The California-Nevada Conference and Bishop Minerva Carcaño have sued the Glide Foundation board of trustees, escalating the battle for control of San Francisco’s famed Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 11 in San Francisco County’s Superior Court, seeks a court order preserving The United Methodist Church’s control over trust property.
Carcaño oversees the California-Nevada Conference. She said in a note posted on the conference website that she and the conference sued because the foundation board engaged in “blatant violation of the trust clauses that govern the life of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.”
She added: “Please know that we do so with heavy hearts, but with the commitment to be good stewards of our United Methodist churches, ministries, and our witness.”
A conference press release about the lawsuit asserted that the foundation board violated explicit terms of the trust “by attempting to sever ties with the UMC and wrongfully assert control over the trust property.”
Glide Foundation leaders released a statement saying they had hoped to settle the dispute through negotiations.
“We are deeply concerned that the Callifornia-Nevada Annual Conference and Bishop Carcaño are willing to jeopardize the important work we do in what appears to be an attempted hostile takeover,” Karen Hanrahan, chief executive of the Glide Foundation, said. “Glide has, and will always be, about serving the underserved and bridging gaps, not widening them.”
Glide Memorial United Methodist is one of the denomination’s largest churches, with average weekly attendance of more than 1,800.
It’s a San Francisco landmark, known for joyous and unconventional Sunday services, as well for community outreach through a range of ministries.
But conflicts became apparent earlier this year, when the Rev. Jay Williams resigned as senior pastor.
“While I love Glide, I do not love its organizational structure,” he said on April 15. “Dynamics in the current configuration prohibited me from leading fully as a trained Christian theologian called to ordained ministry as an elder in the United Methodist church.”
Carcaño, in a June 23 open letter to the conference, said she had serious concerns about governance and financial administration of the church. She also said the Rev. Cecil Williams, longtime pastor of the church but now in retirement status, continues to be in charge.
“No pastor has been allowed to exercise their rightful authority or responsibilities while serving at Glide,” Carcaño said. “To this day, Cecil Williams and his wife, Janice Mirikitani, make all decisions in the background at Glide.”
Mountain Sky Area Bishop Karen Oliveto was senior pastor at Glide before her 2016 election to the episcopacy.
Carcaño also said in her letter that the “great majority” of those attending Glide’s services were from non-Christian faiths or were atheists or agnostics, and that the services themselves “lack the fundamentals of Christian worship.”
The bishop added: “We seek to be in good and loving relationship with persons of other faiths and beliefs, and those who claim no faith. However, this should never cause us to lose our own faith.”
Williams and Mirikitani, in a June 20 column for the San Francisco Chronicle, said, “The United Methodist Church is attempting to make Glide more traditional and conservative. It is our concern that this would undermine the radically inclusive nature of our community and divert resources from our progressive mission and social services, and many other vital programs. We are determined to stay the course.”
In announcing the lawsuit, Carcaño said she and other conference leaders would not comment further “as the matter is before the court.”
According to the lawsuit, Lizzie Glide of San Francisco sought in 1929 to honor her late husband by donating property and other assets to further Methodist Church religious and educational work. The property was used to construct an evangelistic center, known first as Glide Memorial Methodist Church and later as Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, the suit says.
The Glide Foundation and its board were established in 1929 to oversee the trust, with the understanding that “the property and work of the Glide Foundation would always remain under the jurisdiction and control of the Annual Conference,” the suit says.
The lawsuit claims that in May of this year the foundation rejected Carcaño’s appointment of a new pastor for Glide and prohibited the bishop from attending the church to make an announcement about the appointment.
On June 21, the suit says, the foundation sought to delete references to the denomination from its articles and bylaws. The suit says foundation leaders met again on July 9, without giving notice to the conference, to form a new corporation called Glide Community Church.
“The Glide Foundation’s attempt, in direct violation of Lizzie Glide’s expressed written intent and the Methodist Church Trust Clause, to wrest control of property held forever in trust for the Methodist Church simply cannot be countenanced,” the suit says.
In addition to asking for a judicial declaration of the church’s control, the lawsuit contends the California-Nevada Conference has the right to appoint all Glide Foundation board members and replace current members. It says the conference also is entitled to a full accounting of the foundation’s books and other records.
The foundation’s leaders, in an Oct. 21 message posted online, said they had established a nonprofit to “track funding to important social service programs and further strengthen our protection of donor intent.”
They also said they had created an “alternative structure” called Glide Community Church, “which we currently do not plan to use, but which is available if it ever becomes necessary to ensure continuity of Glide’s iconic Sunday celebrations, which continue to thrive.”
The Glide Foundation’s board of trustees includes Mary Glide, and a comment from her was included in the statement released after the suit was filed.
“My great-great-grandmother Lizzie Glide felt a strong call to serve others with compassion when she founded Glide almost 90 years ago,” she said. “As a Methodist, I believe Lizzie would be proud of the inclusive, loving work we’re doing today, and saddened by the actions of the California-Nevada Annual Conference.”
Hodges is a Dallas-based writer for United Methodist News Service. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.