Glide history revealed in ‘Beyond the Possible’

Most San Franciscans know their organization, if not their names and their stories. Glide, which hosts its annual holiday benefit event tonight at the Warfield Theatre, celebrates five decades years with a volume by Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani called “Beyond the Posible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change in a Community Called Glide.”

In the book, Williams writes, “Janice and I bonded early on. I was an African American who grew up in a segregated town that kept black people poor and powerless. She was a Japanese American whose family lost everything in the internment camps of World War II. Both of us went through a phase of hating white people yet wanting to be white ourselves. Both of us believed in radical, not gradual, change. And both had a drive, a zeal, a passion – mine to build a church of love that would start a revolution; Janice to give voice to populations who had been silenced.”

Williams was hired by Glide Memorial Methodist Church in 1963, and Mirikitani came to work as an administrative assistant shortly after. The charismatic West Texas minister and the beautiful, fiery poet joined forces to transform a moribund church in the midst of San Francisco’s Tenderloin, where drugs, poverty, prostitution, mental illness, violence and other inner city ills prevailed.

A riveting behind-the-scenes tale told by its primary architects, the book describes how Glide became a dynamic, vibrant parish, world renowned for controversial, innovative and ultimately successful programs.

Initially lacking economic, religious or political support, the savvy team took an unorthodox approach to the community’s many challenges – including racism, sexism and homophobia – by infusing deep meaning into the need for unconditional love and acceptance – and embodying those qualities.

Attracting celebrities including Maya Angelou, Glide’s growing congregation marched in anti-war rallies, volunteered to feed the hungry, fought for housing rights and served as an incubator for many important social reform groups.

Woven through the engaging narrative told in alternating voices is an evolving love story of two very different people, both of whom had personal preconceptions as well as previous partners. With inspiring honesty and authenticity, Mirikitani confronts the pain of her early sexual abuse and Williams’ deals with his daughter’s drug addiction. The pair addresses their need to repair their own relationship in couples’ counseling.

Chapter titles articulate major themes running through the moving memoir: “Imagination,” “Acceptance,” “Integrity,” “Community,” “Action,” “Compassion,” “Creativity,” “Love,” “Madness,” “Freedom,” “Sexual Freedom,” “Nonviolence,” “Persistence,” “Resurrection,” “Trust,” “Fame,” “Recovery,” “Diversity,” “The Beloved Community” and “Affirmation.”

With a foreword by Dave Eggers, 24 pages of photographs, and Mirikitani’s 1993 poem “War of the Body,” the book celebrates the team’s 50th anniversary at Glide by offering irrefutable testimony to the belief that unconditional love conquers all.

BOOK NOTES

Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change in a Community Called Glide

By: Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani

Published by: HarperOne

Pages: 313

Price: $26.99 (cloth), $16.99 (paper)

Note: Glide’s Annual Holiday Festival/Jam – a fundraiser featuring Joan Baez, Rita Moreno, Paula West and the Glide Ensemble and Change Band – is at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Warfield Theatre, 982 Market St., S.F.. Tickets are $65 to $250; visit www.glide.org for details.

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