Reverend Lewis Durham, Reverend Ted McIlvenna, and the Glide Urban Center

Bishop Donald Tippett was responsible for another watershed moment for the Glide Foundation and Glide Memorial Church. As the Glide Evangelistic Training School grew over the years it morphed into the Glide Training School for Christian Workers. In 1962, Tippett, as a member of the Board of Trustees School Committee, which oversaw all aspects of Glide’s educational program, tapped Lewis E. Durham to serve as the school’s first Program Director. This move was part of a major restructuring of Board of Trustees committees, narrowing them down to just three: Program Committee, Business Management Committee, and Budget Committee, all responsible for reporting to the Board of Trustees Executive Committee. 98

Lewis E. Durham, as Program Director, introduced changes to the Glide Foundation and Glide Memorial Church that would have lasting and far-reaching effects in the areas of theology and social justice.  Durham was born in Flint, Michigan in 1926.99 His family moved to Southern California when he was young. After serving in the Navy, Durham attended seminary at the University of Southern California. His foray into religious service began at the Westwood Methodist Church near UCLA, where he worked with youth under the direction of Rev. Ray Ragsdale.100 He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to take a position with the General Board of Education with the Methodist Church. Working with the interdenominational National Youth Organization, Durham focused on issues related to young adults. He soon discovered that the church was “doing a miserable job” of connecting with young people.101

Durham paints a picture of young-adult church groups throughout the country in the 1950s as a “kind of pathetic” collection of apathetic and wayward young men and women generally only interested in finding a mate.102 He considered the situation particularly alarming as census data predicted a huge increase of young people in the 1960s thanks to the post-World War II baby boom.

[We] were trying hard to hear what the young adults were saying and what they were saying [was that the existing church youth programs] didn’t have any meaning for them…. We [the church] did not have the answers…so there was a kind of humbleness about our approach: You tell us what the [issues are] and what needs to be done and we’ll go from there. But we have to be educated first.103

Consequently, Durham worked with the Methodist Church to form a task force focused on young adults, sponsored by the interdenominational National Council of Churches. As head of the task force, Durham spent a year (c. 1960) visiting churches in San Antonio, New York, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. One of the questions he asked young people around the country was (paraphrasing): “If you could live anywhere, where would it be?” Many of them answered “San Francisco.”104 San Francisco was a draw for young adults, Durham believed, because it had a “reputation of being a free wheeling, sophisticated, cultural center … [I]t was the place to be if you wanted to be somebody. And you had freedom, it was free. San Francisco didn’t have that kind of mean, grungy reputation [that New York had at the time].”105

One of the results of Durham’s work with the young adult task force was the development of an ecumenical committee focused on young adults in San Francisco. Around 1962, Ted McIlvenna, a pastor in the East Bay, was tapped to lead the committee and “explore the young adult world.”106

Also in 1962, toward the end of this tenure as head of the Methodist young adult task force in Nashville, Durham learned of a position opening at the Glide Foundation: Program Director of the Glide Training School for Christian Workers (later known as the Glide Urban Center). He learned of the position through his friend, Bishop Donald Tippett, who shared an important insight into Glide’s situation at the time: The Glide Foundation had a 6-million-dollar endowment, an income of about $400,000 a year, and no church programs. Durham said: “[We] had money and a kind of sick little congregation and that was it…. [The possibilities were] wide open, just a wide open field. One of those rare lifetime opportunities you get.”107 The Board of Trustees offered Durham the position in February 1962. Ted McIlvenna was brought on board soon thereafter.

Rev. Dr. Robert Theodore “Ted” McIlvenna was born on March 15, 1932, in Epping, New Hampshire.108 His father was a Methodist minister. McIlvenna graduated from Willamette University in Oregon in 1954 with a B.A. degree in sociology and philosophy. After a year at the Garrett–Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, he traveled to Europe to study theology and philosophy of religion at the University of Edinburgh and University of Florence. McIlvenna returned to the U.S. in 1957 and obtained certification for ordination as a Methodist minister at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. The following year he became the pastor of Wesley Methodist Church in Hayward, California. After joining Glide in 1962, McIlvenna left in late 1965 or early 1966 to serve as Director of Project Development for the Methodist Church’s National Young Adult Project in Nashville, Tennessee. After about a year in Nashville, McIlvenna wanted to return to Glide.109 The Board of Trustees approved his rehiring in September 1966, and McIlvenna was back at Glide in March 1967.110

Durham and McIlvenna were an enormously influential duo at Glide, in part because they shared a common missionary theology, something they both referred to as “enabling.” It was a humble approach, essentially deriving from their belief that community members, not the church, were the experts on a community’s strengths and weaknesses. The church’s role, according to the pair, was to be educated by the community, and then provide the tools the community needed to address the issues.111 “[Our role] was to endorse people, to validate them, not to judge them,” Durham said.

Another reason for Durham’s and McIlvenna’s success at the Glide Urban Center was that they were bolstered by a progressive and supportive Board of Trustees, as noted earlier, under the leadership of Bishop Donald Tippett. The board adopted the role of a protective big brother to staff of the Glide Urban Center, as Durham notes:

If members of the staff were to be free to move in the city, they needed [the board to] endorse and protect them, even to the point of taking upon themselves hostilities which [Glide’s] experimental ministries had provoked.112

Another factor in the success of the Glide Urban Center was that Lewis Durham was a master intermediary between the board and the needs of the organization he oversaw:

I spent a lot of time with the board. I did a lot of stroking and educating and I knew that the Bishop would back me as long as I kept him informed. [Bishop Tippett] didn’t like to be surprised…. So I’d call him in the middle of the night to let him know there’s going to be something happening. He was an old war horse…a fighter…a great supporter.113

The earliest work of the Glide Urban Center was supported by Glide Memorial Church’s pastor at the time, John Moore, whom Durham described as “brave…willing to take a risk…[and stick] his neck out.”114