Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco

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Glide Memorial Church is a church in San Francisco, California, affiliated with the United Methodist Church that opened in 1929. Although conservative until the 1960s, since then it has served as a counter-culture rallying point and has been one of the most prominently liberal churches in the United States. Glide is also famous for its Gospel Choir and numerous social service programs. Its contributions to the community have been recognized by such respected figures as Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Clinton; as well as Warren Buffett, who famously contributed the value of an auctioned lunch on eBay.


In 1929, Methodist philanthropist Lizzie Glide purchased a parcel of land at the intersection of Ellis and Taylor Streets in San Francisco and founded the Glide Foundation as a memorial to her millionaire cattleman husband, H.L. Glide of Sacramento. Construction of GLIDE Memorial United Methodist Church was completed two years later.


In the 1963, Rev. Cecil Williams became Pastor at Glide Memorial. Prior to him, Rev. John Moore, whose sermons on Homosexuality appeared on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, had been Pastor. In 1964, Glide helped form the Council on Religion and the Homosexual in an effort to close the gap between people of faith and the homosexual community.

Cecil Williams remained sole pastor until 1999, when Rev. Douglass Fitch was named co-Pastor. In 2000, Rev. Fitch was appointed Pastor upon Williams’ retirement and transition into the role of Glide Foundation’s CEO. Fitch remained Glide’s primary pastor until his 2007 retirement, at which time Williams was succeeded as CEO by Willa Seldon. Glide currently has two co-Pastors: the Rev. Donald Guest, who was appointed in 2007, and Rev. Karen Oliveto, who joined Glide in 2008. In early 2010, Glide announced the resignation of CEO Willa Seldon, who agreed to continue the position until a replacement is found.

In September 2010, Rita Shimmin and Kristen Growney Yamamoto were appointed Co-Executive Directors of Glide, replacing founding Executive Director Janice Mirikitani. Mirikitani, Williams’ wife, continues her role as Founding President.


Since the 1960s, Glide Church has provided various services for the poor and disenfranchised. Glide currently runs 87 various social service programs. Through their Daily Free Meals program, Glide serves three meals daily, amounting to over 750,000 free meals a year.

In 2007, Glide provided 750,000 meals per year through their community clinic, which serves more than 3,000 homeless people. They provided over 100,000 hours of licensed childcare and quality after-school programming to over 325 clients in 2007. They provided emergency supplies to 2,190 individuals in 2006. And they booked 5,707 shelter beds and helped 120 homeless persons move into permanent housing in 2007. According to their website, Glide’s daily Free Meals program served 934,000 meals in 2009.

The church also provides HIV testing, mental and primary health care, women's programs, crisis intervention, an after-school program, creative arts and mentoring for youth, literacy classes, computer training, job skills training, drug and alcohol recovery programs, free legal services for the homeless, housing with case management, and much more. In 2009, The Glide Foundation was rated a Top Non-Profit Organization by


Glide Ensemble

Glide is widely known for the Glide Ensemble, their Gospel Choir that currently maintains about 100 members. The Glide Ensemble choir held its first rehearsals in 1969 and has been an integral part of Sunday Celebrations ever since. Directed by John F. Turk Jr. and Ron Sutherland and backed by a full band called the Change Band, the choir groups perform every Sunday at Glide’s 9am and 11am Sunday Celebrations Every Sunday’s celebration is available on CD and DVD from the church’s website and at the church itself. Revenue from this source helps the church fund its many charitable programs. The ensemble holds open auditions for the Ensemble every Wednesday at 6:30pm in Room 206 of the church, with rehearsals beginning at 7pm. In 2005, SF Weekly named the Glide Ensemble and Change Band “Best Gospel” in their annual “Best Of San Francisco” awards.


The Glide Ensemble and Change Band have released 9 albums since 1991, which are sold on the first level of the church. All proceeds help fund Glide Foundation’s various social service programs.

  • John Turk's 30th Anniversary Concert (2010)
  • The Real Sounds of the GLIDE Ensemble: Special Edition Anthology [4 CDs]
  • Wings of Song: A Spiritual Flight (2009)
  • Holidays with Real Soul (2007)
  • A Salute to Ron Sutherland (2004)
  • The Sounds of Hope (2001)
  • Love to Give (1997)
  • Coming Home to the Spirit (1994)
  • Touch the Spirit (1991)

Podcasts of every Sunday celebration are available on Glide’s website.

Youth and Children’s Choirs

GLIDE Ensemble Member Errin Mixon leads a choir of teens and young adults that rehearses once a week and performs at services once a month. GLIDE also runs a choir for Elementary school children, directed by Classy Martin. The Children’s Choir sings during Sunday Celebrations several times a year.


Largely through the actions of its long-time Pastor Cecil Williams, Glide has become known for its often-controversial views on issues such as same sex marriage. Since Williams became Pastor in 1963, Glide has been called the best-known pulpit in Northern California. Some of Williams’ controversial actions have included:

  • Performing Same-Sex Marriages very early on, even though the United Methodist Church was far from sanctioning them. The United Methodist Church, the Protestant denomination of Christianity with which Glide is affiliated, currently does not allow its Ministers to perform Same-Sex Marriages.
  • Removing the Cross inside the Sanctuary at Glide.
  • Helping form the Council on Religion and Homosexuality in 1964
  • Accepting City subsidies for Glide’s charitable work. Seen by some critics as a violation of the separation of Church and State, Glide first started getting city subsidies for its meals program in 1981. The individual contributions that flow into Glide on Sundays account for a relatively small portion of the budget -- less than $640,000 of the foundation's $8.5 million in revenue during 2002, the most recent year for which a financial audit was available.

Glide also obtains funding from other various fundraising activities such as their Annual Holiday Festival.

Pop Culture References

  • The 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith and his son Jaden, depicted the real life rags-to-riches story of Chris Gardner and his son. Once homeless, they turned to Glide's services for support to help them get back on their feet. Cecil Williams and his wife Janice Mirikitani, the leaders of the church's services for over 40 years, can be seen briefly in the movie as can a number of homeless people employed as extras.
  • In May 2007, the ensemble was featured on the American late night show ‘’Late Night with Conan O'Brien’’.
  • The church is referred to in Emmett Grogan's book, "Ringolevio: A Life Played For Keeps", as the location for The Invisible Circus, an all night party held by the Diggers theatre group.

See also

  • Glide Foundation
  • LGBT-affirming churches

External links