Family tree for Unitarian Universalism

Drew asked about a “family tree” for the Unitarian Universalism, and as it happens I had drawn one back in 2003, so I revised it and sent it to him. It might be of interest to others:

Simplified family tree of the Unitarian Universalism

This family tree is based on a revisionist interpretation of Unitarian Universalist history, and therefore some explanation is in order.

First, this family tree shows Transylvanian Unitarianism as quite separate from North American Unitarianism. This is based on my reading of Earl Morse Wilbur’s history of European Unitarianism; Wilbur dearly wanted to connect Transylvanian and North American Unitarians, but the few connections he documents may be summed up as: maybe a few English-speaking Unitarians read a few books about Transylvanian Unitarianism. When you look at the two Unitarian groups today, some of the differences are more pronounced than the vague theological similarities: the Transylvanians have bishops, their religion seems more narrowly ethnic, etc. Thus, I depict the two groups as quite separate.

I understand North American Unitarianism and Universalism as being reactions against aspects of Calvinism. Thus I show both groups as having roots in Calvinism.

North American Unitarians came in large part from the New England Standing Order churches; there wasn’t enough room to show the small but important influence of Joseph Priestley and a few other early Unitarians who brought their Unitarianism from England, rather than getting it from Boston. Thus I show the major event in the beginning of North American Unitarianism to be the split between the conservatives — people like Jonathan Edwards — and the liberals — people like Charles Chauncy, a split which took place after the Great Awakening. However, the first openly Unitarian congregation in North America was King’s Chapel; originally affiliated with the Church of England, it became Unitarian in 1785, long before any of the Standing Order churches openly declared themselves to be Unitarian.

The beginnings of North American Universalism are a little more tangled. John Murray and George DeBenneville brought their Universalist beliefs from England when they came to live in the coastal cities of the New World; that history is well known. But there’s another history, well documented by scholar Stephen Marini and others, of how Universalism also arose in central New England, often in formerly Baptist churches. Thus I show Universalism as having some roots in Baptist traditions; this is perhaps most evident in the institutional structures (or lack thereof) of early Universalism. Then too, it is important to mention John Murray’s marriage to Judith Sargent; she came from a prominent and wealthy New England family, and both her family connections and her own intelligence contributed a great deal to John’s eventual success as a Universalist standard-bearer.

By about 1825, both Unitarians and Universalists were well established in North America. But the boundaries of both denominations remained somewhat porous. In the early nineteenth century, Unitarians sometimes cooperated with the Christian Connexion denomination (not show in the family tree). In the late nineteenth century, a small group of ministers split from the Unitarians to form the Free Religious Association, and in a few cases they brought their congregations with them; some of those congregations reportedly never rejoined the Unitarian denomination (though I’ve never been able to document that myself). Then around 1900, some Icelandic Lutheran churches in the prairie provinces of Canada switched to the Unitarian denomination; at least one other formerly Lutheran church, Nora Church in Hanska, Minnesota, also joined the Unitarians.

However, Unitarian boundaries were not completely porous. When William Jackson, an African American Baptist minister, tried to join the American Unitarian Association in 1860, bringing his congregation with him, he was carefully kept out.

In Universalism, the porous boundaries become most evident in the late nineteenth century, a time when many Universalists became enamored with spiritualism. Then spiritualism became an organized religion, and some Universalists, such as minister John Murray Spear, left Universalism to become Spiritualists. But again, the boundaries of Universalism were not completely porous. A splinter group of Primitive Baptists (Baptists who, among other things, refuse to have musical instruments in church, relying instead on a capella singing) adopted Universalist beliefs, probably after having read books by Hosea Ballou, the great Universalist theologian. But there has been very little interest in exploring the commonalities between Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBU) and Universalists, or for that matter Unitarian Universalists (the PBU-UU connection between may seem more robust theologically than the connection between Transylvanian and North American Unitarians; but the class difference is far greater).

As for the racial boundaries of Universalism, they were slightly more porous than those of the Unitarians. The Universalists accepted Joseph Jordan, an African American and former Baptist minister, into fellowship and ordained him in 1889. However, the racial boundaries were not all that porous: there remained little denominational support for African American Universalists outside of a couple of congregations in Virginia, and individual Universalist congregations in the South remained explicitly segregationist up into the mid-1960s.

The late nineteenth century saw a growing number of connections between Unitarians and Universalists ; this is symbolized on the family tree by Eliza Tupper Wilkes; she was ordained a Universalist minister, but worked for both groups at different times, and founded both Universalist and Unitarian congregations. There were also strong connections between both the Unitarians and the Universalists with the Congregationalists. During the early twentieth century, there were Universalist congregations that merged into Congregationalist congregations, and both Universalist and Unitarian congregations that federated with Congregationalist congregations. Some of the federated congregations still exist; they are one congregation in real life, but on paper they also exist as two separate congregations, and when you join a federated congregation you decide if you’re joining as, e.g., a Congregationalist or a Unitarian.

In 1961, the Unitarians and the Universalists consolidated (the legal term is “consolidated,” not “merged”). This now seems inevitable to us here in North America, but groups like the Khasi Hills Unitarians in India, or the Universalist churches in the Philippines, had no corresponding group to merge with.

Finally, it is worth remembering that several features of contemporary North American Unitarian Universalism which today seem diagnostic in helping to identify who’s a Unitarian Universalist are actually recent innovations. The “seven principles,” the widespread use of the flaming chalice in worship services, the water communion service — all these grew out of the feminist revolution of the 1980s, a revolution led by people like Natalie Gulbrandsen. Feminist theology has helped drive us further away from groups like the Primitive Baptist Universalists, while driving us closer to the United Church of Christ (UCC), a very liberal Christian group that is the inheritor of the old conservative New England churches from which the Unitarians split in the early nineteenth century. The UCC and the UUA today are close religious relatives, sociologically, politically, and demographically. The UCC and the UUA cooperated to produce the innovative “Our Whole Lives” comprehensive sexuality education program; politically, UCC churches are often to the left of UU churches; demographically both groups a dominated by white college-educated professionals. The only big difference today is that more UCC members believe in God than do Unitarian Universalists; though that too may be changing, as a friend of mine who’s a UCC minister says that most of the children and teens in her church are professed atheists.

PDF of the family tree.

Clergy hit a new low in perceptions of ethics and honesty

Gallup has been polling people in the U.S. since 1977 about perceptions of the honesty and ethics of various professions. These Gallup polls rate the perceived honesty of professions as “very high/high,” “average,” or “very low/low” (with the obvious addition of a choice for “no opinion”).

In Gallup’s most recent poll about perceptions of the ethics and honesty of various professions, the nursing profession again tops the list, with 84% of people giving them a “very high/high” rating, 15% giving them an “average rating,” and 1% giving them a “very low/low” rating.

By contrast, only 37% of people give clergy as a profession a “very high/high” rating for honesty and ethics; 43% give an “average rating,” 15% give a “very low/low” rating, with the remainder offering “no opinion.” In their report, Gallup made a special note of the decline in the perception of clergy honesty and ethics:

“Gallup has measured Americans’ views of the clergy’s honesty and ethics 34 times beginning in 1977, and this year’s 37% very high/high rating is the lowest to date. Although the overall average positive rating is 54%, it has consistently fallen below that level since 2009. The historical high of 67% occurred in 1985. Positive views of the honesty and ethics of the clergy dropped in 2002 amid a sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, and although positive ratings rebounded somewhat in the next few years, they fell to 50% in 2009 and have been steadily declining since 2012.”

However, although the Catholic sexual abuse scandal is foremost in many people’s minds, evangelical Christian blogger Warren Throckmorton notes that there are other clergy scandals affecting some people’s perceptions of clergy. Throckmorton specifically mentions the recent accusations of clergy financial misconduct at Harvest Bible Church, an evangelical Christian megachurch near Chicago: when some whistle-blower bloggers made those accusations public, rather than addressing the accusations, Harvest Bible Church sued the bloggers for defamation. Throckmorton contrasts Harvest Bible Church with Willow Creek Church, another big evangelical Christian megachurch which recently ousted its founding pastor after credible allegations of misconduct; subsequently the entire leadership team resigned, realizing their leadership had been compromised by their poor handling of the allegations, and realizing that the church needed to get a fresh start. (Throckmorton’s most recent blog post about Harvest Bible Church, which links to the Gallup poll, is here.) We could add more examples from outside evangelical Christianity of how organized religious groups respond poorly to accusations of ethical lapses and dishonesty: the many accusations against the Church of Scientology and their opaque responses come immediately to mind.

One thing that I get from Throckmorton’s post is that poor governance goes hand in hand with decline in trust in clergy. And we should distinguish governance from polity. The hierarchical polity of the Roman Catholic Church should in theory be more effective at removing unethical clergy than our Unitarian Universalist congregational polity; more than one unethical Unitarian Universalist minister was able to continue their unethical ways because the Unitarian Universalist Association cannot prevent a local congregation from hiring whomever they want as minister. However, all too often the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy covered up clergy misconduct. The Unitarian Universalist Association, by contrast, has recommended that search committees carry out careful background checks of potential new clergy hires; in Unitarian Universalism, the failures in governance too often take place at the local level, representing the biggest weakness of congregational polity is dealing with ethics; but on the whole, despite the weakness of its polity, Unitarian Universalists have a somewhat better record of dealing with clergy misconduct than the Roman Catholic Church. Again, my point here is that no type of polity is immune from ethical lapses; the real issue is good governance practices within whatever polity a religion might have.

I suspect, therefore, that the decline in the perception of clergy honesty is linked to a wider decline in trust of organized religion — a decline that in many cases is deserved. Lay leaders and clergy, regardless of our polity, need to be scrupulously careful about maintaining good governance practices that are transparent and that strengthen accountability; and when ethical violations arise, we need to address them quickly and transparently.

Battling implicit bias

Questions have been raised about the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a psychological test which purports to find implicit bias in individuals. Olivia Goldhill, writing for Quartz, an online business journal, reports that the IAT has a low reliability, or test-retest, score; where perfect reliability would score as 1, and strong reliability would score as 0.7-0.8, the race IAT has a reliability score of 0.44, or unacceptable. Goldhill also reports that several meta-analyses have found that the IAT is a poor predictor of behavior.

I have my own criticism of the well-known race IAT, which you can take online at the Project Implicit Web site. I took this test online, and scored as having a low to moderate bias in favor of African Americans. As much as I’d like to think I’m Mr. Egalitarian, I had a problem with the test: it required me to make fast judgments about low-resolution photos of facial characteristics, and I know myself well enough to know that I have poor facial recognition ability — I once passed my mother and younger sister on the street and only recognized them when I realized that these two women were laughing at me — so any test that requires me to recognize facial characteristics is not going to produce accurate results.Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the actual test, I’m still skeptical of using tests for implicit bias to implement organizational change. In my experience, that’s not the way organizational change actually happens: it’s not as easy as administering a test, identifying who has implicit bias, and then watching the complete eradication of bias. If it were that easy, we already would have eradicated racism, sexism, etc.

“What the ‘Bias of Crowds’ Phenomenon Means for Corporate Diversity Efforts,” an article by Liz Kofman (a change management consultant with a doctorate in sociology), suggests a different path towards changing organizational biases that I find more pragmatic. Writing for Behavioral Scientist, an online non-profit magazine, Kofman identifies three recommendations for organizations wishing to get rid of bias.

First of all, Kofman suggests that we “focus on changing processes, not people.” In other words, forget all those training sessions where you make individuals in the organization confront their inner biases; instead, change your organizational processes to reduce chances for bias. Why don’t more organizations do this? I suspect it’s because it’s much easier to hold a workshop on implicit bias than it is to do the hard and detailed work of changing organizational processes. It’s fine to hold those workshops, and Unitarian Universalist congregations wishing to address bias should continue to offer, for example, the excellent “Beloved Conversations” class developed by Mark Hicks at Meadville/Lombard Theological School. Just don’t expect one workshop to take the place of lots of rather boring but necessary detail work.

