Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Glide Memorial Church

By Stefan Deutsch ‘14
Monday and Tuesday took the Faith in Action group to Glide Memorial Church for volunteer work serving meals to San Francisco’s homeless population.
Glide was established in 1929 by philanthropist Lizzie Glide as part of the United Methodist Church, and served a fairly conservative congregation until the 1960s. In 1963, Reverend Cecil Williams became pastor and enacted many changes in the church’s practices, establishing it as a counter-culture rallying point. Glide became, and remains, a prominently liberal church dedicated to serving the city’s marginalized population. Their mission statement is to “create a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization” and they list their core values as being “radically inclusive, truth telling, loving and hopeful, for the people, and celebration.” Glide is widely known for providing services to businessman Chris Gardner and his son, as immortalized in the film “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
Some trip participants attended one Glide’s renowned Sunday Celebration worship services and found it an interesting and enlightening experience.
The energetic Glide Ensemble choir and Change Band were a striking but not unwelcome change from the more subdued religious services to which we were accustomed, as was the emphasis on audience involvement. The service also followed the church’s mission statement by delivering a message of hope and support for the disadvantaged population of the city and the world. We noticed that the congregants were a mix of one-time visitors like ourselves and regular attendants, some of whom were members of the city’s needy population. Glide did not just talk about lifting up the spirits of the underprivileged, it made a first-hand effort.
In addition to spiritual efforts, Glide offers many physical services to aid the city’s disadvantaged population. Their ‘Compassionate Healthcare’ program offers affordable and accessible healthcare services, including substance abuse treatment, mental health, and HIV/AIDS testing and prevention. They also offer programs for men and women in overcoming domestic violence and building healthy relationships, and the Walk in Center can give referrals, help reserve shelter, or just provide someone to talk to.
We volunteered with Glide’s Daily Free Meals Program, which provides 3 meals a day, 364 days a year to the city’s hungry, averaging 2,560 meals a day. The program is staffed by 30 kitchen and security workers and 60 volunteers every day. We worked on a variety of tasks for the meal program: preparing the meals (grits for breakfast and cheeseburgers for lunch, for example) handing out trays, bussing tables, and directing the flow of people. The program is very well-organized, with the dining hall being reserved each morning for veterans and seniors before the general crowd, and a separate dining area, called the ‘coffeehouse’ reserved for families and disabled persons. Each of us was personally affected by what we saw and experienced while serving meals; the most striking aspect for me was the sheer number of people who took advantage of Glide’s services, around 600 for a breakfast. Others were shaken by the sight of hungry children, by the substantial portion of the homeless population that is physically or mentally disabled, or by the different attitudes, optimistic and pessimistic, expressed by individuals toward their situation. Though we all had different experiences at Glide, we were all humbled by what we saw, and we were all determined to keep making a difference by whatever means we have at our disposal.

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