Neighboring Faith Communities Resources
Material to supplement a curriculum for grades 6-8
by Dan Harper, v. 0.5
Copyright (c) 2012-2019 Dan Harper
Back to the Table of Contents
This section is outdated, and is scheduled for complete revision. For a more up-to-date version, please see the printed curriculum guide from UUCPA.
A. List of faith communities
B. Finding neighboring faith communities in your area
C. Information and resources on U.S. religion
This section is designed to help you locate a diversity of faith communities to visit in your area.
A. List of faith communities
The main purpose of this list is to encourage you to go beyond the usual visits that Unitarian Universalists always seem to make to the same old faith communities, year after year (Quakers, Roman Catholics, a mainline Protestant group, Zen Buddhists) — and to also explore some of the vast diversity of religious groups that may now be found in every major metropolitan area, and increasingly in all parts of the United States.
It is especially important to explore the incredible diversity of Christian groups. By far the largest number of persons in the U.S. identify themselves as Christians — but U.S. Christianity includes wildly diverse practices and material culture! For just one example, look at the amazing range of Christian music: the polished classical music of a high Episcopalian church; the sleek praise band of a C3 Pentecostal church; the complete absence of musical instruments in a Primitive Baptist church where the whole congregation knows how to sing in four-part harmony; the scruffy singer-songwriter in the urban mainline Protestant church; the amazing harmonies and rocking rhythm of an AME Zion church choir. For another example, look at the wide range of practices that may be found in Sunday services: speaking in tongues in an Assembly of God church; sermons which incorporate the latest in AV technology at one of the congregations affiliated with Saddleback Church; full-immersion baptism at a Southern Baptist church; the silence of an unprogrammed Quaker meeting; the three hour fusion of art, music, and chant of a Russian Orthodox service; etc.
We hope this list inspires you to explore more widely in the amazing religious diversity of the U.S. religious landscape.
0. Unitarian Universalist
Unitarian Universalism is the result of the merger, in 1961, between the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. At the time of merger, the new denomination would most likely have been considered a Protestant Christian group, even though neither the Unitarians nor the Universalists were admitted to the National Council of Churches, the most important Protestant organization in the U.S. in the mid-twentieth century.
By about 1970, some Unitarian Universalists were calling themselves “post-Protestant” or “post-Christian” (see, e.g., Dana McLean Greeley, 25 Beacon Street, 1971). Today, it’s hard to know how to categorize Unitarian Universalism. Our number of adherents is so small, most scholars seem to ignore us. A few U.S. sociologists classify Unitarian Universalism with Protestant Christians, because from a sociological or cultural viewpoint, we look pretty much like other mainline Protestants: we meet on Sundays, we have Sunday school, we sing hymns, we listen to a sermon, etc. Religious historians (e.g., Gary Dorrien) may categorize us as post-Christian, that is, coming from Christianity historically but now different from Christians. Religious studies scholars have categorized us as Christian, as post-Christian, as a new religious movement, or as a tiny religious group that can safely be left floating in no category. Because of the ambiguity, I have included Unitarian Universalists as a separate category.
A-1. Roman Catholic
Roman Catholic churches all follow a fairly standard worship structure, called the “mass,” which always includes communion. In Roman Catholic churches, ordinary people receive the bread (usually a wafer-type bread), but not the wine. Beyond that, there is a lot of diversity in Roman Catholic masses. Music may range from traditional organ and choir, to rock bands. The mass might be in Latin (in more conservative churches), in English, or in another language. Masses can be quite short — Roman Catholic masses in airport chapels may last just a quarter of an hour — or fairly long, over an hour.
Ritual implements for the Roman Catholic mass may include:
— bowl, ewer, towel for “lavabo” (ritual cleansing before communion)
— ciborium, or host box, for storing the wafers (sometimes known as “hosts”)
— cruets, for the wine, and water to mix with the wine
— chalice, and paten
— special cloths to cover the chalice
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 the language, music, and worship style (restrained, exuberant, etc.) can differ greatly. It should be easy to find Roman Catholic parishes with masses in English and Spanish. Also look for parishes with masses in languages from other continents, e.g. Igbo (Africa), Tamil (South Asia), etc.
