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: http://www.antiochian.org/content/first-visit-orthodox-church-twelve-things-i-wish-id-known

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 Salatomatic.com, 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 http://calendar.powwows.com 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

List of faith communities near Palo Alto

I’ve been compiling a list of religious organizations mostly in Silicon Valley, from San Jose to San Francisco. The middle school class of our congregation visits other faith communities, and this list is designed to be used as a resource to help the class find places to visit.

Even though I was familiar with the work of Harvard’s Pluralism Project, even though I expected a wide diversity of religious traditions, I was still astonished at the religious diversity I found: there are hundreds of faith communities, ranging from Anabaptists to Zoroastrians, within an hour’s drive of our congregation.

Most of the research I did was online. It proved difficult to research some faith communities online, as quite a few do not have Web sites, or they have Web sites that are so outdated you don’t trust them. Yelp proved to an excellent source of information about many faith communities, especially when there were recent reviews (search for “Religious organizations” in a given locale). Youtube also proved a good source of information in a few cases; sometimes faith communities have inadequate Web sites but their members may post videos that provide useful information. One or two congregations had Facebook pages that provided the most recent information.

This list also relies on some real-world research. Our middle school class has visited some of these congregations, as noted on the list below. I also relied a lot on word-of-mouth information — people telling me about some faith community that they knew about, or had friends in, or belonged to.

Perhaps the most difficult part of making this list was figuring out a reasonable way to organize it. I started with the eight major world religions identified in Stephen Prothero’s book God Is Not One; added Zoroastrian, Sikh, Baha’i, and Jain to the list; then finished off with a list of New Religious Movements organized according to the categories in the book New Religious Movements, ed. Christopher Partridge. That takes care of the major divisions. It was more difficult to know how to categorize sub-groups within Christianity and Islam. Christianity is arguably the most diverse of the major world religions, and I did the best I could based on various scholarly reference works. Islam was also challenging to categorize, and I finally decided to use the categories from the Salatomatic Web site.

If you live in Silicon Valley, I’d love it if you looked over the list — then let me know if you see any errors or obvious omissions.

And now: the list! Continue reading “List of faith communities near Palo Alto”

Shoulder pole carrier for water

Every other year in our Sunday school, we do a recreation of a Judean Village in the year 29 C.E. Children become “apprentices” to artisans, and do activities that evoke village life in 29 C.E.

Carrying water by hand from the village well to wherever it was needed was an integral part of village life. This year, Edie Keating came up with an activity in which children learn how to use a traditional shoulder pole carrier to bring water to irrigate plants. Given the extreme drought that is blanketing most of California, this is also a very relevant activity. Ancient Judea had a very similar climate to ours — what if we had to carry all our water from a well by hand? — how would that change our water consumption habits?

I got to design a shoulder pole carrier using readily available materials. It was fun to design and build, and once it was built it was surprisingly comfortable and easy to use. This is a cool piece of ancient technology that really works well!


Assembled materials

Materials for 6 pole carriers:
— 100′ of 7/32″ cotton “sash cord” or “all purpose clothesline” (easy to tie, and soft on kids’ hands if they grab it)
— 12 ea. 1-gallon plastic buckets, often sold as painter’s buckets; the ones we like best look like miniature 5-gallon buckets with sturdy reinforcement at the top (see photo above)
— 6 pcs. 5/8″ dia. 4-foot long hardwood dowels
— 9/16″ drill bit and drill (hand drills work well for this project)


Measuring for the holes in the buckets

Step one:
Mark out locations for three holes spaced equally around the bucket. Our buckets were 7-3/4″ in diameter, and spacing the holes 6-3/4″ apart (as measured on a straight line, as in the photo above) provided fairly equal spacing.


Drilling the holes in the buckets

Step two:
Drill three holes as shown in the photo above.


How the cords are tied to the buckets

Step three:
Cut two lengths of sash cord, one 6′ long, and one 4’6″ long. Thread cord through holes and tie with two half hitches as shown — the longer piece of cord is tied at its two ends through two holes, and the shorter piece of cord is tied at one end through one hole. Note that two half hitches function as a slip knot, so snug the knot down to the bucket. (If you don’t know how to tie two half hitches, look at a Scout handbook, or search the Web for instructions.)

