(Excerpted from FPC Palo Alto’s 2023 Mission Study)
Thanks to our facility with Zoom-connected hybrid worship, our local faith community has been blessed and enriched with friends and members from across the country. Still, our core identity has been centered in our Palo Alto-Stanford neighborhoods and broader Silicon Valley area.
Our neighborhood here and abroad
Originally an agricultural region—the Valley of Heart’s Delight—Palo Alto’s proximity to Stanford University attracted highly educated families. Racist red-lining practices laid a foundation of segregated housing that divided Black and brown communities across the freeway from the white and privileged. This only accelerated with the emergence of Silicon Valley, which attracted highly-paid technology professionals from around the world. Today, the stark inequality of income, education, and professional status characterizes our neighbors in Palo Alto, Stanford, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and the broader Bay Area region—with intersecting dimensions that play out in the lives of our young people. Stanford and the tech economy have enhanced our neighborhoods with international diversity. In Palo Alto, for example, our local students reflect high percentages of East Asian and South Asian families. In East Palo Alto, high percentages of Spanish-speaking immigrants fill our schools, along with a significant number of Pacific Islanders from Tonga and Samoa.
For many years, our faith has moved members of the congregation to lead immersive delegations to our partner community, Communidad Octavio Ortiz in El Salvador, and to the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto | 2023 Mission Study Report 21 U.S.-Mexico border. Annual visits and mission trips happened for decades. Our hearts have been touched and changed by witnessing personal examples of courage, resilience, and faith. These experiences have strengthened our ongoing commitment to replace unjust systems. A Salvadoran cross hangs at the front of our church, given to us by refugees from El Salvador to whom we offered sanctuary. They, too, are our neighbors.
Our neighbors are also the many mid-peninsula congregations that share a progressive mindset. We have active partnerships in working for peace, economic justice, affordable housing solutions, and support for immigrants. Together we have created a well-regarded Opportunity Center for previously unhoused neighbors. Nonprofit senior living residences like Lytton Gardens and Channing House are also home to a number of members.
Examples of faith-based collaboratives with which we partner include Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice (with Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, Friends, Catholic and other Christian members), as well as the progressive United Campus Christian Ministry at Stanford (UCCM).
Our community of local congregations support a network of diverse nonprofits that address educational inequality, food and housing insecurity, racial equity and immigrant rights, healthcare and mental health challenges, and other peace and justice initiatives. Together, through mutual acts of service, protest, and shared worship, our lives have been enriched by a sense of interwoven destinies and new friendships, building trust by showing up, year after year. These are the places and the spaces where we find and meet our neighbors.
One of our strongest areas of outreach and advocacy over the last 30+ years has been working for justice in the LGBTQ+ community, both in the PC(USA) and out in the world. Many LGBTQ+ people in the Bay Area and across the country have found welcome and a faith home where they can fully serve God in this church. Our church has been immeasurably enriched through this invitation. There is much more we can do to similarly reach more LGBTQ+ people of color.
In sum, the lives of our neighbors reflect intersections of abundance and scarcity—of loving families and rich cultural diversity, of significant mental health challenges that affect many of our young people, of world-class professional talents and resources, of quiet desperation among the unhoused and those facing substance abuse challenges. We have many opportunities to sustain an active and effective witness of God’s love and beloved community with our partners and neighbors.