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.
A-2. Eastern Orthodox
The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics split from each other in the year 1024. Whereas the head of all Roman Catholics is the Pope, based in Rome, Eastern Orthodox churches are organized into national churches or language groups, such as the Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, etc. Each of these churches is presided over by a Patriarch. The different Orthodox bodies, however, see themselves as all being part of one church organization.
Greek Orthodox: Greek Orthodox churches traditionally use ancient Greek, known as Koine Greek, from the time when Jesus was alive. Their 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.
Antiochian Orthodox: The Antiochian Orthodox is another Eastern Orthodox church, originally based in the Middle East: Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Persian Gulf region, etc. Like other Orthodox churches, they emphasize beauty in their worship services, the church building will have beautiful objects like icons, and so on.
Russian Orthodox: 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.
A-3. Oriental Orthodox
The Oriental Orthodox Churches split off from other Christian churches after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Each of the Oriental Orthodox Churches — Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syriac, Armenian, and Indian churches — is semi-independent.
Armenian Orthodox: Services are similar to Roman Catholic and and the Eastern Orthodox services. But the music used in specifically Armenian, and is called Armenian chant.
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.” The worship services resemble Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic services, but there are many small differences, e.g., during communion first the bread (“body of Christ”) is given to the congregation, then the wine (blood of Christ”) is given. Languages used may include Coptic, Arabic, English.
Eritrean Orthodox: See comments on Coptic Orthodox Church above.
Syriac Orthodox: See comments on Coptic Orthodox Church above.
A-4. Assyrian Church of the East
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.
Worship services in Lutheran churches resemble Catholic services, in that the eucharist (communion) is a weekly event, and is central to the service. Denominations include Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), Missouri Synod, etc.
b. Anglican / Church of England / Episcopalian
The Anglican church began in England, and split from the Roman Catholic church c. 1530. 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. Communion takes place every week.
c. Reformed tradition (incl. Presbyterian, Congregational, etc.)
The Reformed tradition has its roots in the reforms of John Calvin. 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. The bread and wine might be distributed in different ways: it is at an altar table at the front of the church building; the deacons bring it to people in the pews; there are several tables where communion is served.
Reformed tradition: Presbyterian
Denominations include Presbyterian Church USA, known as a liberal church with a social justice orientation; and A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO), which recently broke with Presbyterian Church USA primarily over the issue of same-sex marriage.
Denominations include United Church of Christ, which is very similar to Unitarian Universalism in terms of polity and stance of social justice issues, but which is explicitly Christian in theology.
Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)
A liberal non-creedal Christian church.
Unitarianism and Universalism began as rejections of Calvinism, and thus come from the Reformed tradition. Some people would now call Unitarian Universalism a post-Christian religion, so it is listed separately above.
Baptists churches believe that children should not be baptized; only adults, or teenagers who are considered old enough, should be baptized. Baptist churches may have baptisms of teens or adults during a regular Sunday service. Baptists tend to think sermons are important, so typically a sermon or other spoken teaching is featured in their services. Baptists tend to value congregational independence, so services and beliefs may vary widely. There are a great many Baptist denominations, of which a few are described below:
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.
National Baptist Convention: The National Baptist Convention is mostly Black churches.
Southern Baptist: One of the largest Christian groups in the U.S., Southern Baptists tend to be more conservative theologically than American Baptists. Southern Baptists tend to be more conservative in their beliefs, but their worship services may include rock bands, hi-tech projection systems, etc.
Primitive Baptist: One characteristic of Primitive Baptists is they have no musical instruments in their services; many Primitive Baptist congregations sing all hymns in four-part harmony. Primitive Baptist Universalists, sometimes called the “No-Hellers,” constitute a sub-group of Primitive Baptists; they are not closely related to Universalists.
