Friday, November 6, 2009

Missions: A Bridge to the Non-Church

Time Magazine , Friday, Oct. 20, 1967

Before Michigan Governor George Romney undertook a tour of the San Francisco slums recently, he first stopped for an indoctrination lecture at the Glide Memorial Methodist Church. When a much-liked cop in the city resigned, it was the Glide Foundation that gave him a farewell party—and more than 6,000 persons, ranging from the mayor to a motorcycle gang, showed up to celebrate. Almost any time a San Francisco derelict needs a handout, a prostitute needs an encouraging word, a busted hippie needs a pad, they can count on help from Glide.

Now 38 years old, the Glide Foundation is probably the nation's most successful and adventurous mission church. Part of its success stems from the fact that it has the money to make its missions work: the church has an annual income of $350,000, the bulk of it from the estate of Lizzie Glide, a devout widow of an oil tycoon, who left $1,000,000 to the church in 1936. Once a sedate, middle-class parish, Glide gradually lost much of its original white membership with the coincidental decay of its surrounding neighborhood. Four years ago, when the Rev. Lewis Durham of Los Angeles was named head of the foundation, Glide turned its energies full time toward service in the slums and dedicated itself to becoming "a bridge between church and non-church."

Merry Christmas. Working under Durham as pastor of the church is the Rev. Cecil Williams, 38, a dynamic, Texas-born Negro with a flair for imaginative preaching. At a jazz worship service this month attended by several hippies, Williams began his sermon by wishing everyone "Merry Christmas," explaining, "It's Christmas today because life comes as a gift." Picking up a dazzlingly colored paper sack, which he called "my psychedelic bag," he pulled out of it a framed portrait of himself, hung it around his neck and announced: "I'm too concerned with myself. So I carry my hang-up with me, baby. Two thousand years ago, a man said, 'Look, man, you can be free—you don't have to have that hang-up.' " Glide is equally freewheeling in structure. It has no formal church committees, instead gets things done through a series of ad hoc "task forces." Every other Sunday after the morning service, the church holds a meeting, open to anyone in town, at which new programs are decided upon and new task forces selected. "We're like a boxer on his toes," says Durham. Among Glide's more successful projects: a "Black People's Store" that supplies needy Negroes with free food, clothing and furniture; a "Citizens Alert" legal-aid group to guard against police brutality; two halfway houses for released mental patients. Glide was instrumental in organizing San Francisco's "Huckleberry House" for runaway youths (TIME, Sept. 15), has steered untold down-and-outers to rehabilitation and jobs.

Hippies & Homosexuals. Unlike most churches, Glide welcomes hippies to church functions, and its ministers are blithely indifferent to their unorthodox mating habits. "We don't give a damn who people go to bed with," says Durham. Last spring Glide sponsored a three-day retreat for homosexuals and clergymen at which the deviates discussed their problems. As a result, Glide formed a citywide Council on Religion and the Homosexual.

Understandably, Glide's unconventional ways have brought the church a large measure of criticism, but its activities are strongly backed by Methodist Bishop Donald Tippett, a member of the foundation's board, and by community leaders such as Willie Brown, San Francisco's first Negro representative in the California state assembly. Durham's main defense of Glide's missionary ways is that they work, and that the church is loved and respected by thousands of deviates and dropouts who otherwise have nothing but contempt for organized religion. "God says 'yes' to man," he says. "So we want to help the disenfranchised, the alienated. The church must say 'yes' to all people because God cares about all people."

[Electronically recovered 11/6/2009:,9171,902145,00.html]

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