1960s: 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.
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