Mennonite Church USA: A liberal Anabaptist group, and a “peace church” with strong pacifist beliefs.
f. Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
There are several Quaker groups in the U.S., but Quakers may be roughly divided into “unprogrammed meetings,” in which the majority of the service is silence, and people may stand to speak briefly “if the Spirit moves” them to do so; and “programmed meetings,” in which the services have hymns, a sermon, etc., as well as a time of silence. Most programmed meetings are affiliated with Friends United Meeting (FUM); most unprogrammed meetings are affiliated with Friends General Conference (FGC). Unprogrammed meetings may call themselves a “Quaker Church” instead of a “Quaker Meeting.”
The majority of Quakers do not believe in “outward forms of religion”; that is, they do not believe in having rituals like communion, baptism, etc. While Quakers have a wide range of beliefs, from conservative Christian to atheists, they are pacifists who do not believe in war and avoid violence.
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.
Friends United Meeting (FUM): 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.
g. Methodist groups
United Methodists: Local churches range from quite liberal to moderately conservative on social issues. United Methodist churches are often involved in social justice work.
African Methodist Epsicopalian (AME), and African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion): Two historically Black Methodist groups.
This includes a wide variety of congregations that have chosen to remain unaffiliated with any wider denominational structure. Congregations range from the very liberal (e.g., Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford University), to conservative (e.g., Saddleback Church, California), and fundamentalist.
A-6. Restorationist churches
This is a large grouping of largely unrelated denominations. These denominations each teach, in their own way, that sometime in history, Christianity went astray, and they have gone back to an early, true form of Christianity.
Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Mormon): Mormons assert that their prophet, Joseph Smith, has re-established the church originally set up by Jesus.
Seventh Day Adventist: Seventh Day Adventists assert that Saturday is the proper Sabbath day, and their faith communities meet on that day of the week.
A-7. Pentecostal and Charismatic churches
Pentecostal churches trace their roots back to the Asuza Street Revival, which took place in 1906 in Los Angeles. Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit can intervene directly in worship services. 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.
There are many Pentecostal groups, including:
Assemblies of God USA is part of the worldwide Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal group in the world. Features of Assemblies of God congregations may include speaking in tongues, baptism in the Spirit, and divine healing.
The Church of God in Christ is a predominantly Black Pentecostal group.
C3 Church Global (Christian City Church International): Known for high tech worship services and rock-style praise bands, C3 Churches often do not advertise themselves as Pentecostals.
A-8. African Independent Churches, or African Initiated Churches (AIC)
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.
A-9. Other Christian groups
First 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. (Sometimes classed as a New Religious Movement.)
Generally more conservative in practice and belief. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women are often seated separately. Only men may be rabbis.
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.
A liberal religious Jewish group that is often aligned with Unitarian Universalists on social issues.
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. (Sometimes classed as a New Religious Movement.)
Names of Muslim “denominations” are taken from the Salatomatic Web site.
Sunni Islam has the most adherents among the major groups of Muslims; the division between Sunnis and Shiites centers around who were the proper successors to the Prophet Muhammad. Sunni Muslims have Five Pillars, the five basic things believers must do.
Most Shia Muslims, or Shiites, list the Five Pillars of Islam somewhat differently from Sunnis: belief in the one true God; belief in God’s justice; prophethood; succession to Muhammad; belief in the day of judgment and the resurrection. The Five Pillars are supplemented by ten practices, the Ancillaries of Faith. Subgroups may be ethnic or regional groupings.
Ismaili Shia consider Imam Isma’il ibn Jafar to be the true Imam. There are several branches of Ismaili Shia. The Dawoodi Bohra, one such branch of the Ismaili, adhere to Seven Pillars (not Five Pillars) of Islam.
The Sufis are a mysitcal group of Muslims. This grouping overlaps somewhat with other groups.
C-4. Other Muslim groups
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.
