Cecil Williams celebrates 45 years at Glide

November 12, 2009 7:54:37 PM PST
A San Francisco icon is celebrating a major milestone. The Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church is marking 45 years at the helm there. A gala celebration was held Thursday night at the War Memorial Opera House.

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Williams' impact on the community is so significant, it's hard to measure. Anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 people are expected at the event to pay tribute to Williams. It is also a fundraiser to raise money for the programs he created and nurtured.

"I arrived at Glide as I recall on a Tuesday," says Williams.

For more than half his life, Williams has been dedicated to Glide. Now 80 years old, the young self-described radical was sent during the turbulent 60s to lead a tiny all-white congregation. He came with a mission.

"They might as well realize that I have come to kill the church, so it could come alive. I wanted to make the church alive," says Williams.

Its Sunday services now attract people from all walks of life. The church sits in the heart of the Tenderloin, one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco.

The ministry reaches out to those on the streets.

A worker at the kitchen says "We'll welcome them. It doesn't matter who they are."

Williams helps run the kitchen that serves nearly a million free meals a year, but there is so much more that Glide offers. Housing has been built for the homeless, Glide's health clinic offers services from primary care to HIV testing, and then there is the lives that have been changed.

Seven years ago Angela Coleman was a drug addict. She says "But since I've been here at Glide I've learned how to face life as it comes, to embrace my pain, and I can get through it."

"My mission has two things to it, then and now: unconditional love and unconditional acceptance," says Williams.

Over the years, Williams and his wife Janice Mirkitani have built an 11,000 member congregation and gained some rich and powerful allies from the Dalai Lama to Nelson Mandela, Bono, and the Obamas.

Williams has survived cancer, has a pacemaker, and is a diabetic, but he has no intention of slowing down.

"That church has my bones in it. You know, it has my bones in it," says Williams.

One of the VIPs invited to the event is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has not been seen at a public event since dropping out of the gubernatorial race late October, but this event might be hard to miss.

LINK:
Cecil Williams' "From the 'Hood to the House"

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