Deciding A Congregation's Name for the Bylaws
Deciding A Congregation's Name for the Bylaws

Choosing or changing the name of the congregation is an important decision, for it will help shape the congregation's vision and image. Following are some considerations.

What Kind of Community?

Many descriptive words can describe a religious group that gathers together. There is no right or wrong answer, just an opportunity for discussion.

  • Church has historically been used for many UU congregations, especially those that were gathered as Christian communities before Unitarians and Universalists had their own denominations.
  • Parish was a term from early New England times, when the church in town was supported by the surrounding community or parish.
  • Congregation describes the polity of our congregation, and is not limited to Christian groups. The term is also used in the Jewish tradition.
  • Fellowship became popular in the post WWII period when lay-led Unitarian communities with a strong humanist identity were formed all over the country.
  • Society is another popular term used by congregations with a humanist identity who wanted to move away from churchy language. 
  • Some congregations choose to not include any of these to signal that they are not a typical church (e.g. The Sanctuaries, Original Blessing, Beloved Café, etc.).

What's In A Name?

Choosing a name can distinguish your congregation from others and signal who you are and what you value.

Prominence

Congregations in large cities or a high density of UU congregations historically chose to use names like First Parish, Second Church, etc. to signal prominence or order of founding. 

Location

Many congregations use the name of the city or county as part of their name (e.g. UU Church of Boulder, UU Church of Delaware County, UU Church of Greater Canton, etc.)

Geographic Feature

Some congregation choose a local geographic feature to signal a connection to the land or other aspect of nature (e.g. Prairie UU Church, Eno River, Mount Diablo, etc.). Some geographic features could become associated with tragedies (e.g. Love Canal). 

Significant Personage

Some congregations have chosen to name their congregation after a significant person (e.g. Thomas Starr King, Sojourner Truth, Thomas Jefferson, etc.). This may cause problems if--as in the case with Thomas Jefferson--aspects of their life and conduct are found to have been problematic.

Other congregations have named their congregation after a benefactor or other significant person in their own history (e.g. Pullman Memorial Universalist Church, Davies Memorial UU Church, etc.). 

Value or Image

Many newer congregations have chosen to name their congregation after a transcendent value or metaphor (e.g. Original Blessing, Sacred Fire, Sacred Path, etc.).

Brand Identity

Including Unitarian Universalist in the name is another consideration. Some congregations never added the second U to their name after the 1961 consolidation

Some congregations choose to not include UU in their name to signal that they are not a regular religion. Others have found that they are easier to find, especially when someone finds out they align with UU beliefs when taking the Belief-O-Matic® quiz.

Attend to the Nickname

The length of UU congregation names tends to be especially long, so it's important to think about ways that people are likely to shorten it. (e.g. The Second Unitarian Congregation of Kingsford would have an unfortunate acronym.) You want your congregation to be memorable, but for the right reasons!

Sample Provision

The name of this (congregation/religious society, etc.) shall be/is ________________________.

 

About the Author

  • The regional Congregational Life staff are congregations' local connection to the UUA. All of the program Congregational Life staff have expertise in most aspects of congregational life and each also has a few program areas of expertise. See the UUA Congregational Life Staff...

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.

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