Kofman’s second recommendation is to “prioritize process change and stick to it.” She points out that this is not easy; it takes “organizational will and discipline to implement and sustain … new processes.” Furthermore, Kofman says, an organization needs to focus on a few key process changes, making those a priority; otherwise, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with too many changes and then nothing happens. Prioritizing process changes, and sticking to them, has proved to be an insurmountable problem for most Unitarian Universalist congregations I’ve known: lay leadership changes from year to year and so priorities change from year to year; new and attractive projects arise and draw attention away from ongoing projects. It’s easier to do that high-profile capital campaign, or to add solar panels on your building, than it is to stick to the hard work of implementing new organizational processes designed to reduce racism and sexism.

And this brings us to Kofman’s third recommendation: “provide resources and incentives for change management.” Because “everyday processes influence the bias of crowds” in any organization, you need to change those everyday processes; but too often there are not resources to help people change those processes, in addition to which there’s little incentive for change. Take for example a Unitarian Universalist congregations which wishes to become less white. Clearly, one thing you’ll need to do it completely overhaul the intake process — how potential members are greeted on their first visit, the processes used to integrate newcomers into the congregational culture, and so on. All that is hard work, so one critical resource required for change will be staff time, from both paid and volunteer staff; and because staff time is a limited resource, other projects will have to received fewer staff hours. And how will you provide incentives for those staffers, particularly for the volunteer staffers? None of this is easy.

To summarize: While Implicit Association Tests might be fascinating, they are probably not particularly useful tools for implementing organizational change. Instead, congregations seriously committed to, e.g., becoming less white, should pay attention to the change management technique of process change.

Decline, or….

In a recent story posted on UU World, the house organ of the Unitarian Unviersalist Association (UUA), Chris Walton reports that “UUA membership rises for first time since 2008.” The increase is tiny, though — up only 980 members to 148,242; less than a tenth of a percent. Because this could be within the margin of error, we’ll have to wait and see if decline continues again next year; at this point it’s safest to say that at best overall membership remained flat this year.

In bad news, the ongoing decline in religious education enrollment continued: numbers of children and youth are down 2,557 to 40,269; this decline is less than one percent, but it continues a ten-year trend of decline, so that we’re down about 27% since 2009. Searching for reasons for this decline, Chris points out several possible factors: lower birth rates beginning in the mid-1990s (Chris fails to mention the additional drop in birth rates during the Great Recession); people no longer bringing their children to organized religion; and, adds Chris, “our basic model may no longer work,” citing the popular “Death of Sunday School” paper by Kimberley Sweeney.

I would add that children today are a white-minority age group while UU congregations remain dominated by white people. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that there is a certain amount of racism that keeps young families with non-white members out of many UU congregations.

But in my opinion, financial factors are having the biggest impact on dropping religious education enrollment. First of all, the cost of nonprofit employees keeps going up (due to rising insurance costs and other factors), so congregations are less and less able to afford qualified religious education professionals. Second of all, the UUA budget has been contracting, and there simply isn’t money to develop the kind of religious education resources that we need for today’s kids — resources like videos, games, apps, etc. Third, today’s parents are used to having a wide range of choices for their children, and most congregations can only afford to offer one class per age group (or, when money is really tight, one intergenerational worship service for everybody).

In my opinion, two big forces that are pushing us into decline: demographics and finances. If you look back in history, the Great Depression offered similar challenges: people weren’t going to church as much, and there was no money; and during the Great Depression, large numbers of Unitarian and Universalist congregations closed their doors forever. I fully expect to see a growing number of Unitarian Universalist congregations close their doors forever as demographics and finances do their work.

Nevertheless, I think individual congregations can take positive action so that they don’t have to close their doors. There are obvious steps to take, none of which is rocket science, but none of which is easy. First, engage in hard-headed and realistic financial planning, and plan now what staffers and what programs you will cut first, and plan how to deal with the aftermath of those cuts — if you’re lucky you won’t have to make those cuts, but if you do have to make cuts you’ll have a rational management plan in place. Second, stifle white dominance so non-white people can find space in your congregation — and if you’re not sure how to take the first step, go read Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility. Third, figure out how to customize your key programs and ministries so you can serve people who want more than one choice on Sunday morning — not just worship services and Sunday school, but Forum and adult classes and supervised play and maybe a Navigators program and social hour with decent coffee and more.

Change is coming. We better learn how to manage it.

Power and sexual harrassment

Under the headline “The Role Power Plays in Sexual Harassment” (Tuesday, Feb. 6, page A13) Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal reports on a series of five studies published in 2017 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Bernstein also interviews a number of psychologists to explore the question: What makes some men abuse their positions of power to sexually harass women?

According to Bernstein, psychologists are finding that men who exploit their power to harass women “typically share specific personality traits. Their power amplifies proclivities they already have.” Those traits include:
— men who felt powerless in the past are “most likely to pursue an inappropriate workplace attraction or exhibit harassment behavior”
— men who have so-called “hostile masculinity” tend to “find power over women to be a turn-on”; these men are often narcissists
— men with what’s known as “impersonal sexuality prefer sex without intimacy or close connection”; these men often have multiple sex partners; their lack of intimacy with sexual partners may go back to experiences of abuse as children
— men with sexist attitudes are also likely to harass or assault women

Bernstein quotes Dr. Neil Malamuth, professor of psychology and communication at the University of California, Los Angeles: “It’s not automatic; it’s not that power corrupts. It’s a certain type of man who uses his power in this way.”

From my perspective, it’s both interesting and not surprising that men who abuse power to sexually harass women share certain personality traits (and I wouldn’t want to limit this to men: there are also women who abuse their power by becoming sexual predators). In my work cleaning up congregations after sexual misconduct by religious leaders, I have sensed shared personality traits in those leaders who abuse their authority. But I’ve never had enough distance from the problem to be able to adequately articulate what those personality traits are, so this is a helpful list of personality traits to look for.

Who gets to make a hymnal?

While working on a sabbatical project, I discovered that Louis F. Benson, in his book The English hymn: its development and use in worship (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, George H. Doran Co., 1915), lists nineteen U.S. Unitarian hymnals published in the thirty-four year period from 1830 to 1864. Nor does Benson claim this is an exhaustive list; indeed, he focuses almost exclusively on hymnals published in and near Boston (you can read this list below).

None of these hymnals was published by the American Unitarian Association (AUA). In some cases a large congregation compiled their own hymnal, which other congregations then adopted; more often, an individual editor or group of editors compiled a hymnal as a speculative venture, hoping that congregations would purchase it. In fact, the AUA didn’t publish its first hymnal until 1868.

In the twentieth century, the vast majority of Unitarian (and later Unitarian Universalist) hymnals were published by the AUA, and then from 1937 on by the Unitarians and Universalists together. In the post-World War II era, I’m only aware of two hymnals that were not published under denominational auspices (excluding one-author or one-composer hymn/song collections, such as those by Rick Masten).

So the vast majority of Unitarian Universalist congregations today use a denominationally-produced hymnal. Why is this? Partly I think it’s because copyright law has become much more strict in the past century; anything published after 1922 is probably covered by copyright, and it can be difficult and expensive to track down copyright owners and buy permission to reprint their text or music; it’s going to take a large-ish organization to have enough resources to deal with copyright challenges. But also I believe we have all bought into the notion that the only “real” hymnal is one published by the denomination.

What if one of the large Unitarian Universalist congregations put together a new hymnal? The hymnbook compilers would face significant challenges posed by copyright issues. To balance those challenges, the ease of self-publishing and the rise of print-on-demand would make layout, printing, and distribution extraordinarily easy. Technical and legal issues aside, wouldn’t it be nice if Unitarian Universalist congregations had a choice of hymnals? — at the very least, we could expand the number of our song choices.


And for those who are interested, I’ll append a very incomplete list of Unitarian and then Unitarian Universalist hymnals, so you can get a sense of the great variety of hymnals that were once available. (I apologize for not researching Universalist hymnals, but this has been too much of a distraction from my sabbatical project as it is; I can’t justify procrastinating any longer.) Continue reading “Who gets to make a hymnal?”

My rant for the day: Patriarchy dies hard

Let me climb onto my soap box….

All these troubles in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA): yet another senior denominational positions is filled by a white man; the first Latino president of the UUA gets defensive about this fact and then resigns; people of color in the denomination call for a national teach-in about white supremacy; the president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), who is a white man, holds forth online at great length, and somewhat incoherently, on hiring practices in the UUA; 130 members of the UUMA sign a petition calling on ministers to refrain from bringing lawsuits against other ministers in the middle of UUMA grievance procedures (a petition that was responding to a legal action by a UUMA member against other UUMA members to prevent ministers from talking about a colleague who allegedly committed sexual misconduct); a Unitarian Universalist minister pleads guilty to child pornography charges.

In the course of all these troubles, many Unitarian Universalists are openly addressing the problem of racism and white supremacy. This is a good thing.

And in the course of all these troubles, far fewer Unitarian Universalists seem to be talking about sexism and patriarchy. Maybe because all the candidates for UUA president are women. In a couple of weeks, we are sure to elect a woman as the next UUA president and therefore we have conquered patriarchy. Right?

Patriarchy within the UUA has not died. Nor is it in its death throes, nor is it even in the process of dying. All these years I’ve been going to political rallies and hearing people assert that all oppressions are linked. So guess what: patriarchy and white supremacy are linked. We cannot talk about one without talking about the other.

As a minister of religious education — that is to say, as someone who is doing “women’s work,” because taking care of children is not “real ministry,” it’s just “women’s ministry” — I can tell you that patriarchy is alive and well in the UUA. Sunday school enrollment has been dropping since 2005, even though demographically there are more and more children out there. Why? Sunday school enrollment has been dropping because in the UUA as a whole, and in most individual congregations, when money gets tight we pull resources away from children and youth ministry so that we adequately pay the patriarchal positions — the president of the UUA, the senior denominational positions, the parish minister.

We do this both because of patriarchy, and also because of white supremacy. In much of the U.S., non-white children are now the majority. If we adequately fund children’s ministries, we might bring more kids into our congregations. If we do that, not only are we saying that “women’s work” is important, we are also opening the doors to a lot of non-white people. Both these things are equally threatening. Patriarchy and white supremacy die hard.

I know, you’re sick of hearing me rant. OK, I’m off my soap box now. And I promise to reduce my ranting in the future, because the last thing we need is another rant from yet another white man.

Religious Diversity in Silicon Valley

(Excerpts from a talk I gave at the UU Church of Palo Alto)

Over the past seven years, I’ve been exploring the religious diversity of Silicon Valley. This project started out because I was supporting the middle school class that goes to visit other faith communities. But over the years, it has taken on a life of its own, and has helped me better understand the role of religious organizations play in strengthening democracy, and it has also caused me to substantially revise my definition of what religion is.

So that’s what I’d like to do today: explore religious diversity in Silicon Valley, and maybe go on some interesting tangents.

And I’m going to start off by setting a limit around this exploration: I’m NOT going to look at solo practitioners of religion, or individual spirituality. This happens to be an important limit, since we are in an era of anti-institutionalism in which an increasing number of individuals refuse to identify with any organized religious community, even when they profess to have some kind of individual religiosity.

The role of faith communities in democracy

But I AM interested in exploring religiosity as it is expressed in a faith community, because I believe that faith communities can help sustain democracy. James Luther Adams, a theologian and sociologist, studied the role of voluntary associations — including faith communities — in democracies, and he concluded that they played a fundamental role in keeping democracy healthy. Among other things, he studied the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s (he even visited Nazi Germany himself in the mid-thirties), and found that one of the ways that the authoritarian Nazi regime came to power was by severely limiting voluntary associations. Thus Adams found that the right of free association is in fact critical to democracy; free association is critical at keeping authoritarianism in check.

