For months now, tensions have been brewing between Glide and the United Methodist Church. The two groups are entering talks to discuss next steps in their relationship. Reporter Marco Siler-Gonzales went to find out what that might mean for Glide.
I’m sitting in on my first Sunday Celebration at Glide. Standing next to me is an older woman dressed in perfectly-pressed white linens, to my left is a family of four taking pictures like tourists, and behind me is a man standing anxiously in a worn out t-shirt. Glide’s patrons are certainly from all over the spectrum, but then again, Glide Memorial Methodist Church isn’t like most churches.
Later, standing in the basement of Glide, folks filter in and out of the dining hall to get a helping of fried fish. Volunteer Carl Wright says when he found himself living on the streets of San Francisco in the 80s, it wasn't too hard to find food.
“Everybody know where Glide is,” Wright says, “All you gotta do is ask aye man where do you get food around here. You know, so they said Glide.”
Located in the heart of the Tenderloin, Glide serves about 2000 meals a day. It also offers an array of social services: clean needle exchanges, substance abuse and harm reduction programs, healthcare and legal assistance.
For Wright, finding Glide meant he got a second chance.
“I been choppn’, bustin’ my butt everyday getting down here, and today I found out that they’re gonna hire me right.” Wright Says,“Yea So that’s why I was sitting here daydreaming when you guys pulled up I was saying wow, it's gonna be different for me now.”
But Glide’s social work does not make it immune to controversy. For months now, tensions have been brewing between Glide and the United Methodist Church.
In June, after an internal dispute, the United Methodist Church re-assigned Glide’s two associate pastors. Glide board member Miguel Bustos says the change was a shock.
“So you know a few hours before a celebration when we found out that our two associate pastors were going to be moved. It took us all by surprise.” Bustos says.
Soon after, the United Methodist Church started to publicly express concern over Glide’s financial transparency. They specifically questioned payments to Reverend Cecil Williams.
Starting in the 1960s, Williams and his wife, Janice Mirikitani, transformed Glide’s church into a wildly inclusive congregation. Williams even took down the crucifix, in a bold move to welcome all faiths and backgrounds to Sunday Celebrations.
Along with revitalizing the church, they helped build a social service organization that helps thousands of people a year.
So to figure out why the United Methodist Church has grievances with Glide, I went to West Sacramento to meet Bishop Minerva Carcaño.
“There is too much money that is set aside for the needs of persons like Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani to keep them feeling affirmed.” Carcaño says.
Glide doesn’t share the salaries of any of its employees. But in an email to me, Carcaño wrote: she had information showing Williams and Mirikitani received 3 million dollars in severance over the past few years -- even though Williams retired as head pastor in 2000. When I talked to Glide’s CEO, she put Williams’ pension at half that amount.
But—Carcaño takes it one step further.
“I believe there is corruption in the glide leadership, starting at the top with unfortunately, Reverend Cecil Williams.” Carcaño says, “Because I think he has acted in increasingly corrupt ways over his lifetime and his work.”
In her email, Carcaño wrote that she believes the corruption isn’t criminal but moral: that money, she thinks, would be better spent on Glide’s social programs.
Kimberly Bender is the Senior Director of Development at Glide.
“There's no evidence of that...There’s no concern among anyone who looks at this organization that there's any corruption at all... Its unfounded and unkind and surprising for us to hear that.” Bender says.
Carcaño’s allegations could land Glide in a lawsuit. The United Methodist Church has done it before. In 2014, they sued Jones Memorial Homes, a non-profit housing group affiliated with a methodist church in San Francisco.
“Slowly and surely a pastor and perhaps two pastors in the past and board members began to pocket money and received kickbacks...it became a corrupt place.” Carcaño says.
The United Methodist Church tried to claim rights over Jones Memorial Homes’ to seize some $50 million dollars in land and equity. The court sided with Jones, but the lawsuit devastated their financial and congregational support.
Glide is distancing itself from the United Methodist Church, the UMC. Glide changed its articles of incorporation, removing any mention of the United Methodist Church, and taking away Carcaño’s seat on the board. Here’s Bender.
“We don't know what the motivations are of the UMC but the aggressive move of not re-assigning pastors told us that that the relationship needed that we needed to take some thoughtful moves.” Bender says.
Perhaps the crux of the issue is: who actually has the rights to the church itself on the corner of Ellis and Taylor. Bishop Carcaño says the building belongs to the denomination.
When Glide was established in 1929, some of their assets were placed in a trust for United Methodist Church, to ensure that the property would be used in service of the Methodist faith. If Glide wants to end the affiliation, The United Methodist Church could try to seize the building. Glide’s Kim Bender says that won’t happen.
“We feel confident that we are meeting the mission that was set forth and that any attempt to challenge that we we would prevail.” Bender says.
Tensions may seem high between the two groups, but at Glide’s dining hall, its business as usual.
Glide only allocates 5 percent of their budget to their church services. The majority goes to social programs, like the ones that helped Carl Wright get back on his feet.
“I found out along the way that there's more barriers and more struggles ahead of me so I’m just trying to prepare myself now.” Wright says, “Getting stable housing, I got a job, I might have a few friends, i’m not sure, things are looking good, but being here at Glide is wonderful.”
A legal battle between Glide and the United Methodist Church would be costly and time consuming, and It’s unclear what that kind of fight would do to it’s programs that make the bigger difference for people like Wright.