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 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, Japan, Korea, etc.
a. Pure Land
In Pure Land Buddhism, entering the “Pure Land” is equivalent to attaining enlightenment. One example of a U.S. Pure Land Buddhist group: over a century ago, Japanese immigrants founded the Buddhist Church of America, which may be classed as a Pure Land group; some clergy in the Buddhist Church of America sound just as liberal as Unitarian Universalist clergy.
Zen Buddhism (Japanese), or Chan Buddhism (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.
Tibetan Buddhism, as its name implies, was historically centered on the region around Tibet and northern India. Oral transmission of beliefs and practices is an important feature of the tradition, and many adherents of Tibetan Buddhism will refer to their “lineage,” that is, the line of transmission, from one teacher to the next.
There are very few Confucian temples in the U.S.
F. Daoist (Taoism)
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. (Sometimes these latter groups are classed as New Religious Movements.)
Hinduism is a complex religion, that includes many different deities and many different practices; but there are religious goals, texts, and practices held to be important by most Hindus. Geographically, Hindus are a majority in India, Nepal, and Bali (Indonesia). 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.
H. 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) may be loosely defined as a deity that is one embodiment of the ultimate deity.
Scholar of religion Stephen Prothero calls this “Yoruba religion,” though other West African peoples such as the Fon also venerated Orisas. The Harvard Pluralism Project calls this “Afro-Caribbean” religion.
For more on Santeria and Voudun in the U.S., including tensions with white society, see: Anthony Pinn, Varieties of African American Religious Experience (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998). Adherents of Orisa devotion have sometimes been discriminated against in the U.S., and they may not welcome any contact.
A botanica is a store that sells supplies for practitioners of Orisha devotion, as well as for related traditions such as folk Catholicism, etc. Followers of Orisa devotion may not belong to formal religious organizations, and the Harvard Pluralism Project lists botanicas as religious centers for this religious tradition.
H-2. Other groups
In certain areas, there may be established, public faith communities of adherents of Orisa devotion. These groups include Santeria, Vodoun, Candomblé, etc. Such groups may actively avoid, or even be suspicious of, contact from Unitarian Universalist groups.
An ancient religion, originating in Persia. Central rituals involve fire.
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.
Founded in the nineteenth century as a reform of Islam. Many groups are small and meet in members’ homes. Racial inclusiveness is a feature of Baha’i. (Sometimes classed as a New Religious Movement.)
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. Jain 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.
M. 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.
M-1. New religions with roots in Christianity
Unity Church: Adherents believe that “God is Spirit, the loving source of all that is” (from the Unity Church Web site). There is typically time for meditation in the service.
SEE ALSO: Christian Science above (some scholars class Christian Science as a New Religious Movement; others as a Christian group.)
M-2. New religions with roots in Judaism
SEE: Reconstructionist Judaism above.
M-3. New religions with roots in Islam
SEE: Baha’i above.
M-4. New religions with roots in Zoroastrianism
Little significant presence in the U.S.
M-5. New religions with roots in Indian religions
Ananda Church of Self Realization: One of several related groups based on the teachings of Paramahasana Yogananda.
M-6. New religions with roots in East Asian religions
Cao Dai, a syncretic Vietnamese religion founded in the 1920s.
Rissho Kosei-kai: A liberal religion from Japan based on Buddhism. Listed here primarily because Rissho Kosekai and UUism had strong ties in the 1960s-1970s.
M-7. New religions with roots in indigenous and pagan traditions
Neo-Pagan and Wiccan: A loose grouping of usually small faith communities that adhere to some form of worship of a mother goddess, as well as perhaps other deities. Many Neo-Pagan groups are characterized by a love of ritual and pageantry, but this is a very diverse group. Many Neo-Pagan groups are quite small, and they may not welcome a group visit from a class.
M-8. New religions with roots in Western esoteric traditions
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.
M-9. New religions with roots in modern Western cultures
Ethical Culture Society: Unitarian Universalism and Ethical Culture Society have historical connections; some local congregations are affiliated with both Ethical Culture and UUism.