This should be a major concern for us in the United States today. What we saw in the past two presidential administrations was a willingness to extend the powers of the presidency to an unprecedented degree; the rapidly rising use of executive orders is perhaps the most prominent example of this. The current presidential administration seems to be further extending the use of executive orders, further extending the powers of the presidency, and this administration seems to have tendencies towards centralization of power and decision-making in a smaller group of people. This should cause us to pay attention to the possibility of rising authoritarianism. This is coupled with a wider cultural tendency: some of the greatest popular culture heroes today are people in the business world who rule their business as authoritarian regimes, and these authoritarian business leaders are taken as positive examples to be emulated.

I find these trends and tendencies to be moderately alarming. Out of my alarm, I think, springs my deepening interest in voluntary associations such as organized religion. Although there is a lot of talk today about “resistance,” such talk strikes me as promoting a negative or passive approach, which is doomed to fail. Instead, I would like to promote positive responses to authoritarian trends; rather than merely saying, “Authoritarianism is bad,” I want to be able to say, “Here are some interesting and fun things we can do that strengthen democracy.”

And one of those interesting and fun things we can do to strengthen democracy is to celebrate the vibrancy of religious diversity, as it expressed in faith communities.

What is a “faith community”?

When I talk about “faith communities,” I mean something quite specific. A “faith community,” in my definition, is a voluntary association in which people have come together around matters of religion and spirituality. This definition is tailored for the U.S. context; it would work less well in certain European countries where there are still established churches funded by the government; and it would work less well in certain East Asian contexts where religion is less tied to voluntary associations.

But here in the United States, there is a strong connection between religion and voluntary associations, and defining a “faith community” as a voluntary association in which people have come together around matters of religion and spirituality — this definition proves to be useful and interesting.

At this point, you should be asking yourself: “What does he mean by ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’?” It may look like I’ve been avoiding a firm definition of these terms, but as it happens, I do have a fairly precise definition in mind, a definition which works well in the context of a discussion of religious diversity, a definition which is primarily functional but not ontological or metaphysical. Therefore, from a functional standpoint, I’m not going to insist on a strong distinction between “religion” and “spirituality,” because in our democratic society we don’t have a distinction between these two terms that is widely accepted.

Here’s my functional definition: “religion” is what we point at when we say the word “religion.” This may sound like I’m avoiding the issue, but I’m not; I find that mostly when I point at something that looks like religion, most people will say, “That’s religion.” Sure, there are things that we point at which we can’t get wide agreement on as to whether they constitute religion or not. If I point at Scientology, some people will say, “That’s a religion,” and others will say, “That’s a massive con game.” So my definition does not have really crisp boundary lines. But mostly, when I point to a Christian church or a Jewish synagogue, or a Shinto shrine, or a Sikh gurdwara, or a Hindu temple, or Humanist gathering, or a Neo-Pagan ritual, most of us are going to say, “Yes, that’s something to do with religion.” We may go on to say, “That is a kind of religion that I think is disgusting or heretical or appalling,” but we acknowledge that it is religion.

Now I want to go a little farther, and place religion in a broad category that includes various kinds of cultural production. This broad category also includes the arts; and I would include organized sports as an art form, too. I find it helpful to think of religion as part of a broader category of “Arts and Religion,” and there has been some interested scholarly study of how certain art forms and certain sports activities look a great deal like religion.

To sum up, then: a faith community is a voluntary association that does religion, where “religion” is defined as what I point to when I say the word, and where religion is part of a broader category of cultural production that we can call “Arts and Religion.”

And I think you will find all this becomes very useful when we start looking at religious diversity. So let’s do that — we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s start looking at religious diversity in Silicon Valley.

Religious Diversity in South Palo Alto and Midtown

Let’s begin with our immediate neighborhood. Recently, I went looking for all the faith communities near our congregation, in a rectangle one mile wide by mile-and-a-half long, bounded by roughly by Oregon Expressway to the north, El Camino Real to the west, San Antonio Road to the south, and Highway 101 to the east. I came up with more than thirty faith communities that met regularly within this rectangle. I was astounded at this number — that’s a lot of faith communities located in such a small area.

Now let’s look at the religious diversity that is represented in this rectangle.

Denominational diversity

When Americans think of religious diversity, they usually think of how many denominations they can find. So we’ll start with denominations, though really the concept of denomination really works best for Protestant Christianity, and not so well for other types of faith community. Here are the denominations represented in this rectangle:

— 9 mainline Protestant Christian faith communities
— 1 Roman Catholic faith community
— 1 Orthodox Christian faith community
— 12 other Christian faith communities
— 1 Post-Christian faith community (that’s us)
— 4 Jewish faith communities
— 1 Muslim faith community
— 2 Buddhist faith communities
— 4 New Religious Movements (one of which would probably identify itself as Christian)
— 35 total denominations identified

The amazing diversity of Christian faith communities

Not surprisingly, the majority of these faith communities are Christian, as is true of American society as a whole: most of the faith communities in the U.S. are Christian. But don’t make the mistake of lumping together all these Christian faith communities as some kind of monolith. Christianity arguably has as much or more internal religious diversity as any of the major world religions; you could make a strong case that Christianity is as diverse or more diverse than either Hinduism or Orisa Devotion, and that’s saying a lot.

Compare, for example, an Orthodox Christian worship service, with its incense and chanting and elaborate decorative arts and music — compare that with the simplicity of Quaker silent meeting for worship. Or compare the social structure of Roman Catholicism, with its tradition of strong central authority, with the radically decentralized congregational polity of the Disciples of Christ. Or compare the cool emotional tenor of Lutheranism to the ecstatic worship of some Pentecostal groups. Compare the religious narratives of the Latter Day Saints, with the religious narrative told by a liberal Baptist church; the Latter Day Saints draw on the Bible and the Book of Mormon, whereas the Baptists are going to limit their narrative to what they find in the Bible.

Religious liberals and secularists often close their eyes to the religious diversity within Christianity by reducing Christianity to one statement: “Christians believe in God and Jesus.” This is a mistake on two levels. First, it trivializes the vast differences in Christian beliefs about God and Jesus. If you believe that all Christians believe the same things about God and Jesus, remember the amazing diversity of Christianity; so I’d challenge you to rethink that belief, because it doesn’t hold up.

There’s a second problem with reducing Christianity to one statement: “Christians believe in God and Jesus.” To do so reduces Christianity to a belief system, but no religion can be reduced to a belief system. The scholar Ninian Smart has come up with seven dimensions of religions. These seven dimensions are:

1. the practical and ritual dimension
2. the experiential and emotional dimension
3. the narrative dimension
4. the doctrinal and philosophical dimension
5. the ethical and legal dimension
6. the social and institutional dimension
7. the material dimension (which includes the arts and material culture)

So even if it were true that all Christians believe exactly the same thing about God and Jesus, you cannot reduce religion to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension, while ignoring the other six dimensions. Now it is true that you will find some religions emphasize one or more of these seven dimensions, and certainly Christianity emphasizes the doctrinal dimension. (Parenthetically, it is worth mentioning that most atheists are very similar to Christians, insofar as they emphasize the doctrinal dimension of religion.) But that being said, the person who is serious about investigating religious diversity needs to take into account all dimensions of religion — not just the dimensions that most concern them, but all dimensions.

For those who wish to study religious diversity seriously, a helpful analogy might be made between Christianity and arachnids. Now, there are people who are creeped out by spiders, and these people have some level of arachnophobia, that is, an irrational fear of spiders. Ssimilarly, there are secularists, atheists, and even some Unitarian Universalists who have some level of “Christian-phobia,” an irrational fear of Christianity.

When an arachnophobe sees a spider, they become immediately and irrationally fearful and say, “Ugh, a spider, step on it!” Compare the arachnophove to someone like Jack Owicki, a very knowledgeable amateur student of arachnids — when Jack sees a spider, he is able to appreciate it for what it is, classify it by family and genus and maybe even species, and determine its place in the wider ecosystem. If you want to be serious about studying religious diversity, you have to act towards Christians the way Jack Owicki acts towards spiders; in other words, don’t let your irrational fears get the better of you.

Diversity of race, ethnicity, language

Next, let’s consider the fact that many faith communities deliberately limit themselves in one way or another by linguistic, racial, and/or ethnic boundaries.

This is a troubling concept to many Unitarian Universalists, and other religious liberals. We like to think that our religion should be open to everyone, and one of our ideals is that we would like our faith community to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our immediate surroundings. When we do this, we are following the example of Protestant Christianity, from which historically we emerged. Protestant Christianity, like Catholicism and Buddhism, is proselytizing religion: it seeks to draw new people in. Proselytizing religions assume that everyone could join their religion, and they actively figure out how to incorporate new people. Compare this to a religion like Zoroastrianism, which does not actively seek out converts, and doesn’t have an established procedure for accepting converts.

Thus we find that different faith communities have quite different approaches to racial and ethnic diversity: some strive for diversity, some avoid diversity. And this also makes clear that we should not automatically assume that our own religious assumptions translate to other faith communities.

And in fact, it is useful and very interesting to look at faith communities in terms of what racial, ethnic, and/or linguistic groups they serve. Let’s start by looking at some of the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of faith communities in South Palo Alto:

— 2 faith communities aimed at Korean Americans (Bridgway and Cornerstone), including both Korean and English speakers
— 4 faith communities consisting primarily of those born Jewish, including many who speak or read at least some Hebrew
— 1 faith community aimed at Chinese Americans (Central Chinese Christian), apparent emphasis on Chinese speakers
— 1 faith community aimed at Russian Americans (Holy Virgin), apparent emphasis on Russian speakers
— 1 faith community aimed at Japanese Americans (Palo Alto Buddhist Temple)
— 1 faith community consisting primarily of Gujaratis (Hatemi Masjid)
— 1 faith community aimed primarily at blacks (University AME Zion)

— We also find 2 Pentecostal faith communities that are multiracial both in their ideals and in practice (Abundant Life and Vive Church).

As it happens, most of the remaining faith communities in South Palo Alto, including our own faith community, are Anglophone congregations that are mostly white racially. But we should remain aware that there are ethnic white faith communities, too; for example, there are still some Roman Catholic parishes that cater to one specific white ethnic or national group, such as Irish Americans or Italian Americans.

In short, we can categorize faith communities by which linguistic group, which racial group, and/or which ethnic or national group they predominantly serve. This becomes particularly important in certain religious traditions, such as Therevada Buddhism, where individual faith communities will serve one linguistic and/or national group, for example, a Cambodian Buddhist faith community or a Sri Lankan Buddhist faith community.

Further ways to categorize faith communities

Let’s take a step back, and review some of the ways we can categorize a given faith community:

We can say which broad religious tradition they consider themselves a part of.

Here in the U.S., we can often categorize by denomination.

We can categorize by dominant socio-economic class.

And by now you may well be thinking about other ways to categorize different faith communities.

— Stance on same-sex relationships: If you know something about mainline Protestant denominations, you will know that local churches may differ as to whether they accept LGBTQ persons or not; so there might be two churches of the same Christian denomination fairly close to one another, one of which if fully accepting of LGBTQ persons, and another of which condemns homosexuality as a sin. You can find similar divisions on LGBTQ persons in Buddhist and Jewish and other faith communities.

— Worship style: We can also categorize faith communities by the style of their services. Are they informal, or formal? Are they friendly, or reserved? Look up faith communities on Yelp, and you will find them rated based on these categories.

And there are still other useful ways to categorize faith communities.

Finding religious diversity near you

All this is actually leading us to a super important question:

How do you go about finding faith communities near you?

Living here in Silicon Valley, of course we think that the best way to find neighboring faith communities is by doing a Web search. There are two main problems with this: first, the Web is generally not a trustworthy source of unbiased information about religion; and second, it can be hard to find geographically targeted information about religion on the Web. There is another problem: Some faith communities have no Web presence at all, either because they are trying to avoid notice, or because it just isn’t a priority for them.