Make two of these assemblies, one for each end of the dowel.


Tying the cords to the pole

Step four:
Loop the longer rope (tied off at both ends) over the dowel. Then tie a clove hitch, using the free end of the shorter cord, so that the clove hitch goes over the longer cord, and secures it to the dowel (see photo above).

Once you get the clove hitch tied, lift up the assembly, and see how the bucket is hanging. It will probably hang unevenly, so adjust all the cords until it hangs more or less evenly — this is much easier if you get someone to hold the dowel for you. When everything looks even, snug up the clove hitch so it’s tight. (You can also tie off the free end of the rope onto one of the other ropes, using two half hitches — this makes for a slightly more secure assembly, although it isn’t really necessary.)


Person in ancient Judean costume with loaded shoulder pole carrier

Above is what the whole thing looks like when it’s completed, with each bucket filled about 1/3 full. Don’t fill the buckets more than half full — if you do, the water will slop all over your feet when you carry it, and there’s a good chance you’ll snap the dowel from the weight.

In fact, for most school-aged children, filling the buckets about a third full will provide the most pleasant experience. With that much water in the buckets, it’s heavy enough so that the water carrier stays in place on the child’s shoulders, but it’s not so heavy that it hurts. Notice that the dowel in this design is relatively thin so that it acts as a spring, providing some cushioning to the shoulders — carrying water with this water carrier is relatively comfortable.

Of course, you can also use this type of carrier with a heavier load in the middle, and with two people carrying, one on each end of the pole. Obviously, a longer, stronger pole would be needed.

If you want to carry bigger loads with a shoulder pole carrier, use a heavier pole. Asian cultures often use bamboo for the pole — it’s a material that’s light, flexible, and strong. Traditional European shoulder pole carriers were typically less flexible, and carved (like ox yokes) to fit around the neck and put more of the load on the shoulders.

Kurt Kuhwald’s thoughts on Starr King

Recently, I talked with Kurt Kuhwald, former professor at Starr King School for the Ministry, about the school’s search process for a new president. Kurt had some interesting things to say about the search, and the conflict that erupted during and after the search.

Before I get to Kurt’s thoughts, you may want to review what happened at Starr King. I have a short post about the situation here. Since I wrote that post, the New York Times covered the story in a balanced and well-written article here, and UU World did a carefully-written article in November which you can read here. Now back to Kurt.

Kurt is someone for whom I have great respect, particularly in his thoughtful and passionate approach to ethical issues, and to issues of prophetic importance. I was lucky enough to have lunch with Kurt a couple of weeks ago, and we talked about several prophetic issues: global climate change; the protests following Ferguson; and the mess at Starr King. We wound up spending most of our time talking about Starr King, not because it is of greater importance than Ferguson or global climate justice, but because it was so fresh in the minds of both of us. Actually, mostly I listened — Kurt has a unique and powerful interpretation of the Starr King situation, and I wanted to hear what he said.

Kurt has been kind enough to send me several documents that he is willing to make public, and with his permission, I am posting them here on my blog. You can click on one of the links below to go to a specific letter, or just scroll down to read these four documents in order:

Kurt’s letter of resignation from Starr King;
An addendum to that letter giving more detail on his reasons for resigning;
A letter to the Ad Hoc Committee set up by Starr King to investigate the situation;
A letter to the members of the UUA Board regarding Starr King.

As I talked with Kurt, it struck me that there was a deep current of theology running through everything Kurt said. He is talking about a theology of power; he is critiquing one way power is wielded in contemporary religious institutions. This is an incredibly important critque. I believe it would behoove anyone with an interest in the mess at Starr King to read or re-read Bernard Loomer’s important 1976 essay “Two Conceptions of Power.” Finally, out of respect for Kurt’s deep theological insights, I’m going to say that if you’d like to comment here you should exhibit some theological thinking. If you’re not sure how to think theologically about this issue, read Loomer’s essay.