Humanist communities: Some Humanist communities may have originated as splinter groups from UU congregations.
N. Things that look a lot like religion
These are ideas to spark conversation, rather than ideas for field trips.
N-1. Sports as religion
Some great conversation starters can be found in this online article: Super Bowl: Sports or Religion. The middle part of this news release contains scholar Joe Price’s comments on why the Super Bowl is a lot like religion.
N-2. Celebrity culture as religion
See the excellent article on “Celebrity-centric Spirituality” in the book New Religions: A Guide, ed. Christopher Partridge (Oxford, 2004), pp. 360-361, 365-366. Draws the connection between medieval saints and today’s celebrities. One great quote from this article: “Since her death in 1997, [Princess] Diana has become the focus for spiritual devotion and a permanent pilgrimage site has been created in her memory.”
N-3. Online religions
There are a wide variety of online religions, some of which may be parodies (or maybe not, who knows). One resource on this topic is Handbook of Hyper-Real Religions, ed. Adam Possami (Brill: Leiden, Boston: 2012); this book also touches on the relationship between video games and religion.
The following have been studied by scholars, and may be worth looking at with online “field trips”:
Thee Church ov Moo: See the brief but excellent article on Thee Church ov Moo in New Religions: A Guide, ed. Christopher Partridge (Oxford, 2004), pp. 407-408. Their Web site.
The Church of Universal Life: An online church before online existed. Best known for their willingness to ordain anyone, in order to prove the separation of church and state in the U.S. political system, the Church of Universal Life is more than an ordination factory (the author has met people who are ordained Universal Life ministers who take it very seriously indeed). Their Web site.
B. Finding neighboring faith communities in your area
How do you make contact with faith communities in your area?
It will be easy to find some faith communities: where there are substantial financial resources to brick-and-mortar buildings and Web sites, where English is the chief language, where the majority of the people in the faith community are white and U.S.-born., and/or where one goal of the faith community is to attract new adherents.
There are other faith communities that will be more difficult to find.
We suggest that you develop a list of faith communities in your area, making the list as comprehensive as possible. Use the “List of Faith Communities” above as a sort of checklist — can you find at least one faith community in each category within an hour’s drive of your location?
1. Walking or driving around your area
The most obvious way to start making your list is to look for physical locations of faith communities in your immediate area. Look for large dedicated churches, synagogues, and temples; also look for faith communities that rent space in another faith community’s building, and look for storefront faith communities that rent commercial space.
This method can be surprisingly effective, and is a good way to start generating your list.
2. Faith community Web sites
Web searches for faith communities can prove effective, but more complicated than you might think at first. Here’s an example of how you might search for a faith community.
Start with the “List of Faith Communities” above, and search for a specific variety of faith community in your area. If you were looking for a Russian Orthodox church, you might start out with this search string:
russian orthodox church palo alto
That search string may not be particularly effective, however, and a more effective search string might look something like this:
"russian orthodox" church "palo alto"
When such a search returns no useful results, you can broaden the search term for the geographic area, like this:
"russian orthodox" church "bay area" california
And if that search string returns no useful results, don’t give up quite yet! Find the Web site of the national body or denomination — in this case, a search for:
russian orthodox church united states
returned a result for the Web site for “The Patriarchal Parishes in the USA, Moscow Patriarchate”; the “Parish Directory” on this Web site shows 33 local churches in the U.S., including one in San Francisco, an hour’s drive away.
Going a little deeper into the search results brings up “Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia,” a body that has many more local churches affiliated with it, including two churches close to Palo Alto, one of which doesn’t seem to have its own Web site, along with four more churches in San Francisco. In other words, a local Russian Orthodox church may belong to one of at least two larger organizations.
This example reveals some common problems with Web searches:
— The obvious search string may not return the best results;
— There may be more than one national body to which a faith community can belong;
— Local faith communities may have no Web site, or a Web site that appears well down in the list of search results.
