Noe Valley Voice April 2013

The Story of Glide Told in a Memoir

By Corrie M. Anders

The Rev. Cecil Williams and his poet wife Janice Mirikitani, our esteemed neighbors up in Diamond Heights, have published a memoir about their five decades at the helm of Glide Memorial Church: Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change in a Community Called Glide. On Wednesday, April 10, they will appear at the San Francisco Main Library to talk about the book, which was released in February by HarperOne.

The 240-page hardcover tells the contemporary story of Glide, starting in 1963 when the Methodist Church hierarchy asked a Texas minister to take over a church in San Francisco with a dwindling congregation. The church was located in “a filthy, seedy, crime-ridden hellhole” in a neighborhood known as the Tenderloin, and church leaders warned the new pastor they would close Glide if its membership didn’t rebound.

When Williams arrived, the congregation was down to 35 members, many of whom were reluctant to accept an African American pastor spouting what they considered radical ideas. Williams writes that he was stunned as church members stood and walked out the door each time he delivered his Sunday sermon.

Williams’ message of unconditional love, however, resonated among the area’s poor and disenfranchised—its drug addicts, prostitutes, and gay runaways.

Williams, now 83, and Mirikitani, 72, brought a new spirit of inclusiveness to their house of worship—one that added jazz and blues to the church celebration and embraced civil rights and social activism.

Mirikitani, daughter of Japanese-American parents who worked on a Petaluma chicken farm, called herself an atheist when she first showed up at Glide in 1964 looking for a job. She was hired as a typist, then began organizing programs. Eventually she rose to the position of executive director of Glide. In 1982, she and Williams were married.

Over the years, celebrities like singer Marvin Gaye, comedian Bill Cosby, and actress Sharon Stone helped promote Glide and its inner-city programs. Last year, business tycoon Warren Buffet raised nearly $3.5 million for the church by auctioning himself off as a lunch date.

Glide’s food program has won world fame. The church, which started with a potluck dinner for 50 in the late 1960s, now serves one million meals a year. It also attracts some 2,000 visitors to services each Sunday in the upstairs sanctuary at 330 Ellis St.

Former District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty will preside over the Williams and Mirikitani event, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Main Library’s Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St.

Beyond the Possible can be found in Noe Valley at Phoenix Books, 3957 24th St., and in Glen Park at Bird & Beckett Books, 653 Chenery St.