Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - April 15, 2011

Religious diversity in Pleasanton

We'll give credit for the expected crush of congregants to churches and synagogues this coming week to Pleasanton Presbyterians, who built the first church here at Neal and Second streets in 1876. That church building still stands, although it's now the Lighthouse Baptist denomination. The Presbyterians outgrew that early American-design church to move to larger quarters on Mirador Drive and then, more recently, to an even larger site at Busch Road and Valley Avenue where they worship under a new name, Centerpointe Presbyterian.

With Palm Sunday marking the start in just two days of the holiest week on the Christian calendar, and the Jewish community starting its observance of Passover at sundown Monday, Pleasanton's faithful will crowd into sanctuaries that have multiplied many times over since the little white church on Neal was built. Among the newest, Centerpointe Presbyterians can still claim the title with their unique Sprung tent-shaped green structure highly visible from Valley Avenue, a domed structure that serves as the sanctuary until a more traditional multi-million-dollar facility can be built at the corner of their site.

They're not all that unusual in their architectural taste. Other churches that have outgrown their early beginnings such as CrossWinds, Crossroads, Valley Bible and the Fountain Community churches are in converted warehouse and corporate buildings that give them more space. CrossWinds, which started in Pleasanton, moved to Dublin to accommodate an overflow of parishioners. It already has outgrown that space and is planning to build a much larger facility near the Livermore Airport. Similarly, church-goers at Crossroads, located in its huge warehouse-type building next to Costco, must often walk several blocks from corporate parking spaces because the spacious church parking lot fills up early for its multiple services on Sundays.

It's like that all over Pleasanton as worship centers expand and build new facilities to meet a growing number of congregants. St. Mary & St. John Egyptian Orthodox, which bought the Mirador site from the Presbyterians, is attracting the Greek and other orthodox to Pleasanton. Since relocating from Livermore into its new building at Bernal Avenue and Nevada Street, Congregation Beth Emek is filled Fridays and for meetings other days. Its popular pre-school is open to children of all faiths and always has a waiting list. In an appeal to Jews who have lost interest, Rabbi Raleigh Resnick moved here from New York to establish Chabad of the Tri-Valley. He's also attracting new faces including major turnouts for public services he conducts at the Stoneridge Shopping Center.

Many churches have expanded. St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church recently opened a new youth center and gymnasium which can also be also used for church meetings. St. Clare Episcopal won a hard-fought battle to gain a city permit to expand its crowded church on Hopyard Road. Because of the growing diversity of Pleasanton's population, Chinese and Korean language churches have been established here, with a Muslim Community Center now open in the Hacienda Business Park and Baha'i Faith serving its followers. Several congregations that either don't yet have enough construction funds or can't find available property rent space for services at Pleasanton Middle School and at Amador Valley High.

Besides diversity, Pleasanton's growing faith-based community also comes with interesting names, such as 21st Century Grace, Blazing Fire, Church of Divine Man, and Iglesia la Palabra on First Street. These aren't names or denominations the early Presbyterians would recognize, but they no doubt would graciously welcome on the eve of the holy week ahead.

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