Fortunately, there is one pretty good source of localized information about religion on the Web, and that is the online review site Yelp.

Here’s how to generate a geographically restricted listing of fatih communities using Yelp.

Bring up on your Web browser. In the search box labeled “Find” at the top of the screen, type in “Religious Organizations.” In the search box labeled “Near,” type in your location. And voilà: Yelp generates a little map of your area, and a list of religious organizations that have reviews.

Now there are problems with Yelp: there are often duplicates of the same religious organization under slightly different names; the category of religious organization includes things that I would not consider a faith community; some faith communities are not listed on Yelp; their geographical restriction works only moderately well. But overall it’s better than any other online resource, and it’s a great starting point. Yelp may help you will turn up faith communities that do not have a Web page, or only an obscure Facebook page, faith communities that you might otherwise miss.

So: you can start your Web search with Yelp. But online resources will only take you so far, and should be supplemented with on-the-ground research, such a driving or walking in the area, and asking friends and neighbors if they know of any additional faith communities.

Dare we do away with professionalism?

Carl Rogers, the great American psychologist, asked a revolutionary question of the American Psychological Association back in 1973: Dare we do away with professionalism? While sympathizing fully with the hard work, the integrity, and the high motives of those who were engaged in certification of psychologists, he pointed out that the drive towards certification and professionalization wasn’t really working. And I think much of what he says applies to the profession of ministry today, just as much as it applied to the profession of psychology in 1973.

Rogers identifies at least three drawbacks to professionalization and certification.

1. The first drawback is that certification is regressive rather than progressive. Rogers said: “As soon as we set up criteria for certification … the first and greatest effect is to freeze the profession in a past image.” This has the additional effect of discouraging innovation. Furthermore, this is an inevitable result of certification: “What can you use for examinations? Obviously, the questions and tests that have been used in the past decade or two. Who is wise enough to be an examiner? Obviously, the person who has ten or twenty years of experience and who therefore started his [sic] training fifteen to twenty-five years previously.” No matter how hard the certification bodies try to update their certification criteria, they will always be behind the times. So, said Rogers, “the certification procedure is always rooted in the rather distant past and defines the profession in those terms.”

This first drawback applies to the certification process of ministry today. To begin with, Unitarian Universalist ministers must complete a three-year master of divinity degree before receiving professional certification; yet theological education is increasing in cost faster than inflation, while full-time ministry jobs are in decline; theological school is preparing students for a ten-year old job market. Some theological schools and professional bodies try to address this problem by including courses and training in entrepreneurship, but from what I have seen these courses and training use concepts of social entrepreneurship from a decade ago; to say nothing of the fact that the main goal of social entrepreneurship as applied to ministry seems to be an attempt to increase revenues in order to pay higher salaries to highly-trained ministers who have lots of theological school debt.

Conversely, I do NOT see certification bodies (the MFC), professional groups (UUMA), or theological schools exploring how they might provide in-service training and support to volunteer or part-time lay leaders who are taking on leadership roles in smaller congregations that can no longer afford professional ministry. Not surprisingly, religious groups that are growing quickly these days include groups like the Mormons and many Pentecostal churches that do not require clergy with expensive training.

2. Which brings us back to Carl Rogers. If we don’t have elaborate certification processes, what will keep the qucks, kooks, and con artists out of religious leadership? Rogers said: “The second drawback [to professionalization] I state sorrowfully: there are as many certified charlatans and exploiters of people as there are uncertified. … Certification is not equivalent to competence.” To prove his point, Rogers asked a rhetorical question: If you had a friend who needed a psychotherapist, would you send that friend to anyone who happened to have a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology? Heck no, you wouldn’t make such a recommendation unless you knew what that person was like as a person and as a psychologist, “recognizing that there are many with diplomas on their walls who are not fit to do therapy, lead a group, or help a marriage.”

The same, obviously, may be said of ministers. It has happened that I have talked with someone who was moving to another state, and they said they would attend the Unitarian Universalist congregation there; but I was morally certain the minister of that congregation was a sexual predator or an exploiter, so I tried to convince them to try a different congregation (of course I could not have come right out and said that I strongly suspected the minister of being a creep). And we all know of ministers who are ineffective or incompetent. There are also ministers who are competent, with impeccable credentials, but they find themselves in a situation where their skills to not match what the congregation needs at that time. It is obvious, then, that Carl Rogers is correct: professional certification is simply not equivalent to competence.

3. Rogers identified one more problem with professional credentialing: “The third drawback is that the urge towards professionalism builds up a rigid bureaucracy.” My experiences with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) of the Unitarian Universalist Association confirm Rogers’s insight. When I went through professional credentialing with the MFC in the early 2000s, the process was a nightmare of complexity; and by all reports it has only gotten worse.

The increasing complexity or professional credentialing does not arise out of malice or from some dark conspiracy; it grows out of the best intentions of caring and committed people. However, despite the good intentions behind professional credentialing, the end result is a rigid bureaucracy that is at best burdensome. At worst, from what I have seen, this rigid bureaucracy of the MFC sets up barriers that keep out talented people, including non-white people and lower class people; this moves beyond being merely burdensome to a species of evil. It is worth noting that the Pentecostal denominations that have minimal professional credentialing seem to have lots of non-white ministers. It is also worth noting that the early Universalists didn’t worry about professional credentialing, and (not surprisingly) those were the peak years of their growth.

To reiterate Carl Rogers’s question: Dare we do away with professionalism? Dare we, for example, reinstate the category of licensed lay preachers that we inherited from the Universalists, which remained in our denominational bylaws until 2000 (I was one of the few dissenters in that General Assembly vote)? I doubt it; the powerful Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association has too much investment in supporting highly-paid ministers to tolerate legitimizing lay preachers. Do our theological schools dare to find new ways to provide training to religious leaders? I doubt it; their business model depends too much on providing expensive three year degree programs to persons seeking ordination. Does our upper-middle class white-majority denomination dare to let go of professionalism, when professionalism privileges white people with lots of assets and expensive college degrees? I doubt it; the white majority within Unitarian Universalism has shown no real interest in letting go of the cultural norms it holds dear — including the cultural norms of credentialing and professionalism.

Dare we do away with professionalism? Probably not, but it could be really exciting if we did….

[All quotations from Carl Rogers, “Some New Challenges to the Helping Professions,” address to the American Psychological Association, reprinted in Howard Kirschenbaum and Valerie Land Henderson, ed., The Carl Rogers Reader (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1989).]

List of faith communities near Palo Alto

There are two basic ways to track down faith communities in your area. One way is to find all the faith communities in a relatively small geographic area; that’s the approach I took in an earlier post. The other way is to try to find representatives of as many different kinds of faith communities within, say, and hour’s drive of your location. In this approach, you only need to find one representative of each kind of faith community; so, for example, once you find one Roman Catholic church, you ignore the rest and move on to another kind of faith community.

To carry out this second kind of search, you need some kind of general listing of different types of faith communities. But generating such a list proves to be a challenge.

The biggest challenge is identifying types of Christian churches; Christianity is a wildly diverse religion, with hundreds of self-identified denominations. Believe me, you don’t want to be chasing down every single Baptist denomination. Instead, what’s needed is a higher-level taxonomy. Fortunately, the World Council of Churches provides a useful taxonomy, which we can accept as reasonably authoritative since it was developed by Christians to describe themselves. Obviously, those groups that do not belong to the World Council of Churches might not approve of it; but it provides a useful and reasonably good taxonomy. And we can take a similar approach for other religious groups: look at how Jews organize themselves, for example, for a basic taxonomy of Judaism.

But then how do we choose still broader categories? What are the top-level divisions of religions? To answer this question, I mostly followed the broad divisions of religions used by Harvard’s Pluralism Project. This project, started by scholar Diana Eck, has been investigating religious diversity in the United States since the 1990s; and in the course of their work, they have developed a practical division of world religions.

Combining these various taxonomies, I developed a general list of types of faith communities. Based on that list, I tried to track down one or two local faith communities for each major division within the taxonomy within an hour’s drive of our faith community, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto. The list proved to be a great help in tracking down more obscure faith communities: because I knew what I was looking for, I could do more effective Web searches.

Even if you don’t live near Palo Alto, you may find my list of faith communities useful for tracking down different types of faith communities in your area. You’ll probably have to revise this list for your area; but it should prove to be a useful starting point. It took many hours to research this list; and I hope I save you some of those hours of research, so you can put your time into refining the list, and finding faith communities.

The main thing I took away from this exercise: the United States has an absolutely amazing diversity of religious groups.

Now, here’s the list (updated and corrected 11/2; 11/3; 11/4; more additions and corrections 11/8):



A: Baha’i faith communities
B: Buddhist faith communities
C: Christian faith communities
CC: Post Christian communities
including Unitarian Universalism
D: Confucian communities
E: Daoist faith communities (Taoist)
F: Hindu faith communities
G: Islamic faith communities
H: Jain faith communities
I: Jewish faith communities
J: Native religions and cultural traditions
K: New Religious Movements
including Humanism and Neo-Paganism
L: Orisa devotion
M: Other traditions
N: Zoroastrian
O: Sikh


General categories for world religions modified from that of the Pluralism Project (here, and here).



A: Baha’i faith communities

Founded in the nineteenth century as a reform of Islam. As of 2016, there are nine continental “Houses of Worship,” serving broad areas. Many local faith communities meet in members’ homes.

Baha’i of Palo Alto
Meets in members’ homes.
Web site



B. Buddhist faith communities

Buddhism may be divided up into schools; the schools often stay within linguistic boundaries, or within the boundaries of one of the historic East Asian nations.

B-1: Theravada

Therevada Buddhism uses as its core texts books in the ancient Pali language. Therevada Buddhism is strongest in Southeast Asia, particularly Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, etc. In the U.S., many Therevada Buddhist groups consist of immigrants from these areas. The Therevada Buddhist faith communities are separated here by dominant linguistic/ethnic group.

B-1.a: Cambodian Therevada Buddhism:

B-1.b: Laotian Therevada Buddhism: Wat Lao Buddhaxinaram
14671 Story Rd., San Jose
No Web site, phone: 408-926-8000. Yelp page

B-1.c: Myanmar/Burmese Therevada Buddhism: Kusalakari Monastery
40174 Spady Street, Fremont
Web site Facebook page

B-1.d: Sri Lankan Therevada Buddhism: Buddhivara
402 Knowles Ave., Santa Clara
Resident monks. Web site

B-1.e: Thai Therevada Buddhism: Wat Buddhanusorn
36054 Niles Blvd., Fremont
Web site

B-1.f: Western culture Therevada Buddhism: Vipassana movement: Insight Meditation Center of the Mid-Peninsula
108 Birch Street, Redwood City
Web site
This center intends to separate Buddhist meditation from Asian cultural forms.

B-1.g: Therevada Buddhism originating in other countries


B-2: Mahayana

The largest division of Buddhism, which includes a number of smaller subgroups. Mahayana Buddhists generally accept a larger number of sacred texts than do Therevada Buddhists. Mahayana Buddhism was historically strongest in China and Chinese-speaking countries, as well as Japan, Korea, etc. The various Mahayana schools of Buddhism spread across linguistic and national boundaries to some extent, especially in the United States; however, even in the U.S. Buddhist schools typically trace their lineages back to a language or country, and they are so divided here.


B-2.a: Chinese Mahayana Buddhism

Tien Hau Temple
125 Waverly Place, San Francisco
No Web site, phone: 415-986-2520.
The oldest Buddhist temple in the U.S.; dedicated to the goddess Tien Hau (according to this NY Times article, 10 October 2008).

Amitabha Pureland: Amitabha Buddhist Society of U.S.A.
650 S. Bernardo Avenue, Sunnyvale
Web site
In Pure Land Buddhism, entering the “Pure Land” is equivalent to attaining enlightenment.

