Back in the 1960s, Glide Memorial’s legendary pastor, Texas-born Cecil Williams, took over this 1931 church and began his famed, 90-minute “celebration” services. Williams has since retired the pastorship but he is usually on hand anyway, like a kindly high school principal, and his services are a little like a late night TV talk show, accompanied by a skilled six-piece jazz band (Leonard Bernstein was a fan, and Quincy Jones still is), backed by a 100-plus-voice choir (the Glide Ensemble, and man they’re good). He’s a solid American institution, counting Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, and Robin Williams among his fans, and having appeared by himself in the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” His wife, Janice Mirikitani, a well-known city poet, has also been working at the church since 1969. Their messages, repeated throughout the service, are of diversity, compassion, ending racism, brotherhood, and acceptance, and it doesn’t take long before the crowd is on its feet, clapping, swaying, and praying. The church operates 87 entities designed to help others in a city that desperately needs such outreach, from help with housing and health care to jobs training. Don’t miss a service here; there’s nothing else like it, and it’s impossible to feel unwelcome. Services are at 9 and 11am, and don’t show up with less than 15 minutes to spare or you will almost certainly have to participate by TV from a fellowship hall, and that would be a shame.
- Erika Lennert