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Reverend Cecil Williams – Glide Memorial Church

| California Heroes | December 3, 2013

churchA New Church That No Longer Rejects Members Of Our Society

I went to every bar and flop joint I could and said, ‘I’m asking you to give yourself the opportunity to see why you belong on Earth,’ Nobody else ever said that to them, ‘you belong here.'” –Rev. Cecil Williams quoted in San Francisco Focus, July 1996

Cecil Williams was born in San Angelo, TX in 1929, the same year that Methodist philanthropist Lizzie Glide started to build Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, The fifth of six children, he was raised in the segregated South. 

As a young  boy, Cecil was nicknamed “Rev” – short for “reverend”.  Williams imagined himself a minister before hundreds of people of all colors, ages, and descriptions. Williams held on to this vision through college, then seminary.

Today, his church is San Francisco’s largest social service provider. Glide feeds 3500 people a day. It sponsors computer training for adults, runs programs for HIV and Domestic Violence, and treats substance abusers. More than 17,000 people volunteer in its programs.

As the 21st century begins, Cecil Williams envisions a new church that no longer rejects members of our society: “I want the church to be the church. And it seems to me, if it’s going to be the church, it’s got to stop turning its head away from poor folks. It’s got to stop turning its head away from black folks, from brown folks, yellow folks, red folks, poor white folks. It’s got to stop turning its head away from gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender. It’s got to stop turning its head away from children who are in desperate need. It’s got to stop turning its head away from women, who are going through all kinds of situations where empowerment is critical at this time. What I’m seriously saying is, it’s time for the church to be the church, and you always start out with those who are less fortunate, those who are in greater need. Middle class America has got to recognize that it’s got to go to the bottom to help folks help themselves.”

50 years1929: The Beginning

Methodist philanthropist Lizzie Glide purchased a parcel of land at the intersection

of Ellis and Taylor Streets in San Francisco. Construction of GLIDE Memorial United

Methodist Church was completed two years later.

19601960s: Death and Rebirth

In 1963, winds of change were blowing mightily through San Francisco. Nowhere were these forces of transformation more visible than at GLIDE Memorial United Methodist Church. That year, a young African-American minister named Cecil Williams came to GLIDE determined to bring life back into the dying congregation. Cecil changed both policies and practices of the conservative church, helping to create the Council on Religion and Homosexuality in 1964. In 1967, Cecil ordered the cross removed from the sanctuary, exhorting the congregation instead to celebrate life and living. 

“We must all be the cross,” he explained. As the conservative members of the original congregation left, they were replaced by San Francisco’s diverse communities of hippies, addicts, gays, the poor, and the marginalized. By 1968, the energetic, jazz-filled Celebrations were packed with people from all classes, hues, and lifestyles. That year, San Francisco State University erupted in protests over demands for ethnic studies and affirmative action. Cecil and the GLIDE community helped lead the demonstrations; the church became a home for political, as well as spiritual, change. GLIDE offered a safe space to groups ranging from the Hookers Convention to the American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers. In the midst of their political work, GLIDE never forgot the basic needs of the community. The meals program was launched in the 1960s, serving one free dinner a week to all comers. As a decade of clamoring change came to a close, GLIDE further added to the joyful noise: The world-renowned GLIDE Ensemble choir held its first rehearsals in 1969. And Janice Mirikitani, a noted poet and dancer, had also just been appointed Coordinator for GLIDE’s programs. The church would never be the same again.


