Tuesday, November 6, 2007

San Fran feast


Last Sunday we went to three churches/ faith communities in San Francisco:

Glide Memorial
St. Gregory's of Nyssa

Later this morning we head to Thad's in Los Angeles.

Here's a tid bit on Glide. We'll write about the others soon.


Glide meets in downtown San Francisco. The church awnings along the sidewalk could be for anything. It's a big downtown looking building. The walk to the church filled our nostrils with urine. I actually saw a woman passed out cold, legs laying in the gutter, head on the sidewalk. This is the neighborhood they serve. But not exclusively. Glide is for everybody. We heard the actress Sharon Stone goes regularly and likes to sit near the front.

On our way in we could have either gone to a free breakfast or to the service. Inside the place was packed. There are two services on Sunday mornings. Both full blow out worship events.

Here's a bit from the Glide history books as presented on their website. Perhaps it explains a bit of how they got to be the truly diverse, welcoming, and social change agents that they are to this day...

"In 1963, winds of change were blowing mightily through San
Francisco. Nowhere were these forces of transformation more
visible than at Glide Memorial Church. That year, a young
African-American minister named Cecil Williams came to Glide
determined to bring life back into the dying congregation. Cecil
changed both the policies and practices of the conservative
church, helping to create the Council on Religion and
Homosexuality in 1964. In 1967, Cecil ordered the cross removed
from the sanctuary, exhorting the congregation instead to
celebrate life and living.

"We must all be the cross," he explained. As the conservative
members of the original congregation left, they were replaced
by San Francisco's diverse communities of hippies, addicts,
gays, the poor, and the marginalized. By 1968, the energetic,
jazz-filled Celebrations were packed with people from all classes,
hues, and lifestyles. That year, San Francisco State University
erupted in protests over demands for ethnic studies and
affirmative action. Cecil and the Glide community helped lead the
demonstrations; the church became a home for political, as well
as spiritual, change. Glide offered a safe space to groups ranging
from the Hookers Convention to the American Indian Movement
and the Black Panthers. In the midst of their political work, Glide
never forgot the basic needs of the community. The meals
program was launched in the 1960s, serving one free dinner
a week to all comers. As a decade of clamoring change came to a
close, Glide further added to the joyful noise: The world-renowned
Glide Ensemble choir held its first rehearsals in 1969. And Janice
Mirikitani, a noted poet and dancer, had also just been appointed
Coordinator for Glide's programs. The church would never be
the same again."

Even though this church has become a bit of a tourist attraction in the city, I experienced a glimpse of the real church—the kindom of God—at Glide on Sunday morning. The congregation and leadership was diverse in every way. Downstairs hundreds of people were getting a free breakfast. I knew that someone had already checked on the lady in the gutter and would again when she came to. The announcements that flashed up on the screen before the service were for things like the gay and bi men's group. Ushers welcomed us, but not in a cheesy or fake sort of way.

As things were about to get going, the jazz and blues band started riffing. Then the congregation started clapping. At first quietly, then it grew. Something powerful and palpable started rising up out of the very midst of us. Then the gospel choir started walking onto the front "stage." They started swaying and clapping and the momentum picked up even more.

Now I know that my friends who are professional church musicians might say I just got caught in an musically manipulated moment. But it was more than that. The joy came from feeling like I could trust this church because of their bold and messy, generous giving during the week.

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