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When you go beyond “first” church of something, it’s probably time to come up with a different name.

August 28, 2009, 3:05 PM

I drove to work two days this week, and when driving, my commute takes me down Georgia Avenue to just north of downtown Silver Spring, and then down 16th Street into Washington to my P Street office. And there are a zillion houses of worship along the way. Seriously, 16th Street must be the religious district or something, because it seems that there are churches upon churches upon churches on there. There are a number of Jewish facilities, the Washington Ethical Society (which at first glance seems like a bit of an oxymoron, with “Washington” and “ethical” in the same sentence), a Buddhist facility (Chua Giac Hoang), and a number of Christian houses of worship of various denominations, including at least one that President Obama has been to (Nineteenth Street Baptist Church).

But the one that kind of struck me as amusing was the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist on the 5500 block of 16th Street. Note “fourth” church. I’ve never understood why churches like to number off like this, but it seems to be fairly common. Waynesboro, Virginia has a First Presbyterian Church and a Second Presbyterian Church. Then Staunton has a First, Second, and Third Presbyterian Church (I grew up Presbyterian, so this is why I’m citing Presbyterian churches – I’m familiar with it).

The way I see it, first, sure. To be “First Church of Christ, Scientist” or “First Presbyterian Church” or “First Baptist Church” or whatever, I suppose you get the right to say you were first. However, until moving to Virginia in the 1990s, I never saw anything beyond first, and thought it was more of an indication of quality more than anything else, especially since in Rogers, Arkansas, in many cases, “first” often translated to “only”. There was only one Presbyterian church in Rogers (and we attended it), and there was only one Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and only one Church of Christ, Scientist. They all called themselves “first”, yet they were all “only” in practice. But “first”, sure.

But when you start going beyond first, you start to make comparisons. So you’re “second” Presbyterian church? That implies that there’s another Presbyterian church in the town, and that you are somehow subordinate to them. After all, they’re first, and you’re second (or third or fourth for that matter). The idea goes, why would I worship with you when they’re the first, and you’re just second banana? One would think that when you get beyond first, and certainly by the time you get to fourth, a different name is in order. I think if it were up to me, the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist in DC would be “Sixteenth Street Church of Christ, Scientist”, “Brightwood Church of Christ Scientist” (referring to Brightwood, the neighborhood it is in), or even “Rock Creek Church of Christ, Scientist” (referring to nearby Rock Creek).

The whole thing kind of reminds me of what Jerry Seinfeld once said in regards to a wedding he participated in, where he was the best man:

I was the best man to a wedding one time, that was pretty good. Pretty good title, I thought, best man. I thought it was a bit much. I thought we’d have the groom and a pretty good man. That’s more than enough. If I’m the best man, why is she marrying him?

See what I mean?

I don’t know, the whole thing seems kind of weird to me, with churches numbering off like that. I mean, really, at some point, one must draw the line and come up with a new name. I figure that if you can’t say “first”, and definitely if “second” is also taken, it’s time to name your house of worship after something other than the order that it was established.

Web site: Eighth Church of Christ, Scientist in Chicago. Eighth. Really? Eighth?

Song: Vega wears a Guy Fawkes mask

Quote: So yeah, this numbering thing... I don't know...

Categories: Religion