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The Spirit in San Francisco

Pentecost 2024

We had a great Spirit Service recently on spirituality and age and the important message from this for me was about the richness and strength of faith building through our lives and how our faith changes over time. I don't know about you but I feel I have a certain peace with my faith as I age, more certainty,  generally less doubt, but of course the questions and the quest continues.   Through all of this my relationship with the Trinity has changed and at times I have had particularly intimate and powerful encounters with for example God the creator in my 20s and 30s, Jesus in my teens, 40s, and increasingly today my relationship with the Holy Spirit feels like it is expanding and developing in new and exciting ways. 

This might be something I’m eventually hearing and knowing from my mother’s teaching on faith from my childhood. She has always had a very close relationship with Spirit and on pilgrimages to Walsingham for example we always had to go to the Roman Catholic Shrine, not because she had any issue with the Anglican one, it was that there is a rare and special thing there at the Roman Shrine - a chapel to the Holy Spirit. 

The chapel we have just off the chancel is called many things, depending on church tradition and the experience had in that tiny sacred space visited by so many. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, The Lady Chapel, the Prayer Chapel, The Healing Space, the Sanctuary, the Quiet Place. I think it is all those things but perhaps its overarching name could be the Spirit Chapel. Indeed that could be the strapline of St Wulfran’s Church, because the Spirit sings here and moves and helps so many.

Whilst the Spirit is around us, within us, connecting us, transforming us, protecting and inspiring us, God with us  - there are times when we forget this or for many reasons feel unable to know and feel this. It's like forgetting the Wi-Fi password. Nothing seems to work as well as it should, some things stop working, something is missing  - until we remember to log back in. To reconnect. 

I’ve had times like this and I’m sure you have as well  - you may be there right now. We may read these passages from the bible today and think  - where is the Spirit working today - why can’t we see these acts of great power again? Where is the Spirit in my life?

I wonder if the issue is not the activity of the Holy Spirit but actually our openness to the Spirit ….or perhaps we don’t recognise the work of the Spirit in both the small and large spaces in our lives. Once we start looking for the work of the Spirit I think her action becomes evident. When we actively commit ourselves to the Holy Spirit change follows, we aren’t the same. 

Sometimes it’s easier to see and recognise this work in others. Like me there will have been a number of influential and important people in your life  - that have shown you the work of the Spirit. Someone who was very important to me was the Reverend Cecil Willaims, the pastor of Glide memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco. Sadly he passed away recently and I wanted to share some of his teaching with you this morning.

In 2006 Phil and I celebrated our Civil Partnership with a road trip through California…. In a camper van we went from LA to the Sequoia National Park, onto Yosemite, then San Francisco, down the coast road along the Big Sur onto Sandiago and ended our trip in Palm Springs. It was an amazing once in a lifetime trip. From the advice of a Buddhist  friend of mine at the time, whilst in San Francisco, I went to Glide Memorial Methodist Church in the troubled Tenderloin District.  I have never been to church like it - joyful and real at the same time…. Every kind of humanity there…. Amazing music and wonderful teaching. The place was packed …. The Holy Spirit was so present it was tangible. Glide wasn’t always like this and its transformation came about through a remarkable man called the Reverend Cecil Williams and his wife Janice Mirikitani. 

Reverend Cecil Williams was the pastor of Glide Memorial Church for 50 years. When he joined Gilde Church, with its enormous buildings, there were 35 worshippers. From the outset, Rev. Cecil Williams envisioned Glide as a church without walls—a sanctuary where all were welcome, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or religious background. He rejected the notion of exclusivity and instead embraced a vision of radical inclusion, where the outcast and marginalized found acceptance and belonging. Under his leadership, Glide has become a haven for those on the margins of society …offering a wide range of services and programmes to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. There are about 10,000 people on the parish roll now with 1500 worshiping each Sunday at two full and vibrant services. 

His teaching was always very simple, practical and loving. Through his work with those affected by addiction he often talked about the work of recovery, new life and the Holy Spirit, and some of this teaching in his excellent book ‘No Hiding Place. 

In this book he says: ‘God begins where we do.  A spirituality of recovery begins at the tomb, but it doesn't end there.  When the Spirit moves in,  life moves in.  When the Spirit lifts, the people are lifted.  Any spirituality that isn't about how you live everyday isn't about the Living Spirit. The Spirit liberates us so we can live now.  The Spirit is the power of God that creates and liberates. The Spirit brings you back to life in the here and now.  Listening to church folks you'd think that getting the Spirit makes you good, perfect, and holy but read the Bible for yourself.  The Bible is full of real spiritual people who have messy and imperfect lives.  By reading through the Bible you get the idea that the Spirit feels right at home here among us. We don't have to be perfect to have the Spirit’.

‘To learn to live in the Spirit we begin at the tomb, the tomb of Lazarus, the tomb of Jesus, the tomb of those who are bound to their pasts. The tomb is where it looks like the suffering has won. The tomb is where it looks like there is no hope.  That is where we admit we have hit the bottom. There is no escaping the tomb. We have to accept that a large stone of addiction and despair blocks our way out of the darkness and despair. When we recognise that we need a miracle to live again, then a Spirituality of Recovery can be born in us.  There is no resurrection or rebirth without death. 

There is no recovery without the Spirit. To become spiritual we must stop being afraid of death …..but then again more folks are afraid of living because abundant life requires risking everything to love, liberate and accept yourself and others now. People are afraid of life because it creates diversity and requires commitment to action. To live is to struggle’. 

Elsewhere he has said ‘In times of darkness and despair, it's the Spirit within us that shines brightest, guiding us through the storm and leading us to the light. The Spirit knows no bounds, transcending time and space to connect us with something greater than ourselves. In every moment, the Spirit invites us to awaken to the beauty and wonder of life. Let us heed its call and live with mindfulness, gratitude, and reverence’. 

The journey of listening to the Holy Spirit is not easy. We are called to change. The process of transforming Glide wasn’t easy ….the process of recovery from addiction and loss by the hundreds of thousands of people who have benefited from Glide's work has not been easy…..but of course worth it. Change and transformation are never easy. 

Pope Francis on this topic said: “To put it simply: the Holy Spirit bothers us. Because he moves us, he makes us walk, he pushes the Church to go forward. And we are like Peter at the Transfiguration: 'Ah, how wonderful it is to be here like this, all together!' ... But don't bother us. We want the Holy Spirit to doze off ... we want to domesticate the Holy Spirit. And that's no good. because he is God, he is that wind which comes and goes and you don't know where. 

He is the power of God, he is the one who gives us consolation and strength to move forward. But: to move forward! And this bothers us. It's so much nicer to be comfortable.”

So on this Pentecost Sunday I want to leave you with these thoughts and this invitation. If we have truly invited the Spirit into our lives ….how are we being bothered…changed and transformed? What does that look like? How is it making a difference to you and to others?  Can anyone tell?

If like me you find yourself lacking…. Do not fear we have the love and Grace of God and with this have the opportunity to start afresh.  Let us recommitted ourselves now and today to the Spirit:

Come Holy Spirit, Come! 

Dwell in our hearts. 

Illuminate our minds. 

Direct our footsteps. 

Be our guide and strength. 

We commit to you fully.

Come Holy Spirit Come. 


Artwork for Rev. Cecil Williams 90th Birthday

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