Originally created 02/03/01

Presbyterian pastor is trying to move mountains in Silicon Valley



CUPERTINO, Calif. - For a man on a mission from God, Andrew Field is surprisingly low key.

"I'm Drew Field, a pastor in the area," one of his typical e-mails goes. "Your friend e-mailed me to let me know that you had recently moved into the area. I'd like to get together with you, just to see how you are doing and how you can get plugged in. How about lunch?"

The Rev. Field believes that kind of laid-back approach is necessary for his formidable quest: to start a church in Silicon Valley, long regarded as an inhospitable environment for traditional religion.

To be sure, there are hundreds of churches, mosques and temples in the suburbs between San Francisco and San Jose, and pockets of pious folk, especially in Hispanic areas of the big cities.

But with science and technology at the core of the area, and with swarms of new arrivals putting in long hours in cubicles and labs, some clergy estimate that only about 10 percent of the valley's residents regularly attend religious services. The nationwide rate, according to a Gallup poll, is as high as 56 percent.

"It is difficult to minister in this valley mainly because of the pace of life and the housing costs," which are driving some longtime residents out, said the Rev. Richard Reaves, senior pastor at Santa Clara First Baptist Church.

In late 1999, the Rev. Field - a former investment banker who left Wall Street for the seminary in 1992 - was working as an associate pastor at a Presbyterian church in New York City.

He had heard from fellow clergy members about the difficulty of keeping congregations going in Silicon Valley and sensed that newcomers were too caught up with stock options and SUVs. Ironclad biblical truths, he decided, were losing ground to self-absorption.

"Silicon Valley is a place that needs the impact of what we're about," the Rev. Field said. "It needs Christianity to permeate the fabric of life here."

So the Rev. Field, 35, decided to start a church that could speak the techies' language and remind them of a higher purpose. He and his wife, Donna, moved with their four children to suburban Los Altos.

Through contacts from New York and with names passed on in conversations, e-mails and prayer groups, the Rev. Field estimates that he has talked to hundreds of people. He tells them about his vision for his Grace Presbyterian Church: It would emphasize the timeliness of ancient concepts of grace and redemption and spend less time on ritual. There would be classical and jazz music instead of a choir.

"Just as no one is `good enough' to avoid the need of God's grace, no one is `bad enough' to be outside the reach of God's grace," he wrote to some prospective congregants.

So far, about 50 people have expressed interest. The Rev. Field wants to start his congregation with about 100 members this year, once he can line up a place to worship.

"It's about as hard as I had pictured it would be," he said. "I'm trying to reach people who for one reason or another have completely blocked (Christianity) out of their lives. The younger people get, you're not even getting people with a religious background."