The Deacon's Bench

What’s the most popular name for a Christian church?

A reporter in Chicago conducted an informal survey of the Windy City and found some interesting answers:

If church names are any indication, St. Paul is the most popular saint in the Chicago area, with 39 churches named for him.

But overall, the most common name for churches is “First,” which is part of the name of 74 churches, followed by “Trinity” with 47.

These are just some of the trends in church names uncovered in a Sun-Times analysis of eight denominations in the six-county area.

For Catholics, St. Joseph was the top pick among saint names, with eight area churches named for the carpenter from Nazareth.

But if one takes into account all of the different titles given to Joseph’s wife, Mary, she is far and away the most popular personage honored by Catholics, with one of every five parishes named for her.

“First” is a very common name among Methodist, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ congregations because the founders in many cases were optimists, believing others of the same faith would soon locate to the area.

All of the denominations except Catholics and Episcopalians frequently used the town or neighborhood of the church as the primary name, such as “East Side United Methodist Church.” This option was most popular with Methodists, Southern Baptists and Presbyterians.

The use of locations and numbers could also have been a conscious break by Protestant churches with the rituals associated with Catholicism.

“I think they prefer a minimum amount of ritual and to indicate that to them the name is not all that important,” said Catholic historian James Hitchcock, a professor at St. Louis University.

Concept names such as “Holy Trinity” were popular among all eight denominations but were most commonly used by Lutherans, who also used “Grace” in the title of 33 churches.

Catholic, Episcopalian and Lutheran churches were the most likely to be named after saints.

However, Lutherans favored far fewer individual saints than Catholics. Of 105 Lutheran churches named for saints, only 11 had one-of-a-kind saint names.

Of 273 Catholic churches named for saints, 198 were one-of-a-kind for the six-county area, ranging from St. Adalbert to St. Zachary.

Much of the variety is due to the many different ethnic groups among Catholics, who tended to choose saints of their own nationality when building churches.

Lutherans concentrated on Saints Paul, Peter and James as well as the four authors of the Gospel: John, Mark, Matthew and Luke.

St. Paul is especially important to Lutherans because “Martin Luther based his theology on his understanding of the gospel and the writings of St. Paul,” said the Rev. Hector Garfias, associate to the bishop of the Chicago Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In the Catholic tradition, the first saints other than biblical saints were the martyrs. “Later it included people who, even if they hadn’t given their lives for the faith, nevertheless had displayed notable holiness,” said Jimmy Akin, director of evangelization at Catholic Answers.

“It just became a custom to honor particular saints by naming churches after them.”

But Mary remains the most important saint for Catholics. “She carried Jesus in her womb, and naturally she is right at the forefront of the saints, she got to be the mother of God,” said Akin.

Mary’s name is nearly absent from Protestant churches because of doctrinal differences over the concept of Immaculate Conception and the belief that Christ should be the focus of devotion.

This is also reflected in the large number of Protestant churches using names referring to Christ, such as Good Shepherd.

Biblical places such as Mount Zion or Calvary are also popular among Protestants.

Protestants in general are freer to use whatever names they wish than Catholics are. Catholic liturgical law limits church names to the following possibilities: names referring to the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, the angels or “a saint inscribed in the Roman Martyrology or a duly approved appendix.”

As always, there’s much more good stuff at the link. Take and read.