Today, I observed Easter for the first time in years, accompanying A&B to morning services at San Francisco’s Glide Memorial United Methodist Church
. This ain’t church like I’ve ever seen it. Glide is the lifework of the Reverend Cecil Williams
, who, over the past four decades, has built one of the most diverse, all-embracing, active congregations in the country. They are ten thousand strong. They are a tremendous force for good
, and when you are in their midst, they seem to you unstoppable.
You find Glide in the middle of the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco’s dreariest, most neglected neighborhoods. The Sunday services are anchored by the Change band — guitars, keyboard, sax, trumpet, trombone, drums. These guys rock the house as well as your soul. Then there’s the Glide Ensemble, a great big choir, what a whiteboy like me would call a “gospel” choir, but that doesn’t do them any justice at all. If I say “gospel music,” you think you know what I’m talking about. You don’t. We’re talking gospel plus plus, here. These people have one mission and one mission only, and that is to make a freaking joyful noise unto the Lord
, and boyo, do they ever.
The Glide service contained no scripture reading, no Lord’s Prayer, no Doxology, no call-and-response, none of the trappings of “church” as I’ve always known them. But a rabbi got up to speak at one point. The sanctuary was filled with people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. (We’re talking of a sort of diversity that you just don’t see much outside of the Bay Area: The man who sat next to me wore a skirt and three pashminas.) There was a man interpreting the service in American Sign Language, throwing his entire heart and soul into it, his motions filled with such emotion it was like watching a dancer. Reverend Williams gave a short sermon, ten minutes or so, followed by Pastor Douglass Fitch
, who spoke for about the same length of time. He mentioned the Bible, but also the Tao. His words were everything you want from a preacher: inspiring, uplifting, life-affirming, filled with the love and the peace that are our birthright as human beings. And scattered in and throughout every last bit of this, music, music, music. Loud, rocking music. The love in the room was palpable. The timeless, warm, and loving spirit of God suffused the place.
Jesus didn’t get much mention, overall. But I’m not sure it mattered: The entire celebration was imbued with rebirth, hope, and life. Isn’t that Easter, after all?