There is only one place the Rev. Cecil Williams would think to spend Christmas Day: Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.

Williams could be called a founding father of modern-day San Francisco, known for more than half a century as a fighter for racial equality, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and dignity for homeless people and those addicted to drugs.

At 94, he’s mostly out of the spotlight, so I decided to chat with him about his memories over 60 years at Glide and his thoughts on the city in which we both live.

In 1963, the Methodist church sent Williams, who grew up in a little town in West Texas, to lead a small struggling church at Taylor and Ellis Streets in San Francisco. He joked that he found six old white people in the pews, all wrapped in the same shawl.

He removed the obvious signs of religion — the cross, altar and hymnals. And he turned Glide into a world-famous church with a boisterous choir, house band, progressive political bent and membership roster in the thousands. The poet Maya Angelou worshiped there, and the billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett attends church service via Zoom.

These days, Glide mostly hums along without Williams, who retired for the third time in February, apparently for good. His last title was minister of liberation and chief executive of the Glide Foundation, an offshoot that focuses on promoting social justice and helping people out of poverty and drug addiction. Glide recently separated from the Methodist church and now operates independently.

I visited Williams twice in recent weeks to check in on him. The 94-year-old has led a quieter life since the 2021 death of his wife, Janice Mirikitani, a onetime poet laureate of the city, who teamed up with Williams to turn Glide into the force it is today.

Williams was hospitalized in September because of Covid-19, prompting him to move out of his longtime home in the city’s leafy, residential Glen Park neighborhood and into Coterie, an assisted living center six blocks west of Glide. He lives on the seventh floor and spends his days watching news on the television, attending panels on current events, doing physical therapy and taking tai chi classes.

“I came here to live,” Williams, seated in his wheelchair, told me. “I didn’t come here to die.”

When asked just about any question, Williams can turn his answer into a sermon, his voice more hushed now than it used to be, but his words just as resonant.

Regarding his beloved San Francisco and its plunge in reputation since the pandemic, he said: “We have serious problems, but I think we can face it because we’ve faced it before. We still have a commitment for humanity. We don’t give in. We go on. We’re just beginning.”

On accepting people of all races, sexual orientations and religious backgrounds into his church, he said: “I want people to be who they really are. Be it now, do it now. Why wait?”

His children, Albert, 58, and Kimberly, 60, help care for him and are scheduled to attend church with him on Christmas. But his biggest supporter may be Thomas Walsh, 66, whom he hired as his executive assistant 15 years ago and who has since become a close friend and caretaker.

“I call him my main messenger,” Williams said. “I have to tell him to sit down sometimes. He can’t be lassoed.”

Walsh, who is still paid by Glide to support Williams, accompanies the reverend to his medical and physical therapy appointments, has meals with him at Coterie and takes him to Glide whenever he’s feeling well enough to go.

“I love what I do — I always have,” said Walsh, who worked in advertising before taking the Glide job and who doesn’t consider himself religious. “He means a lot to me.”

The two sat in Coterie’s lounge on a recent morning, bantering. I asked Williams to name his favorite memory from his 60 years at Glide.

“Oh my God,” he said, appearing to get lost in thought.

“That’s 60 years of looking back,” Walsh explained.

Then he had it. “Janice,” Williams said definitively.

He recalled the day he met his future wife at church, asking her with swagger if she knew who he was. She did not, a fact they laughed about for decades.

Walsh said that even though the church had new leadership now, it was important for Williams to visit as often as he could.

“They still respect him — they still want to see his face,” Walsh said. “It’s important to keep the Glide legacy alive.”


What are you looking forward to in 2024? Graduations, big birthdays, travel to new places?

Tell us your hopes for the new year at CAtoday@nytimes.com. Please include your full name and the city in which you live.


Young people across the country are turning their holiday gift lists into elaborate virtual presentations this year, bringing a holiday tradition into the technological age.

Many of them are using PowerPoint and Google Slides to create presentations for their families that detail their wish lists for the holiday season, some with as many as 18 slides and tech-savvy features such as animated photos and QR codes.

The presentations, though not a new tool, have become something of a trend this year, Alyson Krueger reported in a recent article for The Times, and the slide decks have become more involved, too.

While the presentations have convinced some families to whip out their credit cards, for others, the pitches have landed flat. But the list makers aren’t deterred. “Some of my family members, especially my dad and cousins, were like, ‘Wow, this is a lot,’” Peyton Chediak, a college student from Orange County, told Krueger in a recent interview. “I’m just like, ‘I know, but I’m extra.’”


Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla, Maia Coleman, Briana Scalia and Halina Bennet contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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