Chan Buddhism: The older tradition from which Japanese Zen Buddhism came.
Heart Chan Meditation Center
4423 Fortran Court #130, San Jose
Web site

B-2.b: Indian Mahayana Buddhism

Triratna Buddhist Community: Founded by Dennis Lingwood, who was a Buddhist monk in India fro 25 years and took the name Sangharakshita, the Triratna Buddhist Community is now a world-wide movement.
San Francisco Buddhist Center
37 Bartlett St., San Francisco
Web site

B-2.c: Japanese Mahayana Buddhism

Buddhist Church of America: Palo Alto Buddhist Temple
2751 Louis Rd, Palo Alto
Web site
The Buddhist Church of America was founded over 100 years ago by Japanese immigrants to the U.S. Theologically fairly liberal.

Nichiren Buddhism: San Jose Myokakuji Betsuin
3570 Mona Way, San Jose
Listing on denominational Web site | Phone: 408-246-0111

Soto Zen: Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center
1972 Rock St., Mt. View
Web site
Zen Buddhism (Chan Buddhism in Chinese) emphasizes direct practice through a form of meditation called zazen. It is the most familiar form of Buddhism to most Americans, to the point that many Americans assume that all Buddhists are like Zen Buddhists.

B-2.d: Korean Mahayana Buddhism

Chong Won Sa Korean Buddhist Temple
719 Lakehaven Drive, Sunnyvale
Facebook page

B-2.e: Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhism

Chua Giac Minh
763 Donohoe St., East Palo Alto
Web site 1 Web site 2

B-2.f: Mahayana Buddhism originating in other countries


B-3: Vajrayana Buddhism

Vajrayana Buddhism was historically centered on the region around the Himalayas; but there are schools in other countries, e.g., Japan.

Bodhi Path Buddhist Center
2179 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park
Web site
Karma Kagyu lineage, as taught by Shamar Rinpoche

Dechen Rang Dharma Center
1156 Cadillac Ct., Milpitas
Web site
Nyingma tradition, lineage of H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche

Karma Thegsum Choling Buddhist Meditation Center
677 Melville Avenue, Palo Alto, CA
No Web site, phone 650-967-1145

B-3.a: Japanese Vajrayana Buddhism

Shingon Buddhist International Institute
Northern California Koyasan Temple
1400 U St., Sacramento
Web site

B-3.b: Other Vajrayana Buddhist lineages


Shambhala International: See New Religious Movements with roots in Indian Religions



C. Christian faith communities

The different divisions of Christianity is taken from the World Council of [Christian] Churches on its Web site here. Christianity is a wildly diverse religion, and local faith communities may belong to a group not listed here; or belong to two or more groups; or in some other way not fit into these divisions.


C-1: African Instituted Churches (or African Independent Churches)

A loose grouping of Christian churches that were organized by Africans and for Africans, in response to white missionary work on the continent of Africa. Beliefs and organizations vary widely. A few AIC churches have started congregations in North America.

Celestial Church of Christ (Aladura): Oakland Parish
4001 Webster Street, Oakland
Page on denominational Web site

The Church of the Lord (Prayer Fellowship) Worldwide: —

Zion Christian Church: —


C-2: Anglican churches

C-2.a: The Anglican Communion: The Anglican church began in England, splitting from the Roman Catholic church c. 1530. At the 1930 Lambeth Conference of Anglican churches, it was agreed that the Anglican Communion is a “fellowship, within the one holy catholic and apostolic church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional churches in communion with the see of Canterbury.” Local Anglican churches range from “high church” or “Anglo-Catholic” congregations, where the services look a great deal like Roman Catholic services, to “low church” congregations, where the services are much simpler.

The Episcopal Church (USA): Originally the only Anglican denomination in the U.S., but recently some more conservative parishes have split away (see Convocation of Anglicans in North America below).

The Episcopal Church (USA): Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church
600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto
Web site
The Episcopal Church (USA) oversees the vast majority of Anglican churches in the U.S.


C-2.b: Convocation of Anglicans in North America (Church of Nigeria, Anglican): “The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) was established in 2005 as a pastoral response of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) for Nigerian Anglicans living in the United States and Canada. In 2006, CANA began welcoming biblically orthodox American and Canadian Anglican parishes and clergy … [T]he resulting Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is an emerging province in the Anglican Communion. CANA is a founding member of ACNA and enjoys close relationships with ACNA’s bishops, clergy, and congregations. The Diocese of CANA East was welcomed as a diocese in the ACNA in June 2013.” The “biblically orthodox” North American parishes referred to above split from the Episcopal Church (USA) primarily around ordination of women and lesbian and gay persons. The Province de l’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda turned over jurisdiction of its North American parishes to CANA in 2015.

Anglican Church of the Pentecost
475 Florin Rd., Sacramento
Apparently a new church plant, using another church’s building. Web page on denominational Web site


C-2.c: Continuing Anglican churches: These churches are outside the Anglican Communion. In the U.S., they typically have split from the Episcopal Church (USA) to retain more conservative liturgies or practices.

Anglican Province of Christ the King: St. Ann Chapel
541 Melville Ave, Palo Alto
Web site


C-3: Assyrian Church

Though similar to other Eastern Christian churches, services of the Assyrian Church of the East differ in details. The liturgy is typically given in Aramaic, an ancient predecessor to the Syrian language.

Mar Yosip Parish
680 Minnesota Ave., San Jose
Web site


C-4: Baptist churches

Baptists tend to value congregational independence, so services and beliefs may vary widely.

C-4.a: American Baptist: American Baptists split from Southern Baptists during the period leading up to the Civil War. American Baptist beliefs vary widely, with some very conservative congregations, and some congregations that are more liberal than conservative Unitarian Universalist congregations.

First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
305 N. California Ave., Palo Alto
According to the Web site, “a welcoming, inclusive community of faith.” Web site

C-4.b: National Baptist Convention: A historically Black denomination.

Jerusalem Baptist Church
398 Sheridan Ave., Palo Alto
A historically Black church. Web site

C-4.c: Southern Baptist: One of the largest Christian groups in the U.S. Some Southern Baptist congregations are aimed at specific ethnic groups, e.g., the congregations below are aimed at Korean-Americans.

Avenue Baptist Church
398 Sheridan Ave., Palo Alto (in Jerusalem Baptist Church, above)
A new “church plant” with a Korean-American pastor. Web site

Southern Baptist: Cornerstone Community Church
701 E. Meadow Dr., Palo Alto
Self-described as “mostly comprised of Korean-Americans.” Web site

C-4.d: Primitive Baptist: Primitive Baptists use no musical instruments in their services. (Primitive Baptist Universalists, sometimes called the “No-Hellers,” constitute a sub-group of Primitive Baptists; they are not closely related to Universalists.)

Golden Gate Primitive Baptist Church
2950 Niles Canyon Road, Fremont
Web site | Facebook page


C-5: Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)

The Disciples of Christ seek to be inclusive of all Christians, and since they creeds as divisive they do not use creeds.

First Christian Church of Palo Alto
2890 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Web site


C-6: Evangelical churches

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Web site notes: “It took until the middle of the 1940s before a “new evangelicalism” began to emerge, which was able to criticize fundamentalism for its theological paranoia and its separatism. Doctrinally, the new evangelicals confessed the infallibility of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, vicarious atonement, the personality and work of the Holy Spirit, and the second coming of Christ. These are the theological characteristics which are shared by the majority of Evangelical churches today in the world. The other distinctive feature is the missional zeal for evangelism and obedience to the great commission (Matthew 28:18-19).” The WCC further notes: “In regions like Africa and Latin America, the boundaries between ‘evangelical’ and ‘mainline’ are rapidly changing and giving way to new ecclesial realities.”

Within the U.S., the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is one body that promotes cooperation among Evangelical churches. For member denominations of the NAE, see this Web page; most of these denominations are listed under other categories for the present listing.

See also: C-22: Non-denominational churches


C-7: Lutheran

According to the Web site of the Lutheran World Federation, “To be Lutheran is to be: Evangelical [i.e., they ‘proclaim the ‘good news’ of Christ’s life”]; Sacramental [i.e., they center their worship in both proclamation and celebration of the sacraments]; Diaconal [i.e., they believe in service to the world]; Confessional [i.e., they confess the Bible as the “only source and norm” for Christian life]; Ecumenical [i.e., they promote Christian unity].” Lutherans acknowledge their commonality with other Christians, and their uniqueness: “While the central convictions of the Lutheran tradition are not uniquely ours, its distinctive patterns and emphases shape the way in which we respond to the challenges and questions we face today.”

ELCA: Grace Lutheran Church
3149 Waverly St., Palo Alto
According to their Web site, “an inviting and diverse Christian community.” Web site

ELCA: First Lutheran Church
600 Homer Ave., Palo Alto
According to their Web site, “we welcome people diverse in sexual orientation and gender identity.” Web site

Missouri Synod: Trinity Lutheran Church
1295 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
No Web site.


C-8: Methodist churches

Methodism grew out of the reform movement started by John and Charles Wesley. “The Wesley brothers held to the optimistic Arminian view that salvation, by God’s grace, was possible for all human beings. … They also stressed the important effect of faith on character, teaching that perfection in love was possible in this life.” — World Council of Churches Web page on Methodist churches. The Wesley brothers wrote hundreds of hymns, some of which are among the most popular English-language hymns.

African Methodist Episcopal: St. James AME Church
1916 E. San Antonio St., San Jose
Facebook page

African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion): University AME Zion church
3549 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto
Web site

Christian Methodist Church: Lewis Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
1363 Turlock Lane, San Jose
Facebook page

United Methodist Church: First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto
625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto
Web site


C-9: Holiness movement churches

Began as a reform movement within American Methodism in the early nineteenth century. “Instead of only some especially gifted persons in the church entering into a carefully disciplined life of holiness, all believers were to do this; they were to present themselves to God as living sacrifices in the midst of the regular routines of life.” — World Council of Churches Web page on Holiness churches.

The Salvation Army grew out of this movement, but it has a unique structure and mission, and is listed separately below.

Church of God (Anderson, IN): New Beginnings Church of God
1425 Springer Rd., Mountain View
Web site

Church of the Nazarene: Crossroads Community Church
2490 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Web site

The Christian Holiness Partnership (CHP) is an international organization which facilitates cooperation between Holiness churches.


C-10: Moravian and Historic Peace Churches

A grouping of churches that all have a historic commitment to non-violence and peacemaking. “In 2013, the Moravian and Historic Peace Churches, including Mennonites, Brethren, — and Friends (Quakers), decided to be represented in the governing bodies of the WCC as one confessional family and gather as such during confessional meetings at WCC events.” — World Council of Churches Web page on Historic Peace Churches.

C-10.a: Church of the Brethren

(closest church is in the Central Valley)

C-10.b: Mennonites

Mennonite Church USA: First Mennonite Church of San Francisco
290 Dolores St., San Francisco
Web site

Old Order Amish: (closest community is in the Central valley)

U. S. Mennonite Brethren: Ethiopian Christian Fellowship
2545 Warburton Ave., Santa Clara
Page on denominational Web site

C-10.c: Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)

Friends General Conference (FGC):

Local Quaker meetings that are affiliated with FGC are often (but not always) unprogrammed meetings — that is, they have silent meeting for worship. The closest affiliated monthly meeting is in Sacramento.

Friends United Meeting (FUM): Berkeley Friends Church
1600 Sacramento St., Berkeley
Web site

Most Quaker meetings and Quaker churches affiliated with FUM are programmed meeting — that is, they have a sermon as well as unprogrammed time for spoken ministry. They tend to be more conservative theologically.

Other Quaker groups:

Pacific Yearly Meeting: Consists of liberal, unprogrammed meetings along the Pacific coast of North America, but is not affiliated with Friends General Conference.

