Cecil Williams, Mystic & Prophet & Authentic Christian Leader, Part II

We are meditating on the life and gifts of Cecil Williams, pastor since 1963 at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco who died this week. 

Reverend Cecil Williams (center) receives a Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award in San Francisco in January 1977. Photo by Nancy Wong in Wikimedia Commons.

Cecil and his wife Janice Mirikitani founded countless healing groups not just for AA but for all manner of wounds and addictions, and moved people from victims to agents.  Many of the working leaders at the church had undergone healing in such groups.  Programs for HIV/AIDS screenings, and for intravenous drug users and for women dealing with homelessness, domestic violence and mental health issues.

The church served 500,000 meals during the year 2020-2021 alone.  On Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2500 meals of ham, turkey, and more were offered by numerous volunteers in a spirit of festivity and community.

In the 1960’s, San Francisco was like the rest of America vis-à-vis the gay community—arresting LGBTQ citizens just for gathering.  But Cecil, operating on his principles of welcoming the poor and disenfranchised, opened his church to LGBTQ groups and even hosted drag balls there.  This was before Stonewall.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Day at Glide Memorial Church in 2023. Wikimedia Commons

His church has been called “the soul of the city” and it is said he approached everything he did with “unconditional love.” Cecil, the grandson of a slave raised in the segregated South, sought “to love everyone, the same thing as Jesus did,” remarked a man who had known him for 48 years. 

Said Willimas in a 2013 interview: If you really understand, it seems to me, the liberated gospel, the liberated acts of Jesus, it would mean that we would take any hatred out of our hearts….Take judgment out of your heart and pour love there. That’s what needs to be there.

He mentored younger generations of ministers directly and by his example.  It has been my privilege over the years to interact with a number of such leaders in the Bay Area. 

It was our honor to bestow an honorary doctoral degree on Cecil from our University of Creation Spirituality and he graced us by his presence and prophetic words on that memorable occasion.

“Hero Report: Reverend Cecil Williams, Glide Memorial Church.” SSLI Virtual Education Kit

To me, Williams as a leader was everything a follower of Jesus should be: A lover, a listener, a challenger, a prophet who interfered with social, gender, economic, racial and homophobic injustice where he saw it. A man with a soft heart and a gentle way plus the warrior and lion spirit of a prophet. 

May this man of peace rest in peace and be remembered by those who imitate his ways.

See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 304-333, 340, 352, 442.

And Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth.

And Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society.

Banner image: “Cecil Williams in San Francisco City Hall’s Board of Supervisors chambers speaking on behalf of the International Hotel tenants.” Photo by Nancy Wong. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Cecil’s formula to “take judgment out of your heart and pour love in its place”?  How might that alter political life in America and beyond?

Recommended Reading

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

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9 thoughts on “Cecil Williams, Mystic & Prophet & Authentic Christian Leader, Part II”

  1. Avatar

    Let’s take an analogy from our love of the game of football and relate it to politics. In football each team gets to go on the offensive and has the ability to score points based on its strengths. Each team has this capability, and it is a very odd occurrence not to score points by either side in any given game.

    In today’s partisan political culture, the sides have maligned the rules and twisted the meaning of the game. The meaning of the game is to represent their constituents and support the broader health of the nation under a democracy. But right now, that is not happening in a functional and practical way. Today’s politics are akin to playing a football game where each side refuses to allow the opportunity for the other side to ever ‘score points’. The ‘referees’ or legal systems are being ‘hamstrung’ as well by partisanship or by having their hands tied up, not able to reach their whistle and call the game. The non-partisan political party cooperation level is most likely at a historic low right now. How fruitful would it be to ‘watch a football game’ where the ‘defense’ refuses to allow the ‘offense’ to have the ball when they go out onto field. Or worse yet, when one side refuses to acknowledge the game loss when they have been outscored by their opponent on points. When have we ever seen that happen? Love ends up losing out, as our hearts begin to shrink and no longer expand with possibility. — BB

  2. Avatar
    Michael Dawkins

    Yes to Cecil Williams and Glide Church. His formula is exactly what we need today, very much here in the United States. Love, compassion, and actually doing good for people. May his mission grow and may he Rest in Peace. Amen

  3. Avatar

    In the January 1977 photo in Wikimedia Commons, Rev Cecil Williams was giving out the Martin Luther Jr. Humanitarian award to Reverend Jim Jones and others, not RECEIVING the award.

    1. Avatar

      Good grief…yes, Jones snookered all manner of public and private “influencers” at the time from coast-to-coast and from Diane Feinstein to Bill Graham to members of the Carter Administration and more. In fact, I read of an account of Jones’ tirade back then that drove some celebs right out the door subtly, hoping no press members would accost them before getting to their staffers’ cars…I believe that Sunday included Willie Brown.

  4. Avatar

    Reverend Cecil Williams did not receive a Martin Luther King, Jr. award on January, 1977–he was giving the awards out to Reverend Jim Jones and others at Glide Memorial Church that day.

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