As the lead pastor of one of the largest churches in The United Methodist Church, I am indebted to a woman who I never met: Elizabeth Snyder Glide. Lizzie, as she was known throughout her life, was born in Louisiana in 1852. During a family bible study, Lizzie had her own Aldersgate experience. Her father read Matthew 25:31-46 about the coming judgment and separation of sheep and goats, representing those who showed compassion to others and those who failed to do so. Lizzie, even though a child, was deeply moved by this passage and discussed it more deeply with her father. Her father told her that as long as she was a good girl and loved Christ, she would be assured a place in heaven. This was a defining moment upon which would direct her future path and actions.
The family moved to Sacramento, California in 1867 and joined the local Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Lizzie was an active member and Sunday School teacher. It was at this church that she met her future husband, Joseph Glide, who was a cattle baron.
In 1889 evangelist Sam P. Jones came to Sacramento. It was at a revival that Lizzie came forward to consecrate her life to Christian service. Even though she had come to live a life of ease in the Glide mansion, she soon established a mission for the most destitute in Sacramento, working there herself and often giving her own testimony of sanctification. She became well-known and well-loved among the poor, and a highly sought after speaker.
Lizzie’s mission work extended far beyond Sacramento. She began to live more simply so she would have more wealth to give away for mission work in other countries. She even asked her husband to stop buying expensive gifts on her birthday and other special occasions and give her money instead, so she could give more away.
When her husband died in 1909, Lizzie took over his business, quickly acquiring a business sense. She became a very respected business person in California. In the running of the family business, she continued to channel monies to the betterment of others through the work of the Church.
In the early part of the 20th century, San Francisco was a rough and dangerous place for women. One day, Lizzie stopped a woman on the street and asked her what she would do if she had a large sum of money to use to better others. The woman replied that she would build a safe home for working women. In 1914, Lizzie gave her first gift to San Francisco: The Mary Elizabeth Inn. For one hundred years, this United Methodist ministry continues to offer women a safe, affordable place to live in the City. When I was a candidate for campus minister at San Francisco State University, I stayed at Mary Elizabeth Inn for the duration of my interviews (Lizzie continued her commitment to women by building dormitories for women at UC Berkeley and Asbury College).
One day when she was praying in her room in Sacramento, she had a vision of a church is the heart of San Francisco. Even then, the number of unchurched people in San Francisco was quite high. She saw the city ripe for mission, and in 1929 began constructing a church at the corner of Taylor and Ellis. The cornerstone was laid in 1930 with the inscription:
GLIDE MEMORIAL EVANGELISTIC TEMPLE
A House of Prayer for All Peoples
Glide Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South opened its door in 1931.
With Lizzie Glide’s firm foundation, the church has grown into her vision. Keeping with her commitment to reaching out to the poorest of the poor, today Glide serves nearly a million free meals, offers free health care, low-income and supportive housing, recovery services, child care and education, and continues to draw people from around the world for engaging and transformative worship. Lizzie’s encounter with scripture as a child is boldly lived out at Glide:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto is a pastor, scholar, and activist. She is the lead pastor at Glide Memorial Church and the only woman serving as the lead pastor of a church in the top hundred membership churches in the UMC. A leading voice for LGBTQ justice in the church, she is the co-author of Holy Conversations: Talking About Homosexuality. She holds a PhD from Drew University, where she has taught Prophetic Leadership for the DMin program. She is also an adjunct professor in United Methodist Studies at Pacific School of Religion.