1970s: Revolution

As the Vietnam War continued to escalate in the early 1970s, GLIDE quickly became known as the counter-culture rallying point in San Francisco. Everyone from Bill Cosby to Bill Graham to Angela Davis came to GLIDE to speak out and join in the Celebrations. KMEL and K101 radio began broadcasting GLIDE’s Sunday message throughout the Bay Area. GLIDE’s importance as a meeting grounds for all people was underlined in 1974, when Randolph Hearst turned to GLIDE to help secure the release of his daughter Patty from the Symbionese Liberation Army. Time and time again, the Bay Area came to look to GLIDE for moral guidance and spiritual sustenance. When gay activist and City Supervisor Harvey Milk was murdered by fellow Supervisor Dan White in 1978, Cecil and the GLIDE community opened their doors to the city, comforting and healing those who were frightened, grieving, and potentially violent.

photo7001980s: Troubled Times

Guided by Janice’s leadership and Cecil’s steady vision of supporting the disenfranchised, GLIDE programs increased in size and scope. The flagship Free Meals Program kicked into overdrive in 1980, feeding the hungry and homeless three times a day. From protesting the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory’s development of nuclear weapons to leading the Northern California Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Observance Committee, GLIDE walked the talk. In the mid 1980s, crack cocaine swept through the Tenderloin. African-American communities were especially hard hit. GLIDE listened to the addicts and began slowly piecing together a path towards recovery. The Generations program held its first graduation ceremony in 1987, but the good news was tempered by the rise of another devastating crisis: AIDS. Again GLIDE placed itself in the heart of the epidemic, raising AIDS awareness and creating the GLIDE-Goodlett HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and counseling program in 1989.


1990s: Building the Village

Not content to let addicts find their way to Glide, Cecil took the Facts on Crack into the housing projects. In 1990, over a thousand activists and community members accompanied Cecil into San Francisco’s Valencia Gardens. The group massed below the windows of the crime-infested housing project, with Cecil using a bullhorn to call addicts and dealers out to recovery. In 1993, Cecil celebrated 30 years at GLIDE with Bobby McFerrin, Robin Williams, Maya Angelou, and a host of other well-wishers at packed Masonic Auditorium. Janice celebrated her 30 years at GLIDE in 1995, with Dr. Maya Angelou and Brenda Wong Aoki at the San Francisco Hilton’s Ballroom. Funds raised from both benefits helped build GLIDE’s village. The church’s fame was growing, with international leaders such as President Clinton and stars like Sharon Stone and Oprah Winfrey coming to Celebrations and commending GLIDE as a model of compassionate community action. In 1997 GLIDE opened its Health Clinic. Staffed by volunteer and paid nurse practitioners, doctors, psychiatrists, and UCSF graduate nursing students, the free clinic offered advice and healing to those accustomed to being turned away from other treatment facilities. Two new buildings—the Cecil Williams GLIDE Community House and the Janice Mirikitani GLIDE Family, Youth, and Childcare Center—were opened in 1999 to fill the growing need for housing and childcare.

200s2000s: A Stronger Foundation

GLIDE entered the 21st century with a surplus of vision, enthusiasm, and hope. In one of the first major acts of 2000, Reverend Douglass Fitch was appointed pastor of GLIDE Church. Cecil had expanded his duties to become GLIDE’s CEO and Minister of National and International Ministries. Janice continued on as Executive Director and President, restructuring the church to meet the ever-evolving needs of the community. In the spring of 2000, Janice was named the Poet Laureate of San Francisco. A summer visit from the General Secretaries of the Methodist Church brought accolades for Cecil’s empowering vision and Janice’s work in building the GLIDE mission. This breakthrough meeting created a new path in GLIDE’s relationship to other Methodist churches as a national and international model.

The late 2000s brought new leadership to GLIDE. Willa Seldon took on the role of CEO of GLIDE Foundation from 2007-2010, and two new pastors Rev. Donald Guest (2006) and Rev. Karen Oliveto (2008) joined GLIDE Church. Cecil continued as Minister of Liberation and Janice as Founding President.

2010-present2010 – Present: Our Time is Now

2010 has brought both celebrations and challenges for the GLIDE community. In March of 2010, GLIDE opened the doors of its 3rd permanent supportive housing development at 149 Mason Street. Later that month, after the hard fought passage of the Healthcare reform bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to a packed GLIDE Sunday Celebration and recognized GLIDE Health Services (GHS) as a model for national healthcare. In Sepember of 2010, Rita Shimmin and Kristen Growney Yamamoto were appointed Co-Executive Directors of GLIDE.

