Hello Meltingpot Readers,
How many of you have ever heard of the Glide Memorial Methodist Church ? Apparently it’s an incredibly famous progressive Methodist church in the ‘crime ridden’ Tenderloin district of San Francisco and on any given Sunday their sanctuary is filled with the neighborhood’s most down-trodden alongside social activist celebrities like Bono and Danny Glover.
Perhaps it is because I’m from the midwest and have lived on the East Coast for the last twenty years that I’ve never heard of Glide Church and the amazing work they’ve done over the last five decades, so I probably wouldn’t have picked up the new book by the husband and wife team — Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani — who lead the church. Thankfully, I was asked to review Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change as part of a TLC book tour because it was the perfect meltingpot read.
So, for starters, I was intrigued by Glide’s leadership team, a Black man who grew up in a very segregated West Texas town and his wife, a Japanese American, whose earliest memories include the nightmare of being locked up in an internment camp during World War II with her family. Even though the book centers mostly on Glide’s radical acts of social change — like creating substance abuse programs and HIV testing at the church –there is also a fair amount of autobiography from Williams and Mirikitani, both of whom have had personal lives dramatic enough to fill the pages of a full-on memoir. (As it turns out, Williams has penned an autobiography already and Mirikitani has published several volumes of poetry.)
But both Williams and Mirikitani seem to want to keep the focus — in real life and in the book — on the church. Originally founded in 1929, the Glide church had dwindled down to 35 White members by the time Williams arrived to be the new minister in 1963. He surveyed the poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Tenderloin district, where the well-maintained church had become the last vestige of the area’s former wealth and decided it was the perfect place to turn his childhood dream — of being the minister of a multicultural congregation where all people would be welcome — into a reality. And when Williams said ‘all’ people he meant, “the nobodies, the scrubs, the outcasts, the disenfranchised.” Needless to say, it wasn’t easy, but Williams never gave up.
Told in alternating chapters by Williams and Mirikitani, the book describes the highs and lows of the church’s transformation from a traditional Methodist church to an international symbol of social justice, love and compassion for all of God’s creatures. Celebrating some of the church’s greatest triumphs, the book reads almost like a highlights reel of San Francisco’s social justice history. From the crack epidemic in Black neighborhoods to police brutality in the LGBTQ community, Glide church was there making a difference. And not by holding prayer vigils or by sending money to a worthy cause, but by standing hand in hand with the afflicted and abused and being the agents of change. Clearly they’re doing something right, as today Glide has eleven thousand members and is still one of the fastest-growing churches in the international United Methodist Church community.
By the end of the book, I was ready to book a flight to San Francisco so I could see the Glide church in action. I want to experience one of their legendary Sunday celebration services that Dave Eggers writes about in the book’s forward. I would also love to meet Cecil and Janice as well, as they both come off in the book as incredibly sincere and passionate individuals who have remained committed to their principals and beliefs after all these years. Not perfect, just passionate.
This book makes a great read if you’re looking for inspiration or validation that one person can make a difference. As Williams said to those who doubted his vision, ” We can build this! It may sound crazy, and there isn’t enough money, but this is the beloved community! Our reality is beyond the possible!” Amen.