What is in a name? Part 1
The names of congregations have always intrigued me. Congregations have long chosen the names of saints with St. Peter and St. Paul being popular selections along with more obscure saints such as St. Rose of Lima in Roseville and St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis. Other names reference Biblical events such as Nativity Catholic Church or Resurrection Lutheran Church. Do you know the most popular name among denominations for congregations in the United States?
Who was St. James? There are more than one St. James and that can lead to some confusion. There are at least three men whom the church recognizes as St. James. One is St. James the Less, also called James, son of Alphaeus, or James the Younger, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. James may be he whose mother, Mary (not the mother of Jesus), is mentioned among the women at Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb (Mark 15:40, 16:1; Matthew 27:56). Do not confuse him with the apostle St. James the Greater, son of Zebedee, or St. James, the Lord’s brother, who was not one of the Twelve. Nothing further is known of him with a late legend of his martyrdom in Persia.
The second St James, also called James, The Lord’s Brother who died in AD 62, Jerusalem; Western feast day May 3), was a Christian apostle, according to St. Paul, although not one of the original Twelve Apostles. He was leader of the Jerusalem Christians, who with Saints Peter and John the Evangelist is one of “the pillars of the church.” Confusion has arisen over his identity because he has often been mistaken for St. James, son of Alphaeus. Exactly what the biblical Galatians 1:19 means by designating him “the Lord’s brother” is also uncertain, although he is mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels as one of Jesus’ four brothers (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55).
James evidently was not a follower of Jesus during his public ministry. Paul attributes James’s later conversion to the appearance of Christ resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:7). Three years after Paul’s conversion, James was an important leader in the Jerusalem church (Galatians 1:18–19), where he assumed even more significance after King Herod Agrippa I of Judaea in about AD 44 beheaded the Apostle St. James, son of Zebedee, and after Peter fled from Jerusalem (Acts 12:1–17). He was the chief spokesman for the Jerusalem church at the Council of Jerusalem regarding Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (Acts 15:13) and final visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:18). The early church designates him the first bishop of Jerusalem, though the title is not in the New Testament. The tradition held that he was the author of The Letter of James.
The third St. James, St. James the Greater, was one of the sons of Zebedee and a brother of John, one of the Twelve Apostles, distinguished as being in Jesus’ innermost circle and the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament (Acts 12:2). James and his younger brother, the apostle St. John, are “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), perhaps because of their characteristic fiery zeal (Mark 9:38, Luke 9:54). With Saints Peter and Andrew, James and John were the first four disciples whom Jesus called (Mark 1:16–19). As a member of the inner circle, James witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37, Luke 8:51), the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2), and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33, Matthew 26:37). James and John asked Jesus to let them sit, one at his right and one at his left, in his future glory (Mark 10:35–40), a favor that Jesus said was not his to grant. James was beheaded by order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judaea; according to Spanish tradition, his body was taken to Santiago de Compostela, where his shrine still attracts pilgrims from all over the world.
Sometimes you see pictures of St. James with shells. Legends of St. James include him going to the coast of Spain. The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain is named in honor of St James. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles began to spread the gospel and convert others to Christianity. As part of his mission, James travelled to Iberia, landing at present-day Padron, to preach to pagans in the area. Sadly, on his return to Jerusalem, King Herod had him beheaded for blasphemy. Pilgrims throughout the centuries on the trail to the cathedral have worn shells to signify that they were on pilgrimage or had completed the pilgrimage.
So, what is the most common name for a congregation in the United States? With just over 5,000 congregations, First Baptist Church is the most common name in the United States. St. John has 3,713 congregations and St. James has 1,270. Next month, we will look at the name Mount Zion and the popular names for Lutheran congregations.
Pastor Michael Dorner