There's a new pastor in town, and boy, has he seen his share of hell.

Sitting across from me at Starbucks, decked out in sneakers, T-shirt and bed-head, Wes Mullins looks like your average Pearl-diver. But just weeks ago, he moved here from a small West Texas town to become first assistant pastor at the Portland outlet for the largest queer-affirming church in the world—the Metropolitan Community Church. This queer dude looks (and acts) like anything but a man of the cloth.

"I knew I was gay in seventh grade," says the twangy, 25-year-old preacher boy. Now, coming to that realization in a tiny town like Clinton, Tenn., tucked halfway between Dollywood and Oak Ridge (home of the Manhattan Project and where Mullins' poppa still tests atomic bombs to make sure they have the capacity to blow up), was a big no-no. In fact, it's a sure ticket to "h-e-double-toothpicks." And that's where the fundamentalist Christian-raised tyke thought he'd end up.

"I was going straight to hell," says Mullins.

That's why, at the ripe age of 16, he joined forces with the ex-gay movement that claims to "cure" queers of their homosexuality. For several years, in ex-gay groups like "True Hope...For the Best Alternative," Mullins tried to "fix" himself and get his "demons" out of his spirit. "I was interrogated a lot," he says about those troubled times.

During his college years, with the help of one particularly monkish mentor, he came to realize he wasn't about to change. When he gave into the reality that he was gay, he also gave up on God. Well, at least the god he was raised with.

But after six months god-free, Mullins decided to give the big guy one more chance. "The 'God' of my family died, and was replaced by a more true God," says Mullins. And that's when he joined a Texas seminary. It was during his stint at Abilene Christian University that Mullins' faith was really tested.

Here Mullins met his partner, Jason O'Neill, when he attended his very first MCC service in Abilene. When things got serious and the two men decided to have a holy union, the seminary gave Mullins the boot.

"They said I could date and even mess around with guys," says Mullins about the seminary's unorthodox "don't ask, don't pray" policy. "But if we got married, then they would have to assume we were having sex."

Which brings the good reverend's story to P-town. After meeting Portland's queer spiritual leader, MCC Rev. Glenna Shepherd (in a hotel sauna in Calgary, Alberta, of all places), Mullins and O'Neill hightailed it to Oregon. At MCC, Mullins oversees a worship service geared for young adults, called Elevation, which comes with its own (and supposedly this country's only) queer Christian rock band.

He's only just started, but he seems to be having the time of his life—and "life" is what it's all about. "I've come to realize that God is as fake, or as real, as the way you're living. You have to be true to yourself, no matter what that means."

Amen, preacher boy, amen.

Metropolitan Community Church of Portland is located at 2400 NE Broadway, 281-8868. Elevation services at 6 pm every Sunday.