Glenda Hope was born in 1936 in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up there in a Southern Baptist family. They were regular church participants and active in a congregation of about 3,000, including Sunday worship, Sunday School, Youth Fellowships, Vacation Bible School, and other facets of the church. During her childhood, a particular Sunday School teacher had a profound impact on her, though it was not until she moved to the West Coast that she realized how truly radical a proclamation of the inclusive Gospel of God's love she provided, as it was couched in such wonderful, pious words.
Glenda went to Florida State University, intending to become a physical education teacher, but tore up both knees long before the discovery of arthroscopic surgery. In her senior year, she became a Presbyterian and decided to "enter a church vocation," which did not mean becoming ordained clergy since the Presbyterian church did not ordain women at that time. Furthermore, she had never known of an ordained woman in any denomination. She enrolled in the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, from 1958 until 1960, pursuing a M.A. degree in English Bible. While she was doing her studies, she became involved in the nascent Civil Rights Movement. This involvement continued through working in two different college settings, spending a year of training in hospital chaplaincy, and four years as Director of Christian Education in a large Atlanta church. She felt lucky to be in the right place at the right time with the right people, making it possible for her to break some of the bonds of unexamined racism with which she had grown up.
When the Presbyterian Church voted to ordain women, Glenda decided to pursue ordination. Since becoming ordained required studies in the original languages of the Bible, she completed Hebrew studies first at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta and at Columbia Theological Seminary in a suburb of Atlanta. At ITC, where she was the first white woman to be a student, she was treated like any other student. At Columbia however, the professor called on her the first day of class to read in Hebrew, fortunately something for which ITC had prepared her well. Discovering that she could do her studies better than the men in the class (in which there were no other women) he never called on her again, even when she waved her hand in the air. This would be a good lesson on how sexism would affect her career. Another example was when she appeared before Atlanta Presbytery asking to "come under care as a candidate for the ministry." One of the men in the Presbytery announced he would vote "no" because her "candidacy was upsetting the order of the Universe." She took that as a commission and has been trying to do it ever since.
In order to be elgible for professional ministry, Glenda needed a Masters in Divinity degree. She was accepted to San Francisco Theological Seminary, and during those two years (1967-69) she learned from many students who were involved in the Peace Movement and the Draft Resistance Movement. She and her fellow students believed the deaths of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were connected to deep issues of racism and war. At this point, she began to feel a sense of despair and disillusionment. She returned home to Atlanta for the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. It was while walking through the streets of her hometown behind the funeral procession of a mule-drawn wagon, hearing Mahalia Jackson sing "Precious Lord, take my hand," and mourning that she found herself recommitting to the work of justice and healing with all those people of faith. It was a moment that restored and deepened her own faith profoundly.
While she was at San Francisco Theological Seminary, a friend gave a small dinner party, where she met Scott Hope, a San Francisco State professor. She had just been arrested at the Presidio for a sit-in in the Commanding General's office and he had just been beaten by the police while supporting the Third World Student strike. In six weeks they married, a union which lasted 29 years until his death in 1997.
Glenda searched in vain for a call to a church in the Bay Area until the "old girls' network" connected her with the Old First Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, which called her to become the assistant pastor. In 1970, She became the first clergywoman ordained and installed in the Presbyterian Church in northern California. She did not stay there for long, leaving in 1972 to form a house church of 8 people sitting on the floor in her living room. This was the beginning of what would become her lifelong ministry: San Francisco Network Ministries. She started with no money, nor any institutional support or recognition, simply a call from God to reach out to unchurched young adults. Her first house church grew to about 40, including a number of gay men and lesbian women. They expanded their ministry to include a coffeehouse on Bush Street which attracted a wide variety of young adults including some transgender people, the first time she had ministered to transgender people, to her knowledge. It was a place where people from the Tenderloin, homeless people, and people with drug addiction mingled with young professionals. They hosted and created an astonishing array of programs, and drew a large variety of people, including Starhawk (in her early years) and many people involved in politics. She also became the pastor of 7th Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1978.
Her congregation began accepting field education students from Pacific School of Religion, several lesbian women and gay men among them. A resolution against ordaining LGBT people was brought to Presbytery and a committee was appointed to "study this and bring back a recommendation." Glenda was asked to serve on that committee and at first refused. She reluctantly accepted because the chairperson, a person who she deeply respected, specifically asked for her. Working in this committee she was struck for the first time by how few passages the Bible actually had regarding LGBT people, and in what context they were written. This realization, coupled with her affection and respect for her students and others, was used by the Holy Spirit to change her unexamined homophobia into an openness to God's Inclusive Love.
When the AIDS pandemic began, Glenda realized that many homeless people and residents of the Tenderloin were sickening and quickly dying from this disease. Together with a homeless gay man, she recruited several people to form the Tenderloin AIDS Network. They raised money for a needs assessment but the City refused to listen to their organization, so they conducted a sit-in and press conference in the office of the Director of Public Health. They were able to obtain some money that they used for setting up rehabilitation spaces and opening a storefront for emotional support, referral services, and preventative outreach including condoms and bleach kits. For five years, the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center was a program of Network Ministries. They established the first support groups for transgender people in San Francisco and Glenda conducted many memorial services for people who had died of AIDS. At the same time, Network Ministries' staff were acting as the pastoral team for 7th Avenue Presbyterian Church, attracting many LGBT people who became active members, deacons and elders. Some of them formed the AIDS Interfaith Network and the congregation acted in defiance of the larger denomination by announcing its intention to "ordain as deacons and elders, all those to whom the Spirit leads us, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation."
Because of their stance towards ordaining LGBT people, another church tried to bring charges against 7th Avenue and against Glenda which could have led to major consequences including stripping her of her ordination. The congregation stood united against the intimidation, and the other church withdrew its charges. Over the ensuing years, both 7th Avenue and Glenda have worked for the Presbyterian denomination to change its policy toward ordination for LGBT people, finally achieving success at the 2010 General Assembly. Along the way, she also became involved with the Metropolitan Community Church, guest preaching several times and being awarded the title of "Living Saint" because of her work with poor people with AIDS. She continues to preach there from time to time as well as regularly attending their Wednesday night Taize services. In 1998, Network Ministries opened the SafeHouse for Homeless Women Escaping Prostitution. In these 14 years, it has served over 150 women, many of them, like many staff members, lesbian or bi-sexual.
Her personal journey in working with LGBT people in her ministry can best be summarized thus: “It has been personal contact with LGBT individuals, as well as serious Bible study, which has changed me, just as contact with people of other races changed me. I feel that oppressed people have set me free and I am very lucky and grateful for that.”
(This biographical statement provide by Rev. Glenda Hope, with editing by Joel Layton)
Biography Date: March, 2012