Sound of tinkling glass a sign of the times at Glide Memorial UMC

January 31, 2008

By Jeneane Jones

Director of Communications


Glide has been a San Francisco Tenderloin landmark since the early 1930s and a beacon of light and warmth for the city’s homeless for decades – a vision made reality by its Pastor Emeritus, the Rev. Cecil Williams.


Located in one of San Francisco’s harshest urban neighborhoods, it takes great pride in distinguishing itself as the church without borders, welcoming all comers and being especially mindful to accept those marginalized by socio-economic status. An international epicenter of cultural diversity and activist spirituality, as its website states, Glide’s message of ‘faith becoming works’ has brought it international acclaim. In a city where only the smallest minority consider themselves Christian, its Sunday celebrations and social outreach have earned it respect and even celebrity status, from those who otherwise find little worth in church. A Google of “Glide” finds Web blogs touting tourist stories of those who’ve joined Glide’s volunteer movement to help in its famous kitchen, preparing as many as a million meals a year for the hungry and downtrodden. “It’s a church, something I normally stay away from,” reads one message, “but…the social work is impressive.”


Glide’s innovative child care, drug rehab, jobs programs, and affordable housing have touched the lives of millions in San Francisco and shown the U.S. and the world what servant-hood ministry can accomplish.


Cutting-edge ministry notwithstanding, one part of Glide’s witness has, surprisingly, remained far from the edge. Never has a woman been appointed as part of the pastoral staff at Glide. The “stained glass ceiling” separating female clergy from the pulpit has remained shatterproof. But on Sunday, March 2, 2008 that changes, as the Rev. Karen Oliveto (shown at left) delivers her first sermon as Glide’s newest pastor.


“Karen has outstanding gifts for ministry, she knows San Francisco, and has been a caring and compassionate pastor with a heart for the disenfranchised,” said Bishop Beverly J. Shamana, who called her appointment of Rev. Oliveto to the Glide pulpit “historic.”


“I am very pleased to appoint Rev. Oliveto to the pastoral staff at Glide. Her ministry at Bethany UMC was known for its radical inclusion of Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, and Bisexual persons seeking the open door to the love of Jesus. She will help Glide break through the stained glass ceiling as it receives its first woman pastor under appointment. She’ll be great!”


The Rev. Don Guest, appointed by Bishop Shamana in 2006 to lead Glide, says the church’s mission – though successful – has come at a cost, and uses the story of the Israelites to explain.


“Success can be dangerous…those who respond to the prophetic call of the kingdom of God must constantly struggle [against] the temptation to think ‘We’ve arrived.’”


Guest sees the appointment of Oliveto as a long awaited opportunity for Glide to respond anew to the challenge of equality. Just as women are part of the church’s community, Guest says it is time women are “included in the prophetic leadership reflecting the surrounding population. Karen is going to complement and highlight the full passel of values that the United Methodist Church has to offer the 21st century.”


Rev. Oliveto comes to Glide after serving as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California for four years. As adjunct professor she taught courses in 21st Century Evangelism and History and Doctrine of the United Methodist Church. She says, “I am looking forward to working in partnership with Rev. Don Guest as part of Glide’s pastoral team, continuing the tradition of visionary, bold, and prophetic leadership which Rev. Cecil Williams has so powerfully embodied.”


Oliveto said continuing that tradition will ensure “that the Glide community will remain equipped to be a hopeful agent of liberation, transformation, and empowerment within the city of San Francisco and beyond.”


Guest says there’s no need to think Oliveto’s new role will be window dressing. “We are both going to be pastors here. No one wants a visit from a co-pastor. We are both going to be pastors with equal standing. Perhaps it’s a new paradigm for the United Methodist Church, but after all, this is Glide.”