As always, I reserve the right to delete or edit comments that I feel are discourteous, rude, or off-topic.

Scroll down to start reading Kurt’s letters….

Update, 14 January 2015: Kurt Kuhwald asked me if I’d be willing to post Dorsey Blake’s letter of resignation from Starr King; until January 9, he was Associate Professor of Spirituality and Prophetic Justice. Since Kurt Kuhwald and Dorsey Blake timed their resignations for the same day, and since they share a prophetic vision for liberal religion, I felt it was appropriate to add that letter to this blog post. Having received Dorsey Blake’s permission, I have added his letter below:
Dorsey Blake’s letter of resignation

Continue reading “Kurt Kuhwald’s thoughts on Starr King”

UNCO 14: pastoral self-care

Derrick convened a very helpful UNCO session on self care for pastors. As the 15 pastors who were present talked about this issue, one thing stood out for me: most congregations may be willing to hear about the health issues of their pastor, except they mostly don’t want to hear about any mental health issues their pastor may have. If a pastor is struggling with, e.g., depression, do they dare to tell their congregation about this health issue? Probably not. Since ministers are at higher risk for the mental health issues of depression and substance abuse, this is a bit of a problem.

On the other hand, I get the feeling that many ministers don’t want to talk about mental health issues until they are actually facing trouble. In my opinion, ministers should have an ongoing relationship with a mental health professional, e.g., I talk every month with someone who is both a congregational consultant and a licensed family therapist. If a minister has such an ongoing relationship, if they do develop mental health problems they have someone they can turn to immediately; they also have someone who can help them identify a growing problem and get treatment before the problem affects work or personal life. Perhaps congregations could take more responsibility for their minister’s mental health by requiring and funding regular consultations with a therapist.

Consumer confidence and contributions

I have long wondered if there is any kind of correlation between consumer confidence, and annual contributions to congregations. I would expect giving to go down during times of lower consumer confidence, and giving to go up in times of higher consumer confidence.

Of course, there are many other variables that affect congregational giving. But I would expect consumer giving to be a major influence. What do you think?

U. Michigan Consumer Confidence index

Above: 10 year chart of the Index of Consumer Sentiment, produced by University of Michigan.

Why you should get your child dedicated

On her blog “All Together Now,” Karen Bellavance-Grace describes the child dedication ceremony that her Unitarian Universalist congregation held for her children:

“I trusted the words that came from our minister, Rev. Barbara McKusick Liscord: ‘For years to come, these children will be a part of our community of mutual caring, concern, responsibility and affection. Wherever they are in the world, they will always be tucked in the heart of this community. Do you, this gathered congregation, dedicate yourselves to nourish their spiritual growth, to welcome and value them, to share with them what you know of life and to learn from them what they have to teach us?’

“I heard the words, thought they were lovely, and trusted the members of the congregation would be kind to my children, smile at them, make small talk at coffee hour, and teach their Religious Education classes. I heard those words, prayed they would hold lasting meaning, and assumed that at the least, this congregation would witness their growing up….”

Well, now her daughters are entering their teen years, and their parents are splitting up, and Bellavance-Grace rightly worries about the girls:

“I knew we had a potential recipe for disaster. There were days when they didn’t want to talk to either of us to process this transition. We asked who the adults were in their life that they would be willing to speak to. One by one, they listed the names of members of their home congregation. Their minister, their OWL teachers, the woman who had taught their RE class when they were in kindergarten, a member of the congregation they thought of us a second grandmother, a Mystery Pal from a few years back. In that moment, I knew they would be okay.”

This is one of the hidden aspects of religious education, an aspect which actually has little to do with education, or with theology. In today’s U.S. society, kids have very few places where they can get to know ordinary adults. Most of us don’t live with extended families any more, and most of us don’t live in true villages or small towns where there is a lot of intergenerational contact. Most of the adults in kids’ lives are authority figures who are focused on specific goals that kids are supposed meet, adults like teachers and sports coaches. One big exception to this societal trend is congregations, where kids can meet and get to know a number of adults, adults who are not going to grade them, or get them to win games.