However, a suffering economy, poverty, drug abuse, violence, and despair continue to persist in San Francisco as they do across the country. By working to combat these problems, GLIDE serves as an oasis in a desert of hopelessness, marching to the edge where victories for social justice are won. GLIDE is a place where old, destructive ways of being are thrown out and new ones created. Where names are named and love is celebrated and a simple call goes out to all races, classes, genders, ages, and sexual orientations: It’s recovery time. It’s time to love unconditionally.

Minister of Liberation Cecil William discusses the founding and future of Glide
as an organization that celebrates unconditional love and advances social justice.Cecil Williams was born in San Angelo, Texas, and in 1955 he became one of the first five African American graduates of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He became pastor at Glide in 1963, focusing not just on ministering to Methodists in the community, but also on the never ending struggle to secure justice for all, particularly for the impoverished, disenfranchised and marginalized among us. Glide has served the poor and disenfranchised for over 40 years and has been at the forefront of anti-poverty, civil rights, HIV/AIDS, recovery, gender equality, tolerance, and other battles. With diverse programs, including meals, health, family services, training and employment, recovery, supportive housing,among others Glide has been a major force for social justice.

Beyond the Possible by Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani

Rev Williams Caring Interview

Rev Cecil Williams Speaks about his mission.

logo LA times

Pastor of Vast S.F. Church Prepares for Retirement

Leadership: The Rev. Cecil Williams has headed Glide Memorial for 35 years. He’ll spend two years training a new team to take over. May 23, 1998|From Associated Press

After 35 years as the outspoken pastor of San Francisco’s venerable Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, the Rev. Cecil Williams is stepping aside to take his mission to a new level.

“I don’t call it stepping down. I call it stepping over or stepping up,” Williams said Monday. “Most people say that when they retire they can go on vacation and do things they’ve always wanted to do. Well, what I’ve always wanted to do is be a minister.”

Read more


Glide founders Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani still serving a higher purpose 50 years later

By Lou Fancher Oakland Tribune Correspondent

Glide, the famed San Francisco Methodist church named after Lizzie Glide, the wife of a wealthy cattleman who bought the lower Nob Hill property in 1929, had a 35-member, entirely-white congregation when Williams arrived in 1963. Surrounding it, was the Tenderloin: a swarming 30-block ghetto of drugs, alcohol, addiction, prostitution, homelessness and hopelessness.

“Beyond the Possible” is the remarkable story of Glide’s explosive growth from a dying church run on $35,000 per year to a $17 million dollar community organization providing celebration services, housing, health care, support groups and 2,560 free meals a day. Read more

sf gate

At Glide, uplifting the needy for 50 years – Sam Whiting

By now Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani are as joined as John and Yoko. Together they run Glide Memorial Methodist Church, and together they have written the memoir “Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change in a Community Called Glide” (HarperOne, $26.99). Recently, Williams, 84, sat down next to Mirikitani, 71, to discuss it. Read More 

Order Reverend Cecil Williams Book

51Uvw7ghJ2L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_In Beyond the Possible, Reverend Cecil Williams, one of the most well-known and provocative ministers in the United States, reflects on his fifty years creating radical social change as the head of San Francisco’s Memorial Glide Church.

Williams’ innovations, such as HIV testing during services, have drawn protest from more conservative factions within the Methodist Church, but his work in the community has drawn praise from the likes of Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffett.

Written with Glide Church founding pastor Janice Mirikitani, and with a foreword by Dave Eggers, Beyond the Possible is a book of wisdom, providing lessons that Reverend Williams has learned so that readers can learn to embrace their true selves, accept all those around them, and fully live day to day through social change as worship.


Every person can make a difference in the lives of thousands of individuals and families

Thank You Reverend Williams

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