In 1963, Williams went to Glide United Memorial Methodist Church. Glide then had a small, white, affluent congregation. These congregants didn't share Williams' vision of inclusiveness. Soon they left the church. Williams remained determined. In 1964, he helped create the Council on Religion and Homosexuality, a bold move even by today's standards.
He opened the church to jazz music, gays, hippies, addicts, the poor, poets, and anyone else who wanted to come. He hosted political rallies and services, including a Hooker Convention, speeches by Angela Davis, and the Black Panthers. When Randolph Hearst's daughter Patti was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, Rev. Williams tried to negotiate a deal.
In the 1970s, Glide ensured its status as the meeting ground for the counterculture. The Vietnam War continued to escalate in the early 1970s and Glide remained central in the anti-war movement. Everyone from Bill Cosby to Billy Graham came to Glide to speak about the issues of the day.
When gay activist and City Supervisor Harvey Milk was murdered by fellow Supervisor Dan White in 1979, Williams and the Glide community opened their doors to the city, comforting and healing those who were frightened, grieving, and potentially violent.
The mid-1980s saw the emergence of "Crack" - cheap cocaine sold at $1-$2 a hit. Rev. Williams' son and daughter were claimed for a time by the drug. But instead of calling for more police or street vigilantism, Williams led marches. He set up a microphone for drug dealers and drug users to tell their stories. He invited those affected to join with his congregation.
"All of those gathered stood up together," he said. "The Glide staff, black community leaders, addicts, prostitutes, and grandmothers - poor, wealthy, illiterate and educated - we told our stories of recovery. We told our stories of faith and our stories of resistance."
Glide became active in the fight against HIV. Glide offered free testing and employed a team of outreach workers who combed neighborhoods to get the message out about prevention and care. Glide, a pioneer in AIDS activism, was the first church in the U.S. to offer HIV testing after Sunday services.
As the 21st century begins, Cecil Williams envisions a new church that no longer rejects members of our society: "I want the church to be the church. And it seems to me, if it's going to be the church, it's got to stop turning its head away from poor folks. It's got to stop turning its head away from black folks, from brown folks, yellow folks, red folks, poor white folks. It's got to stop turning its head away from gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender. It's got to stop turning its head away from children who are in desperate need. It's got to stop turning its head away from women, who are going through all kinds of situations where empowerment is critical at this time. What I'm seriously saying is, it's time for the church to be the church, and you always start out with those who are less fortunate, those who are in greater need. Middle class America has got to recognize that it's got to go to the bottom to help folks help themselves."