The pagan holiday of Lughnasa traces its roots back to old festivals that celebrated the first fruits of the harvest. In northern Europe, early August was the time when agriculturalists would begin to know what kind of grain crop they’d harvest this year. And they’d begin to have fresh grains again, instead of having to rely on what was left from the previous year’s harvest.
When I’ve lived in New England, as I am once again, Lughnasa becomes a bitter-sweet celebration. More and more fresh vegetables make their appearance at farm stands and farmer’s markets. Raspberries are at their peak, and it won’t be long until we start getting the first summer apples.
Yet at the same time, this is the time of year when you first begin to sense that the days are growing shorter. Some birds begin to drop out of the morning chorus; when I went out for a walk early this morning, I didn’t hear any more Willow Flycatchers. In a drought year like this year, you even begin to see red leaves in early August; we took a long walk on Sunday and here and there were Poison Ivy vines with brilliant red leaves.
It’s both the peak of summer, and the beginning of the turn towards winter.
Prince Philip, the U.K. royal who died recently, was known for his commitment to environmentalism. Religion News Service reports that in 1990, Prince Philip compared Neo-paganism and the Abrahamic religions:
[Prince Philip said the] “ecological pragmatism of the so-called pagan religions” was “a great deal more realistic, in terms of conservation ethics, than the more intellectual monotheistic philosophies of the revealed religions.”
Though this statement proved controversial at the time, I have to say he was absolutely correct. In fact, I’d say it’s still pretty much true.
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”