Palo Alto Friends Meeting
957 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto
Web site

C-10.d: Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Church

Moravian Church in America: Guiding Star Fellowship
Meeting location: 957 Colorado Avenue, Palo Alto (Palo Alto Friends Meeting)
Page on denominational Web site


C-11: New Church movement (Swedenborgianism)

Churches that draw inspiration from the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. “The life of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was steeped simultaneously in the rational world of the physical sciences and a deep Christian faith.” — from the Web site of the Swedenborg Foundation

Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco
2107 Lyon Street, San Francisco
Web site


C-12. Old-Catholic churches

Catholic church bodies (mostly national churches) that separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Clergy and bishops are permitted to marry; women may be ordained.

Ecumenical Catholic Communion: (closest church is in southern California)

Polish National Catholic Church: (closest church is in the Midwest)


C-13: Orthodox Churches (Eastern)

Eastern Orthodox Churches are distinguished from the Roman Catholic Church in a number of ways. First, Eastern Orthodox Churches do not recognize the supremacy of the Pope. Eastern Orthodox churches are organized into independent national churches or language groups, each under the leadership of a Patriarch; the Patriarch of Constantinople has a position as “first among equals” but does not have supremacy over the other Patriarchs.

Eastern Orthodox differ from Roman Catholics in other ways. The Eastern Orthodox do full immersion baptisms of infants, and children are also confirmed as infants, thus allowing them to partake of the eucharist (take communion). Many Eastern Orthodox churches venerate icons, and some of the most beautiful objects in Orthodox churches are the icons, pictures of saints. Unlike Roman Catholic priests, Eastern Orthodox priests may marry; women may become diaconesses (but not priests).

C-13.a: Antiochian Orthodox (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East)

The Antiochian Orthodox church “traces its roots to first century Antioch (modern-day Antakya, Turkey), the city in which the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26),” according to their Web site. An excellent description of their services may be found here:

Orthodox Church of the Redeemer
380 Magdalena Ave., Los Altos Hills
Web site
This congregation was originally affiliated with The Episcopal Church (USA), but beginning in 1960, “disturbed by the controversial teachings of Bishop Pike, which strayed from traditional Christian theology,” they eventually discovered the Antiochian Orthodox church and changed affiliations (as told on their Web site).

C-13.b: Armenian Apostolic Church

St. Andrew Armenian Church
11370 S. Stelling Rd., Cupertino
Web site

C-13.c: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

The services are meant to be full of beauty, with many beautiful ritual objects, elaborate vestments (ritual clothing for those who preside at the worship service), and beautiful music. “Worship is not simply expressed in words. In addition to prayers, hymns, and scripture readings, there are a number of ceremonies, gestures, and processions. The Church makes rich use of non verbal symbols to express God’s presence and our relationship to Him. Orthodoxy Worship involves the whole person; one’s intellect, feelings, and senses.” — description of worship on the Archdiocese Web site Congregants stand for the entire 3-hour service.

Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
1260 Davis St., San Jose
Web site

C-13.d: Orthodox Church of America

Originally Russian Orthodox, but became independent in 1970. The services are much like the Greek Orthodox services (see above).

Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church
1220 Crane St., Menlo Park
Web site

C-13.e: Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA (Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate)

These are the Russian Orthodox congregations that chose to remain under the administration of the Patriarch of Moscow, when the Orthodox Church of America was granted independence.

St. Nicholas Cathedral
2005 15th Street, San Francisco
Web site

C-13.f: Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia split from the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate after the Russian Revolution of 1917, when the latter pledged support to the Bolsheviks.

St. Herman of Alaska
161 N. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale
Web site

Traditional Russian Orthodox services are in Old Church Slavonic, an old language that is now only used for church services. In many Russian Orthodox services, everyone stands for the entire service (except those who are too old, or who have physical disabilities), and the services can last for 2-3 hours. While some people dislike standing that long, for others standing so long can bring on a meditative or ecstatic state of awareness.

C-13.g: Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America

St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church
18870 Allendale Ave., Saratoga
Web site

C-13.h: Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA

St. Michael Parish
345 7th St., San Francisco
Web site


C-14: Orthodox Churches (Oriental)

Each of the Oriental Orthodox Churches — Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syriac, Armenian, etc. — is independent.

C-14.a: Armenian Apostolic Church (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin)

St. Andrew Armenian Church
11370 South Stelling Rd., Cupertino
Web site

C-14.b: Coptic Orthodox

One of the most ancient Christian traditions — probably the oldest still-existing Christian group, dating back about 1,900 years — the Coptic Orthodox church is based in Egypt, and the Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches are its “daughter churches.” According to the BBC, “Coptic services take place in the very ancient Coptic language (which is based on the language used in the time of the Pharaohs), together with local languages. The liturgy and hymns remain similar to those of the early Church” (link).

St. George and St. Joseph Coptic Orthodox Church
395 W. Rincon Ave., Campbell
Web site

C-14.c: Eritrean Orthodox

Eritrean Holy Trinity Orthodox Tewahdo Church of Santa Clara County
403 S. Cypress Ave., San Jose
Web site (mostly in English)
Web site (mostly not in English)

C-14.d: Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Debre Selam St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
1565 Lincoln Ave San Jose
Web site

C-14.e: Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

“The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church traces its origins back to the work of the Apostle St Thomas in the south-west region of India (Malankara or Malabar, in modern Kerala). … During the Portuguese persecution, the Indians who wanted to maintain their eastern and apostolic traditions appealed to several Oriental churches. Thus started the connection with the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, in 1665. … in 1912, as a symbol of freedom, autocephaly and apostolic identity, the Catholicosate was established and an Indian Orthodox metropolitan was elected as the head (Catholicos) of the Malankara Church.” — World Council of Churches, Web page on Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

See: C-23.a: Mar Thoma church

C-14.f: Syriac Orthodox

St. Thomas the Apostle
1921 Las Plumas Ave., San Jose
Web page


C-15. Pentecostal churches

Pentecostal churches trace their roots back to the Asuza Street Revival, which took place in 1906 in Los Angeles. The name comes from the story of Pentecost, in the New Testament book of Acts, in which the spirit of God came into the followers of Jesus after Jesus’ death. Thus Pentecostals emphasize the workings of the Holy Spirit in the lives of human beings. Currently, Pentecostalism is perhaps the fastest-growing Christian group.

Some Pentecostal churches may include time for spiritual experiences like speaking in tongues, divine healing, etc. Many Pentecostal churches do not have such activities, but they do believe that each person can have a direct experience of God. Many Pentecostal groups are rightly proud of their racial diversity.

C-15.a: “Holiness” churches

“The earliest Pentecostals drew from their Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness roots, describing their entrance into the fullness of Christian life in three stages: conversion, sanctification, and baptism in the Spirit. Each of these stages was often understood as a separate, datable, ‘crisis’ experience.” — World Council of Churches, Web page on Pentecostal churches

Church of God in Christ: Abundant Life Christian Fellowship
2440 Leghorn St., Mountain View
A mega-church with average attendance of approx. 4,500 people per week. (An historically Black denomination, now racially diverse.) Web site

Church of God (Cleveland, TN): Redwood City Church of God
2798 Bay Road, Redwood City
Web site

International Pentecostal Holiness Church: The Father’s House
133 Bernal Rd., San Jose
Web site

C-15.b: “Finished work” churches

“Pentecostals, from the Reformed tradition or touched by the Keswick teachings on the Higher Christian Life, came to view sanctification not as a crisis experience, but as an ongoing quest.” — World Council of Churches, Web page on Pentecostal churches

Assemblies of God: Pathway Church
1305 Middlefield Rd., Redwood City
Web site

International Church of the Foursquare Gospel: Word of Life Foursquare Church
7160 Graham Ave., Newark
Web site

Redwood City Hispanic Foursquare Church / Centro CO3
3399 Bay Rd., Redwood City
Facebook page

C-15.c: “Oneness” or “Jesus’ Name” churches

In the the baptismal formula, “Oneness” Pentecostals use “the formula ‘in the Name of Jesus Christ’ recorded in Acts (cf. Acts 2:38).” — World Council of Churches, Web page on Pentecostal churches

Pentecostal Assemblies of the World: Christ Temple Community Church
884 San Carrizo Way, Mountain View
No Web site, phone: 650-965-7396

United Pentecostal Church: First United Pentecostal Church
878 Boynton Ave, San Jose
Web site


C-16: Reformed churches

The Reformed tradition has its roots in the Swiss reformation of John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, etc. Worship services emphasize sermons and the spoken word. Communion may happen monthly, quarterly, or on some other schedule, but there will rarely be communion every week. “There is no stress on a special elite person or group that has received through direct revelation or by the laying on of hands extraordinary powers of authority. … The level of education required for the Presbyterian or Reformed minister is traditionally high.: — World Council of Churches, Web page on Reformed churches.

C-16.a: Congregational

In congregational churches, each congregation is quasi-independent; there is la relatively flat ecclesiastical hierarchy. Congregations join together in local associations to provide mutual support and guidance; congregations also belong to national bodies or associations of congregations.

National Association of Congregational Christian Churches: Grace North Church
2138 Cedar St., Berkeley
Web site

United Church of Christ: See: C-21. United and Uniting Churches

C-16.b: Presbyterian

Presbyterians are governed by “courts,” groups or committees consisting of pastors and ruling elders “presbyters”). In the local congregation the “court” is called the “session”; at the regional level, the “court” is called the “presbytery”; the national or highest level, various presbyteries come together in a “synod.” This is a somewhat more formal structure than that of Congregational churches.

Presbyterian Church USA: First Presbyterian Church
1140 Cowper St., Palo Alto
Known as a liberal church with a social justice orientation. Web site

A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO): Menlo Park Presbyterian
950 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park
Recently broke with Presbyterian Church USA to join a more conservative Presbyterian group. Web site

C-16.c: Reformed

Governed in much the same way as Presbyterian churches.

Reformed Church in America: New Hope Community Church
2190 Peralta Blvd., Fremont
Web site

Originally named the Reformed Dutch Protestant Church.


C-17. Restorationist churches

A grouping of loosely related churches, which in some way seek to restore the Christian church to earlier norms.

Latter-Day Saint movement, or Mormon churches: Founded by Joseph Smith, as a movement to restore Christianity to what it was during the time of Jesus and his followers. Most churches in the Latter-Day Saints movement accept the Book of Mormon, as revealed to Joseph Smith, as a scripture on a part with the Bible.

Community of Christ: Formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Community of Christ San Jose Congregation
990 Meridian Ave., San Jose
Web site

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon): The largest and best-known Mormon group. Local groups are lay-led (i.e., there are no professional clergy). Members in need can rely on their local Ward (or congregation) for food, financial support, etc.

Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints in Palo Alto
3865 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
They host the annual Christmas creche. 650-494-8899 No Web site


Jehovah’s Witnesses: “As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we strive to adhere to the form of Christianity that Jesus taught and that his apostles practiced.” — Jehovah’s Witnesses Web site Jehovah’s witnesses have many distinctive beliefs and practices, e.g., they do not celebrate Christmas or Easter; do not see Jesus as God; have communion only once a year; etc.

Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall
4243 Alma Street, Palo Alto
650-493-3020 No Web site


C-18: Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic Church is perhaps the most familiar Christian body to many in the U.S., with its distinctive hierarchical organization, and its distinctive worship service, called the “mass.”

St. Thomas Aquinas Parish
3290 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Web site
(English mass at 10:30 a.m.)
(Latin mass with Gregorian chant at 12:30 p.m.)

This parish has two other locations:

Our Lady of the Rosary Church
3233 Cowper St., Palo Alto, CA 94306
(Spanish mass at 9:30 a.m.)

St. Albert the Great Church
1095 Channing Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301

There has been a long tradition in the U.S. of ethnic Catholic churches, where a Catholic church is formed to meet the needs of an ethnic group, often with at least some masses in a language other than English, and/or cultural references. Religiously, these are Roman Catholic churches; but with great differences in music and worship style (i.e., in the emotional dimension of religion). In many cases, now a single Catholic church will offer masses aimed at several different ethnic groups in several languages.

