Night Ministry one of the most needy and poignant congregations in the city. The lonely. The frightened. The confused and discouraged. The defeated. The spiritually lost. And all too often, those whose public suffering is exceeded only by their private hell. In a busy and sophisticated city, it is often difficult to see them. Terminally ignored by the successful workaday world, they often find anonymity, appearing only at night. Before long, they simply seem to fall through the cracks of an otherwise caring society.”
The first time I heard of San Francisco Night Ministries, I cannot lie. I was suspicious. While I know many people take comfort in religion, there has always been something about it that makes me feel a little uneasy.
Though I was personally spared the kind of torturous religious upbringings shared by so many I know, seeing the guilt, self-loathing and emotional obstacles those experiences instilled in some of my closest friends has left a mark on me. And, even being free of any formal church connections of my own, I am obviously privy to what so many schools of faith have to say about me – about us – the gays. To be blunt, it has left a bad taste in my mouth.
So when I was first introduced to the San Francisco Night Ministry in Fall 2008, I had strong reservations. The Grand Ducal Council of San Francisco was sponsoring an event for the Ministry’s Reverend Lyle Beckman at the Metro (now Blackbird), and I was asked to host. Out of courtesy and support for the Ducal Council and then-reigning Grand Duchess Big D, for whom I have strong affection, I accepted. Still, it seemed so…odd…to me that an LGBT group would hold a fundraiser for such an organization.
Then again, that was before I met Rev. Lyle or knew anything about the Night Ministry’s mission and work. Now nearly two years later, I fully understand.
Founded in 1962, the San Francisco Night Ministry’s trained lay volunteers have tended to the spirituals and resource needs of the City’s less fortunate for nearly four decades. Since our first meeting, I have quite often seen Rev. Lyle and Night Ministry Fellow Rev. Diana Wheeler doing what they do best while I am out on the town.
Whether it’s at any number of Ducal Council events, charity fundraisers or during late-night dining adventures to Orphan Andy’s, our paths have frequently crossed. At first this, too, confused me. What would people of the cloth be doing in gay bars until close or at diners at 3 a.m.?
It was much later that I realized that this was exactly the mission of San Francisco Night Ministry. Every night of the week between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., Rev. Lyle and his team roam the streets, meeting people and providing invaluable service – whether that is counseling, spiritual guidance, referrals, crisis inventions or simply an ear willing to listen – to our most isolated, neediest and oftentimes most desperate populace. They are friendly, nonjudmental faces to the homeless, the drunk, the addicted, the misunderstood and the suffering.
Night Minister Rev. Lyle, Associate Night Minister Rev. Thom Longino, and Night Ministry Fellows Rev. Diana, Rev. Monique Ortiz and Rev. Valerie McEntee make certain an ordained minister is literally on the streets seven nights a week. In addition, Night Ministry runs a late-night crisis hotline 365 days-a-year. The interdenominational nonprofit’s shoestring operations budget is based entirely on contributions from area churches, congregations, individuals and a family foundation – as well as fundraisers organized largely by the LGBT community.
On Sun., Jan. 10, I hosted one such event, Grand Duke Patrick Noonan’s “Snuggie Up” fundraiser and blanket drive at The Mix. With performances by Grand Duchess XXIII & XXXIV Renita Valdez, my Mary-Go-Round compatriot Cookie Dough, Tweaka Turner and Ana Mae Cox, as well as raffles, jello shots and a beer bust to benefit the cause, the Grand Ducal Council of San Francisco raised more than $900 for the Ministry – not to mention the untold number of new and gently-used blankets and Snuggies donated. Of the generosity shown, Rev. Diana told the jam-packed audience, “Each of those blankets means someone on the streets won’t be cold tonight.”
Meanwhile, even as I write this at 11 p.m., with rain pouring down outside, Rev. Lyle and his fellows are on the streets, unselfishly fulfilling the Ministry’s mission. One night as you’re leaving the club, exiting the Castro Theatre, roaming the Polk or heading home from dinner, perhaps you’ll see this distinguished looking man with his thick crop of white hair and his obvious clerical attire walking next to you.
“There are some people who are just a little bit shocked, because they don’t think we belong there at all, that it’s not a place for religious people or upstanding people,” Rev. Lyle says of the Ministry’s practice of immersing itself in the City’s nightlife. In a video on the Night Ministry’s website, he disagrees whole-heartedly.
“This is exactly where we should be, where people are,” Rev. Lyle shares, “And that’s where you’re going to find us: in the bars, on the streets, in coffee shops. Wherever people are between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., we’ll be there.”
For the Night Ministry, their word is the gospel. And, strangely, it is a kind of religion I have no trouble taking comfort in at all.
The San Francisco Night Ministry Hotline number is (415) 441-0123.
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