Executive Director of HIV/AIDS non-profit

photo of man in Got HIV? T shirtJohn Merz

Executive Director

Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition

M.Div., 1986

MBA, UConn


I didn’t realize why God called me to YDS in the fall of 1983 until after I graduated. My decision to attend YDS was not a rational one it was a leap of faith and an answer to God’s prompting. I hadn’t planned on going to seminary; I didn’t compare and contrast the variety of seminaries on paper before applying to YDS nor did I even visit any. In fact, the first time I saw the YDS campus was the day I arrived with my newly-minted BA in Social Work and all my earthly belongings (which fit into the back of a station wagon).


Even though I was not fully “out” to myself or others as a gay man, I knew deep down that going into parish ministry would be too risky – I couldn’t have my financial health tied to a homophobic institution. I had no idea why I was in seminary so I would shrug my shoulders and say that I was being called into specialized ministry “yet to be determined”.  I came out during my first semester. During my second year, I needed to select a (financial aid) work-study position. I didn’t want to scrape food off plates in the refectory or sort books in the library and an advisor suggested that I work as a volunteer at a newly formed organization called AIDS Project New Haven. I hadn’t heard about AIDS before then…but it was the perfect fit for a gay man who wanted desperately to find a way to combine his deep faith, his passion for social work, and his sexuality all into one calling.


Since that time (25+ years ago!) I have had only 3 jobs. All of them in the field of HIV/AIDS. I was even ordained to this calling of HIV/AIDS ministry as “specialized clergy.” Now I am a parish associate, guest preacher, denomination committee member, mission trip chaperone, and YDS intern supervisor. I am a father and husband; I have a daughter and husband. And I receive my paycheck from an organization that actually values gays and lesbians. I have the best of both worlds. Even though I didn’t have a plan for my future ministry when I entered seminary, it is now abundantly clear that God did.