In 2007 when I was living and volunteering in Mexico, my boss took me to see “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith. The story was taken from the real life story of Chris Gardner, a man down on his luck and living on the streets of San Francisco with his young son while he trained to be a stock broker. Later that year, when I was passing through San Francisco on my way home to Oregon, I decided that if I ever got back to San Francisco, I wanted to visit Glide Memorial, a church that featured in Chris’ life as a place where he was sometimes able to take shelter.
This morning I fulfilled that promise to myself. As I was driving into the neighborhood where the church is situated, I passed a storefront where they hand out clean hypodermic needles. The people on the streets looked like the homeless people they hired to work as extras in the movie. I got to Ellis St and found a place to double park (it was set up for that) and I hid anything that might be tempting and locked the doors of my car. As I was walking to the crosswalk, an African American man carrying a case of some sort pursued me and asked me for my car keys. For just a moment I thought of the scene in the movie where Chris Gardner asked a street musician to watch an expensive piece of medical equipment he was supposed to sell while he went inside the building for an interview. While he was inside, he saw the street musician making off with his equipment and he had to leave his interview to pursue her. I wondered if I’d find my car waiting for me when I came out from the church, but I left the key with the man and he gave me a little plastic key with the number 112B on it. He said he’d put something on my windshield so my car wouldn’t be towed for double parking. When I got inside, I asked a woman if I did the right thing in handing over my car key, and she smiled and said, “Don’t worry! Your car will still be there when you leave!”
It seems that every time I visit a church that’s supposed to have a famous pastor, the pastor isn’t there. I had hoped to hear Cecil Williams this morning. In the movie he gave a message of God’s love that had the mostly homeless congregation in tears. Apparently he had knee surgery a couple of weeks ago, so he wasn’t there. I looked around at the congregation, and while the LBGT were well represented as well as people of all colors and ages (including a 91 year old man who was celebrating his birthday), I didn’t see many homeless people in the packed church. I did see them wearing Glide vests and doing some of the directing of traffic and such though.
The other thing I had wanted to hear as a result of the movie was the choir. They were there in full force this morning, but after the first couple songs I had the feeling it was more like a concert than a church choir. They were good, but the words weren’t often put up for me to sing along with, and they were loud.
There was a pleasant surprise this morning. A group of seven people were sharing their stories of a trip they just returned from in Nairobi, Kenya. They had pictures and videos, and all seven of them told about the things that touched them on the trip. It helped make up for not getting to hear my younger sister and nephew tell their stories and show their pictures. Well, I’d still like to have heard from my sister and nephew, but I thought of them this morning while I was listening to the experiences these people had to tell.
After the service, we were all invited downstairs for birthday cake for the 91 year old man who was named Milo. They also had a table set up nearby where they were selling Glide T-shirts and CDs of the choir and ensemble. I got a CD of their Christmas music. Then I went out to see if my car was still where I left it. It was, and it was securely locked with no sign of the man with my key around. I was standing there wondering what to do when he finally showed up and traded me my key for the plastic one he’d given me. By then I was eager to get out of the city and get back to my mountain!
I’m glad I went. I got that itch scratched. But this is one church I don’t think I need to visit again. I appreciate it for the various ministries it has in that neighborhood, but it was too crowded and loud for me.