The Glide Memorial Story

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

The Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco was the largest Methodist Church in the California-Nevada Conference. From 1964 to 2000, the church was led by Rev. Cecil Williams, who removed the cross from the sanctuary, stopped all celebrations of the Eucharist, and baptized people not in the name of the triune God, but in the “name of the people.” The church was reoriented to become a multi-faith center to provide assistance to the needy and to support various progressive causes. One of the most notorious moments in the life of the church was in January 1977 when Glide Memorial awarded Jim Jones the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. Jim Jones would later become a household name after he led a mass suicide of 918 members of his church (including 304 children) in Jonestown, Guyana. It is also noteworthy that Rev. Karen Oliveto, the first lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church, was the pastor of Glide Memorial before she became the bishop of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences of the United Methodist Church in 2016. Glide Memorial sought to leave the United Methodist Church in 2018 and would not accept various attempts for United Methodist pastors to be appointed. The last several years have been tied up in a legal battle over the substantial Glide Trust and the building. It has now been resolved that the Glide Trust will be given to the California-Nevada Annual Conference to support the work of the United Methodist Church.

But, it is important that we remember the story behind this story. In other words, it is important for those who have been following this story in recent years to remember the original intention and founding of the Glide Memorial Church. In 1929, J. C. McPheeters published a book titled Sons of God, which was read by Lizzie Glide and inspired her to use her late husband’s wealth (beef and stock business) for the expansion of the kingdom of God. Her dream was to create an evangelical, evangelistic center in the heart of the city. It included a preaching hall, six-story apartment complex, and a restaurant. The preaching hall eventually became the sanctuary of Glide Memorial and J. C. McPheeters became the founding pastor. Over the next eighteen years, countless people were served through his ministry and the church grew to more than 3,600 members! Sixty percent of the members came on first time profession of faith. One of those who came to Christ was a young sailor named Ed Robb Jr., who would go on to be a great Methodist evangelist and start AFTE, a fund used to support doctoral students who are committed to evangelical faith. Ed Robb Jr.’s son, Ed Rob III, is currently the founder and senior pastor of The Woodlands United Methodist Church north of Houston.

Elizabeth Glide was also friends with H. C. Morrison, the founder of Asbury Theological Seminary. She encouraged J. C. McPheeters to invite him to preach at Glide Memorial. H. C. Morrison went to San Francisco on five occasions and preached at Glide Memorial. It was there that J. C. McPheeters first met H. C. Morrison. H. C. Morrison eventually invited J. C. Mcpheeters to become the editor of the Herald magazine, which is still the official magazine of Asbury Theological Seminary. Their relationship grew so strong that eventually H. C. Morrison (and the Board of Trustees) invited J. C. McPheeters to become the successor to H. C. Morrison by becoming the second president of Asbury Theological Seminary. McPheeters would serve as president at Asbury from 1942–1962. For six of those years, McPheeters continued to serve as senior pastor of Glide Memorial as well as president of Asbury Seminary! This background is important because it underscores the importance of remembering donor intent. In donor relations is it vital that any recipient of a gift honor the original purpose of the gift. The purpose of the Glide Trust was to create an evangelistic training center in the heart of San Francisco. Lizzie Glide was deeply committed to historic faith and was at the heart of the holiness movement. May we never forget her heart and how she intended for her money to be used. Now that the United Methodist Church has regained control of most of the Glide Trust, may they remember afresh the purpose for which that money was originally given.