St. Joseph Parish
582 Hope St., Mountain View
Web site
This parish has masses in English, Spanish, Tamil; and bilingual English/Spanish.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
5111 San Felipe Rd., San Jose
Web site
Services in the Igbo language.

C-18.a: Eastern Catholic Churches

Eastern Catholic Churches are churches that were once affiliated with Oriental Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox Churches, but are now affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Catholic Churches typically have worship services that are more like Orthodox services than they are like Roman Catholic services.

St. Elias the Prophet Melkite Greek Catholic Church
4325 Jarvis Ave., San Jose
Web site


C-19: The Salvation Army

A Christian church with a unique organizational scheme, and a unique mission. The Salvation Army organizes itself on quasi-military lines, with the church hierarchy adopting military authority and titles. The mission of the church is strongly oriented to social justice, including help for the needy, disaster preparedness and relief, etc.

The Salvation Army: Redwood City Salvation Army
660 Veterans Blvd., Redwood City
In addition to other services, worship Sundays at 11:00 a.m. Web site


C-20: Seventh Day Adventist church

Seventh-Day Adventists hold worship services on the seventh day, i.e., Saturday. They grew out of the Millerite movement of the early nineteenth century.

Seventh Day Adventist: Seventh Day Adventist Church of Palo Alto
786 Channing Ave., Palo Alto
No Web site


C-21: United and Uniting Churches

C-21.a: United Church of Christ: Formed in 1957 as a merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The United Church of Christ is quite liberal, ordaining women, supporting same-sex marriage, etc.

First Congregational Church of Palo Alto
1985 Louis Rd., Palo Alto
Web site

C-20.b: International Council of Community Churches

Havenscourt Community Church
1444 Havenscourt Blvd., Oakland
Facebook page


C-22: Non-denominational churches

These are local faith communities that, for one reason or another, decline to affiliate with a larger denomination.

Peninsula Bible Church
3505 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Web site
Evangelical Christian; theologically, historically associated with premillennial dispensationalism.

Stanford Memorial Church
Web site
A deliberately non-denominational church with “Protestant Ecumenical Christian worship” that aims to serve the diverse religious community of Stanford University.


C-23: Other Christian churches

C-23.a: Mar Thoma church

This church traces its origins back to the year 52, when Thomas, one of the followers of Jesus, established Christianity in India. After splitting from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in the 1950s, the church went its separate way. The worship services are designed to take “the worshipper out of the mundane world into the dimensions of spirit to worship in spirit and truth”: a full description of the service may be found here.

Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar): Mar Thoma Church of Silicon Valley
3275 Williams Rd, San Jose
Web site

See also: C-14.e: Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church



CC. Post-Christian communities

Post-Christian faith communities may defined as those communities that were once considered Christian, but which have diverged from Christianity to the extent that they can no longer be considered Christian. Some scholars class these groups with New Religious Movements, but this classification doesn’t work well. E.g., for Unitarians and Universalists, these groups started out in the 18th century as Christian groups, so they are clearly not new religions; yet they are no longer Christian.

CC-1: Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA)
505 E. Charleston Rd., Palo Alto
Web site

First Unitarian Church of San Jose
160 North Third St., San Jose
Web site

Sunnyvale UU Fellowship
1112 S. Bernardo Ave., Sunnyvale
Web site

Redwood City UU Fellowship
2124 Brewster Ave., Redwood City
Web site



D: Confucian communities

“What Westerners label ‘Confucianism’ is known by Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese followers as the ‘Scholarly Tradition.’ Confucianism does not have a strong institutional presence in [the United States], mostly because of the deep connection the tradition has had with the social and political structures of East Asia. For some, however, the scholarly values and symbols of Confucianism serve as important reminders of the cultural and philosophical legacy of their ancestors, and as relevant touchstones for thinking about ethics and modern life in the United States.” — The Pluralism Project of Harvard University

D-1: Confucian temples

No known Confucian temples in the United States.

D-2: Confucius Church

Founded in China by Chen Huanzhang in 1912, a number of Confucius Churches were established in the Chinese diaspora, including in the United States. They combine the Confucian practices and worldview with Western-style church organization.

Salinas Confucius Church
1 California St., Salinas
No Web site; phone 831-424-4304
I can find no evidence of recent activity at the Salinas Confucius Church, so I am also including the following:

Confucius Church of Sacramento
915 4th St., Sacramento
No Web site, phone 916-443-3846


N.B.: The Confucius Institutes at Stanford and other universities are not faith communities, but rather a scholarly group dedicated to promoting Chinese culture and language. Web page of Stanford group



E: Daoist (Taoist) faith communities

Daoist temples may be dedicated to a specific Daoist deity, such as Guan Yin. Many Daoist temples have been set up by Asian immigrants, and in these temples adherents may carry out rituals and practices passed down over the generations. There are also a few Daoist groups organized by persons of Western descent, and these are more likely to practice their religion based on their own interpretations of Asian texts and practices.

Kong Chow Temple
855 Stockton St., San Francisco
Dedicated to Guan Di. Wikipedia page

Ma-Tsu Temple of U.S.A.
30 Beckett St., San Francisco
Web site

Tian Yuan Taoist Temple
509 28th Ave., San Mateo
No Web site, phone: 650-578-8568

Tin How Temple
125 Waverly Place, San Francisco
Web page on Chinatownology Founded in 1852, probably the oldest extant Chinese temples in the Bay Area (the oldest Chinese temple in California is in Weaverville).



F. Hindu faith communities

Hinduism is a complex religion, that includes many different deities and many different practices. “The peoples who today call themselves “Hindus” have many forms of practice, both in India and around the world. The brahmins of Banaras and the businessmen of Boston, the ascetics and yogis of the Himalayas and the swamis of Pennsylvania, the villagers of central India and the householders of suburban Chicago—all have their own religious ways.” — Harvard University Pluralism Project

But there are religious assumptions held by most Hindus: “the universe is permeated with the Divine, a reality often described as Brahman; the Divine can be known in many names and forms; this reality is deeply and fully present within the human soul; the soul’s journey to full self-realization is not accomplished in a single lifetime, but takes many lifetimes; and the soul’s course through life after life is shaped by one’s deeds.”

Geographically, Hindus are a majority in India, Nepal, and Bali (in Indonesia). Countries with a significant Hindu presence include Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Fiji.

In the U.S., Hindu temples may have a variety of deities, or a given temple may be devoted to only one or two deities.

Hindu Temple and Community
450 Persian Dr., Sunnyvale
Web site
Variety of deities.

Shirdi Sai Darbar
255 San Geronimo Way, Sunnyvale
Web site

See also: K-5.a through K-5.e for New Religious Movements originating in Hinduism.



G: Islamic faith communities

Muslims may consider Islam to be non-sectarian. Yet some Muslims also find discernible sectarian differences. The different types of Islam here are taken from, which designates types simply as a way for practicing Muslims to determine where they might feel most comfortable praying.

G-1: Sunni

Yaseen Foundation (Muslim Community Assoc. of the Peninsula)
Mosque: 621 Masonic Way, Belmont
Community center: 1722 Gilbreth Road, Burlingame
Web page on Salatomatic | Web site

G-1.a: Barelwi Sunni

G-1.b: Hanafi Sunni

G-1.c: Deobandi Sunni


G-2: Shia

G-2.a: Ismaili Shia

G-2.b: Bohra Ismaili Shia

998 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto
Web page on Salatomatic | Related Web site

The Dahwoodi Bohra are primarily from a region of India. They have distinctive dress for both men and women.

G-2.c: Jafari Shia

Masjid Al Rasool
552 South Bascom Ave., San Jose
Predominantly Persian. Web site on Salatomatic


G-3: Sufi

G-3.a: Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi

Jamil Islamic Center
427 S. California Avenue, Palo Alto
Web page on Salatomatic

G-3.b: Jerrahi Sufi


G-4: “Non-denominational”

There are a number of “nondenominational” Muslim groups in the U.S. These often have formed because there are too few Muslims to have separate groups.

Taha Services Masjid
1285 Hammerwood Ave., Sunnyvale
Predominantly Indian/Pakistani. Web page on Salatomatic

Muslim Community Association
3003 Scott Blvd., Santa Clara
Web page on Salatomatic (called the “largest and most active” mosque in the Bay Area) | Web site



L: Jain faith communities

Jainism is best known for the principle of ahimsa, which may be translated as non-violence, or as doing no injury to other living things. Lay Jains are typically vegetarians, so as to prevent them from doing injury to other beings. Monks take ahimsa further than that: wearing cloths over their mouths to prevent them from inhaling and thus harming small insects; not eating vegetables such as carrots where harvesting the vegetable kills the plant; etc. There are two main divisions of Jains: “white-clad,” in which the monks wear distinctive white garments; and “sky-clad,” in which the monks reduce possessions to a minimum by not even owning or wearing clothing.

Jain Center of Northern California
722 S. Main St., Milpitas
Web site



I: Jewish faith communities

Jews trace their history back for thousands of years, but contemporary “rabbinical Judaism” emerged from “Temple Judaism” after the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Jewish sabbath lasts from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Worship services involve reading from the Torah, in Hebrew.

I-1: Orthodox

Generally more conservative in practice and belief. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women are often seated separately. Only men may be rabbis.

Congregation Emek Baracha
4102 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Web site


I-2: Conservative

The name “Conservative” means that this group aims to conserve Jewish tradition, while bringing into alignment with modernity. Conservative Jews affirm the religious equality of women, and women may become rabbis.

Kol Emeth
4175 Maneula Ave., Palo Alto
Web site


I-3: Reform

A liberal religious Jewish group that is often aligned with Unitarian Universalists on social issues.

Congregation Beth Am
26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
Web site


I-2,3: Conservative and Reform

Congregation Etz Chayim
4161 Alma St, Palo Alto
They “meld Reform and Conservative traditions.”
Web site


I-4: Reconstructionist

Reconstructionist Jews hold that Jewish law and custom should be aligned with modern thought and life. Very liberal in terms of both practice and belief, many Reconstructionist Jews interpret Jewish practices broadly, and may not adhere to traditional theism.

Keddem Congregation
Most services are at Kehillah Jewish High School, 3900 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
According to their Web site, “Reconstructionist Judaism may be considered a ‘maximalist liberal Judaism’.”
Web site



J: Native religions and cultural traditions

In the Bay area, this will include the religion of the Ohlone people; it may also include the religion of other Indian tribes or First Nations or indigenous groups, when people of those groups have settled in the Bay Area.

Scholar Stephen Marini distinguishes between “high sacred rituals of tribal religion” and expressions of “traditional spirituality on social occasions.” Marini further points out that inter-tribal powwows are a type of social occasion, “a public ritual gathering of one or more clans or tribes dedicated to skill competitions, feasting, and dancing” where outsiders can experience first-hand the power of Native sacred song, dance, etc. See: Stephen Marini, Sacred Song in America (University of Illinois Press, 2005), p. 18.

Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS)
Web site
Organization for LGBTQ natives. Sponsors annual powwows in San Francisco.

Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day Powwow and Market
Web site
Annual powwows in October (Columbus Day weekend), for nearly 25 years.

Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations (SKINS)
San Francisco State University
Facebook page
Sponsored a powwow in 2016; check for future events.



K. New Religious Movements

The categories in this section are taken from Christopher Partridge, New Religions: A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects, and Alternative Spiritualities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). There is a huge diversity of New Religious Movements, and just a few examples are given for the categories below; see Partridge’s book for additional examples.

K-1: New religions with roots in Christianity

Church of Christ, Scientist: Christian Scientists do not have paid clergy. Instead, lay people known as Readers lead their worship services. The Readers read from Christian Science texts, and from the Bible. There are set readings for each week of the year. The congregation also sings hymns during worship services. Services take place on Sundays and Wednesdays. At the Wednesday services, members of the congregation may give testimonials about how their faith has helped them in their life, including how their faith has helped them cure physical ailments. Christian Scientists avoid most medical care, believing that physical ailments can be cured through religious practice.

