Glide Memorial Methodist Church (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Glide countersuing United Methodist Church in escalating battle for control

After being sued by its parent denomination, the United Methodist Church, San Francisco’s Glide Foundation filed a countersuit today rejecting an attempt by the church to seize its assets.

The Glide Foundation operates Glide Memorial Methodist Church, which rose to national fame for its nontraditional Sunday services that include a roaring choir. The nonprofit has also evolved into a social justice-centered institution that preaches “radical inclusiveness” in its mission of providing social services to San Francisco’s needy.

But church officials are now alleging that Glide’s social services have steered the organization too far from its religious roots and are seeking a legal order to take control of Glide’s assets, which are worth an estimated $40 million. Church officials say Glide violated a nearly 90-year-old agreement when it tried to remove the church from its bylaws last year and voted Bishop Minerva Carcaño off its leadership board.

The countersuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, names the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (CNAC), which oversees Methodist churches in Northern California and Nevada, and Carcaño, who initiated the lawsuit filed against Glide in December.

The countersuit claims that prior to her ousting, Carcaño refused to collaborate with Glide on appointing a new pastor to lead its church services and unexpectedly reassigned two associate pastors.

She has also stated publicly that Glide’s church services “lack the fundamentals of
Christian worship,” and has accused retired pastor Rev. Cecil Williams, who along with his wife, Janice Mirikitani, is credited with transforming Glide into an inclusive congregation, of moral corruption.

In its counterclaim, the Glide Foundation argues that the church’s lawsuit is meritless because its founder, philanthropist Lizzie Glide, created the organization in 1929 to manage property at 330 Ellis St. for “religious, charitable and educational purposes” — a mission which Glide says it continues to fulfill.

“By bringing suit against Glide, Carcaño and the CNAC tried to make this case about Glide and its conduct, but that is not what this case is really about,” reads the counterclaim. “This case is about one California nonprofit corporation (the CNAC) trying to seize control over the operations and assets of another nonprofit corporation (Glide).”

Laura Roberson, Carcaño’s executive assistant, told the San Francisco Examiner that the lawsuit was “just received” and that Carcaño, who is currently attending a special session of the UMC General Conference out of state, has not yet had time to review it.

Glide contends that its founder placed the property in a trust for the people of The City, not the church.

“They are claiming that we are not fulfilling the original intent of Lizzie Glide when she set up the Glide foundation almost 90 years ago. I have strong feelings about this given that she is my great-great-grandmother,” Mary Glide, a board member of the nonprofit, told the San Francisco Examiner. “She created it to help those most in need — I think she would be so proud with the work that we’ve done.”

The countersuit argues that Glide’s message of “radical inclusion and unconditional love” has made it a “refuge and haven for San Francisco’s disempowered and disenfranchised.”

Programs such as a walk-in center for shelter, hygiene and other support services, a women’s center, harm reduction services and a daily free meal program have allowed the organization to be at the forefront of addressing issues such as “the crack epidemic, to the AIDS pandemic, to the mounting inequalities that increasingly marginalize our city’s poorest, to the systemic cycles of poverty that prevent their advancement,” per the countersuit.

While The City contracts with the nonprofit to provide some of these services to the public, much of Glide’s operations are funded by charitable donations. These donation are often given for specific purposes, such as funding the women’s center or free meal program, according to the complaint.

In its role, CNAC is responsible for appointing pastors, receives an apportionment from church-based revenue, and receives an annual report on the finances of Glide’s church component.

“As the programs offered by Glide proliferated and the funds raised by Glide increased, the percentage of money needed to fund Glide Church and its operations dropped relative to Glide’s overall program budget,” reads the countersuit, which asserts that “Glide Church remains an integral part of the programming offered by Glide,” although it now represents only about 5-6 percent of the total budget for Glide’s programs.

Tensions between Glide and the church came to a head last summer, shortly after a pastor appointed to lead Glide’s church services resigned after just nine months amid criticism over the administrative separation between Glide the nonprofit and its church services. In its countersuit, Glide alleges that the resignation was part of the church’s effort to gain greater control of Glide.

Carcaño, who sat on Glide’s board of directors until she was voted off in June, sought to appoint a new pastor in May without consulting Glide’s leadership, which rejected the appointment, per the complaint. Carcaño then refused to make a collaborative appointment with the board, and stripped Glide of its clergy.

Deeming Carcaño’s actions as a breach of her fiduciary duties, the Glide board voted to amend its bylaws to remove Carcaño as its director.

Mary Glide said that she was not on the board when the vote took place, but defended the board’s decision as a “response to the fact that they pulled the pastors and tried to take control of the organization.”

She added that Glide’s board has been “taking steps over the last year to make sure the organization…and the intention of our donors [are] protected.”

“We are confident that we are able to prevail in this lawsuit but also preparing for all potential outcomes to ensure that the work continues,” said Glide.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.comBay Area News

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