Thus we see that even though Web searches work well for the dominant religious groups in the U.S. — mainline Protestant churches, Catholic churches, evangelical Christian churches, and more liberal Jewish synagogues — Web searches may prove to be more difficult and more time consuming for other religious groups.
3. Social media resources
At present writing, there is one social media site that works extremely well for locating nearby faith communities.
Yelp.com is a social media site that offers user-generated reviews of all sorts of commercial establishments: restaurants, hotels, etc. Yelp also offers reviews for “Religious Organizations.” For our purposes, Yelp is particularly useful because it allows you to search based on your location. At the top of the Yelp Web site, in the search box labeled “Find,” enter “Religious Organizations” and in the search box labeled “Near,” enter your location. In many cases, such a search will return a fairly lengthy list of organizations. (You do have to be careful: some of the “religious organizations” will not be what we would consider a faith community.) Then you can repeat the same search for other nearby towns and cities.
4. Personal contacts
As people in your own congregation learn that you are looking for neighboring faith communities, they may start telling you about people they know who belong to a nearby faith community.
Personal contacts turn out to be very helpful in locating faith communities that would welcome a visit. Personal contacts are sometimes willing to explain dress and etiquette, meet your group on the day of the visit, and answer questions. Our best visits have often been the ones where we had a personal contact who was willing to meet our group and talk with the teens.
Possible sources for personal contacts:
— clergy groups
— interfaith groups working on social issues, e.g., hunger, etc.
5. Other resources
To locate Muslim groups, an excellent resource is Salatomatic, an online guide to mosques and Islamic schools.
C. Information and resources on U.S. religion
1. Web resources on religion
Please be aware that the Web is generally NOT a reliable source of information about religion. Web-based information about religion has a relatively high probability of being biased (either for or against), and worse yet there is a high probability that the bias of a given Web page will not be immediately obvious. A prime example of this phenomenon would be just about any Wikipedia article on religion: Wikipedia articles on religion are subject to constant editing by adherents of that religion, opponents of that religion, and people who know little or nothing about that religion.
In general, then, do not trust Wikipedia or most online sources for information about religion.
However, the Pluralism Project < http://pluralism.org/ >, based at Harvard University, has a collection of well-written, relatively unbiased online articles about religion. The articles strive to remain primarily descriptive and non-judgmental. Typically, you will find a historical overview of a given religious tradition, a general description of that religion’s contemporary beliefs and practices, and information about that religion’s place in the contemporary American scene.
This is a huge Web site, with more articles than you will want to read. So here are some Pluralism Project articles that would be of particular interest to teachers of this class:
Orisa Devotion (termed “Afro-Caribbean traditions” by the Pluralism Project)
Daoism (a.k.a. Taoism)
2. Recommended books for teachersHow To Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook by Arthur J. Magida et al. (Skylight Paths Publications, revised regularly), provides excellent basic information about what to expect on visits to many different faith communities, including what to wear, how to behave, etc. This is a good book to recommend to parents who would encourage conversations on this topic at home.
(b) Introduction to World Religions, ed. Christopher Partridge (Fortress Press, various editions), a college-level text, is a great resource for teachers who want reliable background information on major world religions, with lots of pictures and graphics. Used copies are available online at reasonable prices.
(c) God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero is a readable overview of eight of the most important world religions. In order of influence and importance, according to Protheor, the eight religions are: Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religion, Judaism, and Daoism. Prothero analyzes 1. What is the problem this religion addresses?
2. What is the solution to this problem proposed by the religion?
3. What techniques are used for moving from the problem to the solution?
4. Who are the exemplars in this religion?
So, in Christianity the problem is sin; the solution is salvation; the techniques for achieving the goal are faith and good works; and the exemplars are saints, or, in Protestant Christianity, ordinary people of faith.
(d) New Religions: A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects, and Alternative Spiritualities, edited by Christopher Partridge. One of the few reliable and unbiased guides to new religions and “cults.”