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San Francisco Glide church reverend steps into role welcoming LGBTQ community

Glide Memorial minister brings Pride to the pulpit
Glide Memorial minister brings Pride to the pulpit 04:06

SAN FRANCISCO — Song and spirit fill the air at Glide Memorial Church Sunday mornings as Rev. Marvin White takes the stage to lead an inclusive sermon. 

In his official capacity as the minister of celebration for the historic church, he's continuing his beloved predecessor Cecil Williams' message of welcoming with unconditional love — but with his own twist. 

"I remember asking Cecil because people would say you're not Cecil or you're the next Cecil," he told CBS News Bay Area. "I went to Cecil and said 'What do I do with this?' He said 'You have to be you. We saw you and that is what we invite you to bring to this congregation.'"

One of his first acts as the new leader of Glide, he chose to hoist the Pride flag directly outside of the sanctuary. It was a first for the historic congregation in the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. 

"That is one of my favorite sights, the flag flying through the windows. You can see the LGBTQ flag," said White. 

He's on a mission to do his part to beautify the congregation with the intent of showing anyone who steps foot inside that they, too, are worthy of beauty. 

"The other side of being gay is that I've been on a campaign to make sure that beauty and aesthetics are a part of unconditional love and how we serve community," he explained. "If we don't have a building people are proud of, we won't be the community anchor people need." 

And he's doing just that through the lens of his upbringing as a member of a religion that he knew couldn't accept him for being gay, but with a longing for a spiritual home. 

"From being a Jehovah's Witness, to staying away from church to chasing boys into their churches and being told not to stay at those churches because my freedom would put their freedom at risk, and understanding that all of that was created, so I would never come into my power as a Black queer prophetic man who has particular access to the divine," said White. 

But he applies that story to his practice, using himself as an example of why the church should welcome with unconditional love as clergy leadership across the Christian faith grapples with growing calls to expand queer people in their ranks. 

"When the church runs out gay people, they're saying, 'You're too powerful and I can never have you get too close to your power.' And we believed it wholesale," White said. "I want to explore the return of ourselves to ourselves and what an amazing world to live in for queer folks from coming back into their spiritual power."

His journey to Glide is as unpredictable yet thoughtful as his outfit choice for Sunday mass. But one that can only conclude with fate. 

"When I was 18, I came to Glide. I didn't understand it," White recalled. "I was like what is all of this. There are Black people, white people, gay people, straight people, people saving seats like they're at Stern Grove."

And now with White in the Pulpit, 40 years later, the scene remains.

"Sometimes I'm still like looking over my shoulder to see if it's me. That I'm here," said White. "I just have to step into it, not on top of it or over it. I don't have to make my mark or over I just have to step into it and that's what I'm doing."

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