Glide Memorial Rallies Against Outside Takeover

The United Methodist Church is stripping Glide of its pastors, but a City Hall rally Thursday showed Glide has friends in high places.

Joe Kukura, SF Weekly

A power struggle between Glide Memorial Church and the United Methodist Church hierarchy is threatening the future of San Francisco’s most popular religious institution. Church authorities have stripped Glide of its clergy, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, but nearly 400 people turned out Thursday at City Hall to stand with Glide and protest what they see as a hostile takeover of Glide Memorial.

United Methodist Church officials have reassigned Glide’s two current pastors, Rev. Theon Johnson III and Rev. Angela Brown, and is not allowing Glide to choose their replacements. Instead, the bishop who oversees this region is creating a “task force” to reevaluate Glide and its Glide Foundation charity organization, and the congregation fears this means a more conservative, less compassionate version of Glide.

“This is just the beginning,” Glide’s legendary Rev. Cecil Williams vowed at the rally. (Williams is retired, but remains at Glide as a pastor emeritus.) “We at Glide believe very strongly in being human, and being loving, and being strong, and being courageous, and being able to stand up, and being able go on and to make sure that something continues in our lives that will give meaning to us.”

The unity rally drew a who’s who of City Hall power brokers, with Mayor-elect London Breed, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Sup, Hillary Ronen, Sup. Ahsha Safai, and many other city officials who underscored that Glide is well-connected and prepared to defend its radically inclusive philosophy.

Breed addressed the audience to a chorus of amens and hallelujahs. “We need Glide more than ever. We cannot survive in this city without Glide,” she said. “We will not lose Glide.”

 

Spearhead frontman Michael Franti was on hand to play a number and join the crowd in singing “Lean On Me” and “We Shall Overcome.” Just like Glide church services are loud, raucous, and full of music, so was this unity rally.

“We had one day off from our tour and I said, I gotta be here,” Franti said.

United Methodist Church (UMC) officials are not commenting on why they’ve reassigned the pastors, or why Glide is not allowed to hire its choice of new pastors. But parishioners feel its an attempt to undermine Glide’s focus on providing homeless services, free meals, and health care programs.

“This isn’t just about reassignment of pastors,” Glide Foundation CEO and President Karen Hanrahan told the crowd. “This is about a bishop with a fundamentally different vision for Glide, a vision that does not align with Glide’s values or our legacy in this city, a vision that is rooted in exclusion.”

“Glide Church would become just another notch in the UMC Regional Conference,” Hanrahan said. “We say no.”

The removal of Glide’s pastors takes effect on July 1, which makes Sunday’s 9 a.m. celebration possibly the last service that Glide’s chosen clergy will preside over. Following that service, the Glide contingent will head out to march in the Pride parade. 

That’s appropriate, since Rev. Cecil Williams was performing same-sex marriages at Glide Memorial since back in the 1960s. But if the Methodist bureaucracy changes Glide’s direction, the church might not be blazing many more trails.

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