In Madison, the core group who started the five-year-old Madison Heights Church decided not to include the word Presbyterian in their name but instead to put the acronym PCA at the end. PCA stands for Presbyterian Church in America……new Baptist churches often omit the word Baptist because it carries a stigma. “Baptists are generally considered the most ultraconservative, ultra-traditional church out there.”
Out of a dozen or more congregations planted on the Northside (of Jackson, MS – including south Madison county) in the past 10 or 15 years, only a few of them specify a denomination in their names.
That’s not necessarily because they’re all nondenominational. And apparently it’s not because these young churches are ashamed of where they come from, what they believe, or their denomination of choice.
Instead, a desire to reach as many people as possible is changing the way new churches brand themselves.
In Madison, the core group who started the five-year-old Madison Heights Church decided not to include the word Presbyterian in their name but instead to put the acronym PCA at the end. PCA stands for Presbyterian Church in America.
Madison Heights pastor Hunter Brewer said he and the church leaders chose the acronym over the word for two reasons:
“In the deep South, everyone associates [Presbyterianism] with the theological doctrine of predestination. It is clearly something we believe in as a church, but it is not the defining issue of what it means to be Presbyterian,” Brewer said.
“Also … the largest [Presbyterian] denomination, the PCUSA, is really struggling over several significant theological issues. Most people do not understand that one [Presbyterian] denomination does not have anything to do with the other.
“So, this helps prevent any confusion,” he said. “[And] if someone was familiar with Presbyterianism, they would know what [PCA] meant.
“We did not want someone to come or not to come to Madison Heights due to what they may or may not think we believe. We want them to come and find out for themselves.”
The people who planted Redeemer Church in Jackson also chose to include “PCA” instead of “Presbyterian” in the church name, for basically the same reasons: Visitors looking for a PCA church could easily find Redeemer, but those unfamiliar with Presbyterianism wouldn’t stumble over the word.
“If someone wanted to know what Presbyterian means, they’d find out with the [visitor packet] material that’s in our church right off the bat,” said Steve Lanier, assistant to the pastor at Redeemer.
AND FIRST-TIME attendees at the eight-year-old Holy Trinity Church in Ridgeland find out pretty quickly that it’s not, say, Baptist, “because I’m wearing a collar and vestments and that whole thing,” said Rev. Keith Allen, rector at Holy Trinity.
Allen told the Sun he recently removed the word “Anglican” from the official name of the church.
“We felt like the thing we wanted to lead with was not the denomination but the gospel,” he said. “I am in no way avoiding ‘Anglican’ but have chosen not to lead with it, as it is meaningless to the average person in Mississippi.”
An “Anglicanism” tab at the top of the church’s homepage has helpful information and leaves no doubt about Holy Trinity’s Anglican identity.
Likewise, Grace City Church’s “What We Believe” page on its Web site says the Jackson congregation is a plant of First Baptist Jackson.
“As far as the denomination being a part of the name or not, we didn’t have a hard and fast thought one way or another,” said Grace City pastor David Hederman.
“We just wanted the name to be distinctive of who we are as a local body and celebrate the grace that’s in Christ.
“And really, we just got really excited about being able to say, ‘Welcome to Grace City’ and just how hopeful that sounds,” Hederman said of the nearly two-year-old church.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS Baptist Church, a decades-old church plant in Ridgeland, is proud to be Baptist, said pastor of administration Geno Lucas.
Lucas said new Baptist churches often omit the word Baptist because it carries a stigma.
“Baptists are generally considered the most ultraconservative, ultra-traditional church out there,” he said.
“And as American culture has become more and more casual and, quite frankly, more and more liberal, there are a lot of people much smarter than me who have written church-growth books that have said if you take out the denominational ties, you’ll have a better chance of growing the church.”
He said choosing a name for a church is a decision “that the leadership of an individual church has to make as far as what they want their church to be known for.
“I understand some churches, depending on their location in the country, might have a difficult time with [putting the denomination in the name].”
While church names in the Mississippi Baptist Convention and the PCA are decided by the churches themselves, United Methodist churches go through a chartering process approved by the state conference and the local “church charge” conference.
That process includes choosing a name.
“Some of our congregations have names that do not directly hold the ‘United Methodist’ [in the official name]” said Steve Casteel, director of communications and connection for the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“In those cases they usually use the tag line ‘a United Methodist Church.’ And because of the process of congregational development, the denominational identity is implicit.”
AS WITH MOST church issues, names of Catholic and Episcopal parishes (i.e., churches) are a whole different ball game. Parishes are usually named for a saint, the Virgin Mary, an angel, a theological doctrine, or one of many names for God the Father, Son or Holy Spirit.
And they almost always include the word “Catholic” or “Episcopal.”
St. Richard’s Catholic Church, founded in Jackson in the 1950s, was named for a bishop of the Mississippi diocese who happened to share a name with a medieval saint.
“Saint Richard was a bishop in England,” said Father Mike O’Brien, pastor at St. Richard’s. “I don’t think there are very many Catholic churches with that name.”
Catholic church names are basically the decision of the churches but must be approved by the bishop, O’Brien said.
“Sometimes they say, ‘No you’re being silly,’” O’Brien said.
“[For instance] anytime we say, ‘Our Lady,’ we mean Mary, you know. But sometimes we consider ‘Our Lady’ to be frivolous.”
The person for whom the parish is named is the “patron saint” of that parish. The belief is that the patron saint prays in heaven for the church, he said.
Bishop Duncan Gray, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, said Episcopal churches are almost always Episcopal in name.
“It’s not in the canons, but it’s part of our deep-rooted traditions,” Gray said.
Episcopal churches tend to grow out of other Episcopal churches and should be in conversation with the bishop while getting started, he said. And there’s usually consultation about church names.
“But the churches have a fair degree of autonomy.”
He said that as far as he knows, no Episcopal church in Mississippi has omitted the word Episcopal from all signage and church material. But when a parish makes such a radical move, it’s maybe for the same reason other churches do it:
“It’s usually to break down denominational prejudices,” Gray said.
Katie Eubanks hold a journalism degree from the University of Mississippi and is a staff reporter for the weekly Northside Sun in Jackson, MS. This article first appeared in the Sun website and is used with permission.