Married for thirty-one years, Cecil Williams – a pastor and civil rights leader – and Janice Mirikitani, a poet and community activist, have worked together to make the world a better place by investing the last fifty years of their lives in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. Since accepting the call to serve as pastor of Glide Memorial Methodist Church in 1963, Rev. Williams has worked tirelessly transforming a congregation of 35 into a community offering over 90 comprehensive programs and featuring a weekend worship attendance numbering in the thousands. Ms. Mirikitani ensured the vision became reality through her administrative and networking expertise and through formal leadership roles, including as the founding president of the Glide Foundation.
For Cecil Williams, pastor is more than a vocation and more than an identity that shaped his adult life journey; Williams, the fourth of five boys, was called “Rev” by his mother from birth, and grew into that role as a child and teen despite a nervous breakdown that challenged his sanity. From within a segregated world marked by pain and injustice, Williams imagined a different world that welcomed the rich beauty of diversity in all contexts including the church. As a part of the first incoming seminary class at Perkins School of Theology that included five African Americans, he began to blend academic pursuits with practical advocacy for civil rights issues. These attributes served him well in his first call after graduation, and ultimately led him to accept the challenge of leading the way toward the resurrection of what was a dying anglo congregation of just thirty-five members.
While the story of Glide started in 1929 with philanthropist Lizzie Glide purchasing the land for what would become a church; the story of rebirth begins with the arrival of Cecil Williams imagining what could be if the church stopped living in a maintenance mode off of its endowment and started engaging and energizing the wider community known as the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. From the early years in which he shed his clerical robe, the large cross in the sanctuary, and most of the members to later years when he provided leadership that gave voice to those who had been silenced, provided unconditional love for those who had never imagined it, and delivered community services of all kinds to those who had lived without these basic human needs, Williams has consistently gone beyond what others have thought possible. These impressive decades of service are possible because he lived out of the abundance of a vision, and welcomed the wisdom of others — especially Janice, who held leadership roles at Glide long before their marriage.
Maya Angelou, Warren Buffet, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Bono are a list of names that do not normally appear together; the jacket of Beyond the Possible features blurbs by these diverse leaders appropriately recognizing the near boundless reach of the labors of love engaged in faithfully by Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani. Beyond the Possible is an inspirational read destined to help all treasure the gifts of generosity that are everywhere for those with eyes to see. Glide offers unconditional love to all people; Beyond the Possible tells the story of how this came to be while modeling for readers what it means to boldly pursue and ultimately realize the possibilities of the dreams within.
Vision, persistence, and faith often combine to created something beautiful. One person, one couple, and one congregation can change a community.
- What key leaders helped shape many of the positive current features of your community? your community of faith? What do you know about their stories?
- How are you striving to live out your faith in ways that display unconditional love for all people? In what ways does your religion/spirituality/faith impact these efforts?
Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani. Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Change in a Community Called Glide (HarperOne, 2013). ISBN: 9780062105042.Tweet