This story was updated after publication to correct an error.
A 126-year-old Baptist church that two years ago clashed with leaders of its affluent Silicon Valley community over traffic and parking concerns is seeking a buyer for its 1948 building that in its prime accommodated a congregation of 600 to 700 members but has now dwindled to about 25.
The Palo Alto Weekly reported Oct. 25 that First Baptist Church, one of the city’s oldest churches, is considering a number of offers to sell its building and compiling a list of recipients for legacy gifts ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 that include the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.
Rick Mixon, pastor of the American Baptist church the last 13 years, preached his last sermon at First Baptist Church in July.
“We are aware that we are not unique in saying farewell to our beloved community, though that doesn’t make it any easier,” Mixon said. “Still, the time has come, the time for us to let go and move on.”
Mixon said declining membership and participation has increased pressure on a shrinking leadership pool tasked with the work of sustaining the congregation and maintaining its assets.
“We are not on life-support,” Mixon said. “We could go on for a bit longer and continue to die by attrition, a sort of natural but perhaps unseemly death. Instead, collectively we made a decision to end now while we still have people and power to make timely and responsible decisions about our community and its resources.”
“It is not unlike those who make the decision to die with dignity while they have the capacity to make that decision thoughtfully and responsibly for themselves,” the pastor said.
First Baptist Palo Alto, with a long history of ecumenical relationships and community service, over the years began renting underused parts of its facility to community groups that otherwise would have a hard time finding affordable space in the affluent San Francisco Bay Area community that is home to tech companies including Hewlett-Packard and Google and Mark Zuckerberg’s “Facebook House” made famous in the 2010 film “The Social Network.”
In 2007 the city sent letters to commercial tenants at First Baptist Church informing them they could no longer operate in a neighborhood zoned for single family residents. Officials told First Baptist to no longer permit activities other than worship and religious studies without approval of a code enforcement officer.
The church and city reached a compromise in May 2018, when the city council gave First Baptist a conditional use permit to operate a community center but established hours of operation and an occupancy limit of 70 people, except for six special events each year.
Mixon told the Palo Alto Weekly that the zoning dispute was a factor in the decision to close the church but was not a “determinative” factor.
Mixon said the decision, reached last fall, came after the church hired a consultant to assess its prospects.
Mixon told worshippers July 28 that church members gave “our best effort” and leave behind a legacy that “affirms that ours has largely been a good ride for long time.”
“It’s sad that there are no like-minded Baptist congregations close to us, but that reflects the harsh reality of church life, especially in this highly secular environment,” he said.