First Church of Christ, Scientist
3045 Cowper St., Palo Alto
Web site

Unity: A combination of Christianity and “New Thought,” Unity uses insights from all world religions, sort of like Unitarian Universalists, but they still consider themselves Christian. They place an emphasis on meditation, which is always part of their services.

Unity Palo Alto
3391 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Web site

Some scholars consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a New Religious Movement; see C-17. above.

Some scholars consider the Jehovah’s Witnesses a New Religious Movement; see C-17. above.

Some scholars consider the New Church a New Religious Movement; see C-11. above.


K-2: New religions with roots in Judaism

Some scholars consider Reconstructionist Judaism a New Religious Movement, see I-4. above.


K-3: New religions with roots in Islam

Nation of Islam: Muhammad Mosque No 26
5277 Foothill Blvd., Oakland
Facebook page

Some scholars consider Baha’i a New Religious Movement; see section A. above.


K-4: New religions with roots in Zoroastrianism


K-5. New religions with roots in Indian religions

K-5.a: Vedanta Society: Founded in 1895 by Swami Vivekananda, the Vedanta Society is arguably the oldest form of institutional Hinduism to be established in North America. It was affiliated with the Ramakrishna Order of India.

Vedanta Society of San Jose
1376 Mariposa Ave, San Jose
Web site (shared with 2 other Bay Area Vedanta Societies)

K-5.b: Self-Realization Fellowship movement: Founded in 1925 by Swami Yogananda in Los Angeles. Since then, has split into several different groups.

Ananda Church of Self Realization: Ananda Palo Alto
2171 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Web site
This faith community bases its practices Hinduism, and they trace back to a Hindu teacher, Yogananda. But they also consider Jesus Christ a holy person. Yoga is a part of what they do.

K-5.c: ISKCON [International Society for Krishna Consciousness]: Founded in 1965 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and known informally as the Hare Krishna movement.

ISKCON of Silicon Valley
1965 Latham Street, Mountain View
Web site
ISKCON Silicon Valley has a charitable free meals distribution program called “Free Veg Meals for All”; more info here.

K-5.d: BAPS: “Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a socio-spiritual Hindu organization with its roots in the Vedas” (link).

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
1430 California Circle, Milpitas
Web site

K-5.e: Brahma Kumaris: Started in the 1930s by “Om Baba,” this group sees its mission as primarily spiritual education.

Mediatation Center
821 Anacapa Court, Milpitas
Facebook page Denominational Web site

K-5.f: Dhammakaya Foundation: Originating in Thai Buddhism, the movement is noted for their form of meditation known as Dhammakaya meditation.

Dhammakaya Meditation Center Silicon Valley
280 Llagas Rd., Morgan Hill
Web site

K-5.g: Shambhala International: Followers of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Shambhala Meditation Center of San Francisco
1231 Stevenson St., San Francisco
Web site


K-6: New religions with roots in East Asian religions

Cao Dai: a syncretic Vietnamese religion founded in the 1920s.

Cao Dai Temple of San Jose
947 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose
Predominantly Vietnamese language. Web site

Jeung San Do: A syncretic religion that is part of the Chungsan family of Korean religions: “The Chungsan family of religions is neither Buddhist nor Confucian nor Christian; nor is it simply an organized form of Korea’s folk religion. … The Chungsan religions are distinguished…by the unique god they worship [who is addressed as Sangjenim] and the unique rituals they say their god has told them to perform.” — Don Baker, “The New Religions of Korea,” Korean Spirituality (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), p. 85.

Jeung San Do dojang
3419 Grand Ave. #202, Oakland
No Web site, phone: 408-709-0045

Rissho Kosei-kai: A liberal New Religious Movement from Japan based on Buddhism with approx. 3 million adherents. Included here primarily because Rissho Kosekai and UUism had strong ties in the 1960s-1970s.

Rissho Kosei-kai of San Francisco
1031 Valencia Way, Pacifica
Web site

Shinnyo-en Buddhism
3910 Bret Harte Drive, Redwood City
Web site for the whole denomination (no separate Web site for the Redwood City location)
Based on Buddhism, founded in Japan in the 20th C.

Soka Gakkai International (SGI): Based on Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Japanese Buddhism, SGI claims approx. 20 million adherents.

SGI-USA Silicon Valley
1875 De La Cruz, Santa Clara
Web site

Tenrikyo: “Tenrikyo has drawn influences from many religious traditions, but it displays many distinctly Shinto themes.” — Ian Reader, Esben Andreasen, and Finn Stefansson, “The New Religions of Japan,” Japanese Religions Past and Present (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1993), p. 122.

Tenrikyo Cupertino Fellowship
880 Chesterton Ave., Redwood City
No Web site, phone: 650-366-4971; listing on denominational Web site


K-7: New religions with roots in indigenous and pagan traditions

Native American Church: Originating the the Plains States in the late nineteenth century, combines Native American traditions with Christian elements.

Medicine Path Native American Church
Once you register for a ceremony, they send you the location
Web site

Neo-Pagan and Wiccan: A diverse group, some of whom are solo practitioners, others of whom gather into small groups. There is no standardization, but many Wiccans and Neo-Pagans have ceremonies on the solstices and equinoxes, as well as on the “cross-quarters.” Many Neo-Pagan groups are quite small, some Neo-Pagans experience discrimination; thus these groups may remain secretive.

South Bay Circles
Meet at various locations
Web site

Some scholars consider Santeria, Candomble, and Vodou to be New Religious Movements. See section L. below.


K-8: New religions with roots in Western esoteric traditions

Spiritualism: Spiritualists believe that it is possible to communicate with those who have died. National groups include National Spiritualist Association of Churches. Listed here because in the late nineteenth century, some prominent Universalists became Spiritualists, and through the twentieth century some Unitarians and Universalists held spiritualist beliefs.

National Spiritualist Association of Churches: Golden Gate Spiritualist Church
1901 Franklin St., San Francisco
Web site


K-9: New religions with roots in modern Western cultures

Ethical Culture Society: Ethical Culture Society: Unitarian Universalism and Ethical Culture Society have historical connections; some local congregations are affiliated with both Ethical Culture and UUism. Some observers have termed Ethical Culture a “post-Jewish” religion (analogous to a “post-Christian” religion like Unitarian Universalism).

Ethical Culture Society of Silicon Valley
Meet in member’s homes and other locations.
Web site

Humanist communities: Some Humanist communities may have originated as splinter groups from UU congregations.

Humanists in Silicon Valley
1180 Coleman Ave., San Jose
Web site

Sunday Assemblies: A new group similar to Humanists. Calling themselves “a secular community service organization,” they have monthly “assemblies” that loosely resemble Protestant or Evangelical Christian services (congregational singing, a light rock band, etc.) but with no mention of a deity or the supernatural.

Sunday Assembly Silicon Valley
Meets at various locations.
Web site



L: Orisa devotion

A syncretic religion, combining aspects of Yoruba and perhaps other African religious traditions with Western traditions. A central feature of this extremely diverse religious tradition is Orisa devotion; an orisa (also spelled orisha or orixia) is a deity that is one embodiment of the ultimate deity.

Adherents of Orisa devotion may avoid contact for a variety of reasons. For example, speaking of Santeria, Michael Atwood Mason, author of Living Santeria: Rituals and Experiences in an Afro-Cuban Religion (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Inst. Press, 2002) writes, “…immigrants to the United States have often hidden their involvement in the religion in an attempt to assimilate themselves into American soceity. Within the religion itself, secrecy also protects ritual knowledge.” (p. 9). Anthony Pinn, in Varieties of African American Experience (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1998) points out that when Vodou came to New Orleans it was characterized as “evil,” and public celebrations were banned.

About Botanicas: A botanica is a store that sells supplies for practitioners of Orisa devotion, and often for other traditions as well. Followers of Orisa devotion may not belong to formal religious organizations, and/or may not welcome contact (see above). However, the Harvard Pluralism Project lists botanicas as religious centers for this religious tradition; a botanica may host or sponsor classes or events or ceremonies.

Terminology: The term “Orisa devotion” is used here as being the most inclusive; this follows in the scholarly tradition of books such as Orisa Devotion as World Religion ed. Jacob K. Olupona and Terry Rey (University of Wisconsin Press: 2008). The Harvard Pluralism Project calls this “Afro-Caribbean” religion, a term which may exclude African-trained Yoruba practitioners in the U.S., and/or Brazilian Candomble practitioners. Scholar of religion Stephen Prothero calls this “Yoruba religion,” though other West African peoples such as the Fon also venerated Orisas.

L-1:Yoruba tradition (origins in contemporary Nigeria and West Africa)

L-2: Santeria (origins in Cuba)

Botanica El Trebol
“Santeria, Orishas…”
1864 W San Carlos St., San Jose
Web site

La Sirena Botanica
1918 Brewster Ave., Redwood City
Yelp page


L-3: Vodou (origins in Haiti)

L-3.a: Hatian Vodou

Legba’s Crossroads
“Haitian Vodou services and supplies” based in San Francisco; the store is onlin, though, so no publicly accessible bricks-and-mortar location in SF
Web site

L-3.b: Louisiana Vodou

L-4: Candomble (origins in Brazil)



M: Other traditions, including Shinto

M-1: Shinto

“Originating in Japan’s prehistory, Shinto is the Natural Spirituality or the practice of the philosophy of proceeding in harmony with and gratitude to Divine Nature. The Shinto Shrine is an enriched environment where we can feel deeply refreshed and renewed.” — Web site of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America (Seattle) In the U.S., there are half a dozen Shinto shrines in Hawai’i, and one in Seattle, according to a 2010 blog post titled “Shinto Shrines Worldwide Outside of Japan,” on the Shinto: Faith of Japan Web site.

M-1.a: Konkokyo (a sect of Shinto), Konko Churches of North America: “Kami and Us, completing each other, Live the Faith! Konkokyo (the Konko Faith) is a belief system characterized by an accepting and non-judgmental view of humanity. It teaches belief in a divine parent (called Tenchi Kane No Kami) who is the life and energy of the universe —
indeed is the universe — as well as a loving parent who wishes only the happiness and well-being of all human beings, the children.” — Konko Church Web site

Konko Church of San Jose
284 Washington St., San Jose
Page on denominational Web site



N: Sikh faith communities

Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak in northwestern India, which in his day included both Hindus and Muslims; Nanak was famous for saying there are neither Hindus nor Muslims, implying that all persons have access to the divine. Many Sikh gurdwaras (temples) are devoted to providing food to anyone who needs it, and many gurdwaras have a communal meal after the service that is open to anyone.

Types of Sikh communities are taken from W. H. McLeod, Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

N-1: “Orthodox” Sikhs

Gurdwara Sahib
3636 Murillo Ave., San Jose
Web site

N-2: Nirankari Sikhs A reform movement, which recognizes Baba Dayal as a renewal of the line of Gurus, without, however, disputing the orthodox doctrines of (a) the succession of the first ten Gurus, and (b) the presence of the eternal Guru in the sacred scripture.

N-3: Namdhari Sikhs A reform movement which holds to a different succession of Gurus than do the orthodox; distinctive ritual and dress.

Nihang: a quasi-military order; not different in belief from orthodox Sikhs, the Nihangi are typically unmarried so that they might devote themselves to defending the Khalsa.



O: Zoroastrian faith communities

An ancient religion, originating in Persia. Central rituals involve fire. Note that non-Zoroastrians are NOT allowed in Fire Temples.

San Jose Darbeh-Mehr
10468 Crothers Rd., San Jose
Web site


This list of faith communities is from:
Neighboring Faith Communities: A Process Guide
A curriculum for grades 6-8
Compiled by Dan Harper, v. 0.8.3
Copyright (c) 2014-2016 Dan Harper