Reverend Cecil Williams, who until today had been a living testament to the modern era of San Francisco and its reputation for accepting all varieties of the human condition, has died at age 94.

Williams, who retired for the third and final time a year ago February, had maintained the title of minister of liberation and chief executive of the GLIDE Foundation — the nonprofit offshoot of Glide Memorial Church which has built a reputation for providing services to the poor and drug-addicted, as well as housing a Center for Social Justice.

Back in 1963, as a Methodist minister from West Texas, Williams was sent by the church to take over as minister for the struggling Glide Memorial Church — itself founded in 1929 by wealthy widow and Methodist philanthropist Lizzie Glide. By the early 60s, as Williams was fond of saying and as he told the New York Times last fall, "he found six old white people in the pews, all wrapped in the same shawl."

He set about recasting Glide as a less overtly religious, non-denominational space of worship and communal gathering, which gained high-profile parishioners including the poet Maya Angelou, and billionaire Warren Buffett. (The church was already a haven for liberal Christian theology in the 1960s where other ministers, like Rev. John Moore, published a three-part sermon series in the Chronicle advocating for Christian acceptance of alternative sexualities.)

The Rev. Cecil Williams accepts the Pioneer Award at the 17th annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Marriott Hotel on June 10, 2006 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Over the decades, Glide gained a reputation for being a center of gospel music in San Francisco, with its 100-person choir and weekly Sunday Celebrations drawing large audiences.

And under Williams's leadership, it simultaneously became known for its charitable work in the heart of the Tenderloin neighborhood, which for much of the church's existence has been a nexus of poverty and drug addiction. In addition to counseling and treatment services, Glide serves about a half-million free meals each year through its daily free-meal program — and city residents are familiar with the annual media coverage of Glide's holiday meal, which include a Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas Eve luncheon catered by House of Prime Rib, and a Christmas Day dinner.

Mayor London Breed put out a statement, calling Reverend Williams the "conscience of our San Francisco community."

"He spoke out against injustice and he spoke for the marginalized," Breed said. "He led with compassion and wisdom, always putting the people first and never relenting in his pursuit of justice and equality. His kindness brought people together and his vision changed our City and the world."

Williams lost his wife of many years, poet Janice Mirikitani, in mid-2021. And he had slowly faded into the background at Glide, appearing only occasionally at events. After a bout with COVID last fall, Williams ended up moving into an assisted living facility, Coterie, that is a few blocks away from Glide.

The Times' Heather Knight asked Williams in December how he looked at the current state of San Francisco, and 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."

Top image: George Lucas and Rev. Cecil Williams during Columbia Pictures Special Screening of "The Pursuit of Happyness" in San Francisco at AMC Metreon in San Francisco, CA, United States. (Photo by E. Charbonneau/WireImage for Sony Pictures-Los Angeles)