I like child dedication ceremonies because lying at the theological center of a child dedication ceremony is a promise to support parents and child as that child grows up. The congregation is entering into a set of promises, a covenant, with one particular child, while reminding itself of a wider covenant it has with all children in its purview. When Bellavance-Grace’s children were dedicated, that covenant was explicitly named by the minister, which is a good thing — but even if that covenant isn’t explicitly stated, it is still a core element of a child dedication ceremony.

I also like child dedication ceremonies because they remind congregations of their responsibilities. And because they remind older kids who see the ceremonies that they, too, are part of a covenant. And (maybe most of all) because they keep us focused on one of most important functions congregations have: raising kids.

If you haven’t gotten your child or children dedicated, think about doing it. It’s good for you, good for your kids, and good for everyone.

Academics and practitioners

A few days ago on the “Key Resources” blog, a blog about faith formation from Virginia Theological Seminary blog, Kyle Oliver asked: “What has the academy to do with congregational faith formation (and vice versa)?”

What prompted this question? Kyle had been at the recent annual conference of the Religious Education Association (REA), which is supposed to be an organization of scholars and practitioners. But he had not been convinced that the REA offers much to practitioners: “I wasn’t entirely convinced of the value of the conference for a non-academically-aspiring faith formation minister in a congregation.”

Speaking as a minister of religious education, I agree with Kyle that the academics, not the practitioners, dominate the conference. Two examples of what I mean when I say the academics dominate: (1) At the 2011 conference, I went to an excellent workshop given by Ryan Gardner on teacher reflection for volunteer teachers; it was the only practical workshop in that time slot; yet only two other people showed up, one of whom admitted she was in the wrong workshop (she stayed anyway, bless her heart). (2) At this year’s conference, I went to a good workshop given by Tom Groome on practical approaches to pedagogy for the local congregation; again, it was the only practical workshop in that time slot; yet the conversation got taken over at a couple of points by academics who wanted to argue rather obscure theoretical points. At the same time, all the academics whom I met were sympathetic to practitioners; some of them appeared to be pleased when they found out I actually worked in a congregation with real, live children and youth. I don’t think the academics want to dominate the REA conference.

Some of the problem may lie in the realities that we religious education practitioners face these days. When I started working as a religious educator in the Boston area, back in 1994, it was commonplace for some of the older religious educators to talk about how they studied with Robert Kegan, James Fowler, Tom Groome, and other scholars. Back then it was also commonplace for lay Directors of Religious Education to have a full-time, well-compensated job; there were many more Ministers of Religious Education; congregations expected us to take time to study and keep up with the field. That’s no longer true. As staff costs for congregations outpace inflation, as organized religion declines in an era of civic disengagement, as society changes rapidly around us, as congregations need more from us and are able to offer less to us — as all this goes on, many of us who work in local congregations feel overwhelmed as we try to do more and more with less and less, as we try to keep kids engaged, as we try to hold on to our jobs and our pay.

As a result, when we practitioners go to any kind of conference, we’re usually looking for relentlessly useful ideas that we can use right now. We’re desperate. John Roberto of Faith Formation 2020 gets this; he gives us practitioners what we need in easily digestible bites. At the recent REA conference, I think Beth Katz of Project Interfaith intuited some of this; she showed us excellent and innovative curricula that were both immediately useful and grounded in interesting theoretical perspectives. Mind you, Katz and Roberto are not exactly academics, though they are academically informed. One academic who gets this is Bob Pazmino: I talked with Bob informally at the recent REA conference, and he not only asked me about what was going on in my congregation, and listened carefully and respectfully, but he was able to present me with some interesting possibilities for new directions based on his academic work.

In short, I think Kyle Oliver is correct when he says that he’s not “entirely convinced of the value of the REA conference” for most of us practitioners. I think the academics might want to pay more attention to Kyle’s critique, and think about how they might better unite their theory with our practical realities.

I would also say that we practitioners have to remember that our praxis should be informed with theory. Perhaps it’s time to get a little more assertive, as Kyle is doing, and help the academics pay better attention to what’s going on in our local congregations.