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A simple google earth search turns up hundreds of "First Congregational Churches" all over the U.S. What is the significance of this name?

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Lack of creativity? You'll get the same with "First Baptist Church", "First Church of the Nazarene", etc. –  Ryan Frame Jun 12 '13 at 0:41
    
I've always assumed that when the Congregational denomination comes to town they call their church "The Congregational Church". When second one arrives, either by growth or (more likely) schism it renames itself "First Congregational Church" to distinguish it from latecomers. –  DJClayworth Jun 12 '13 at 1:29
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@RyanFrame You mean like banks? :-/ (Maybe someone will have creative marketing and name a church "Last X Church"--"the first will be last and the last first".) –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 12 '13 at 1:57
    
lol @PaulA.Clayton +1 –  caseyr547 Jun 12 '13 at 5:21
    
I have seen a "Fourth Baptist Church" before –  SSumner Jun 12 '13 at 13:44

2 Answers 2

Assuming you don't know about Congregationalism

Congregationalism is a system of governance where the local church independently and autonomously runs its own affairs. It does not specify any doctrine or hierarchy, which allows for the existence of 'Methodist Congregational' churches and 'Uniting Congregational' churches. There are two major denominations in the US which are Congregational throughout their structure - the 'National Association of Congregational Christian Churches' and the 'Conservative Congregational Christian Conference'.

Congregational churches are usually Protestant although there are also Congregationalist variants of other religious institutions.

As for the "first" bit

I haven't been able to track down any conclusive evidence.

Wikipaedia lists approximately 100 churches called "First Congregational Church" and only 2 called "Second Congregational Church". They are all in the US.

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@user989718 Firstly you should have written that as a comment to my answer, not as a separate answer because it isn't really an answer. It also makes it more difficult to contact you because I am unable to comment on your answer (I'm a noobie like you). Secondly, perhaps denomination isn't the right word however it is certain that 'Congregational' falls into a different category to 'Methodist' or 'Uniting'. For one thing, there are Congregational Methodist churches and Congregational Uniting churches. Have you got an alternative term to define this distinction? –  LittleJohn Jun 12 '13 at 10:15
    
The "first/second" thing isn't always a sign of a split. Usually it's just an indication of the sequence churches were founded in a given area. First Presbyterian church of Podunkville is just the first Presbyterian church founded there. I've noted some large cities with churches like "43rd Baptist" although usually after the first and second slots are gone people get more creative with names. –  Caleb Jun 12 '13 at 11:09
    
@Caleb Well I guess this is what happens when an Aussie speaks from personal experience online. We just can't help doing things differently... –  LittleJohn Jun 12 '13 at 12:00
    
Adding information about how the term potentially indicates different things down under vs up top might make an interesting and useful addition to this answer. –  Caleb Jun 12 '13 at 12:03
    
Just to point out, i meant google "earth" search, i'll edit the question to be more specific. –  Nick Jun 12 '13 at 15:52

To say that Congregationalism is not a denomination is not really accurate. Webster's dictionary has the following definitions of Denomination:

1. a religious group, usu. including many local churches.
2. one of the grades in a series of designations of quantity, value, measure, weight, etc.: bills of small denomination.
3. a name or designation, esp. one for a class of things.
4. a class of persons or things distinguished by a specific name.
5. the act of naming or designating a person or thing.
(Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.)

to which Congregationalism surely falls into the first definition, as well as the third, fourth and fifth.

Or alternatively:

1. a value (of a stamp, coin etc).
2. a group of people with the same religious beliefs. 
(Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.)

Some Christian groups like to say that they are not denominations, but what they may mean is that they like to think they are different from other groups, perhaps that they think of themselves as better than others. As the word "denomination" is an established term for Christian groups, new groups that come along and want to be marked out as different like to say that it doesn't apply to them. Of course all groups exist because they differ in some way from other groups. To reject the label Denomination to be marked out as different is therefore superfluous. At root (as the Webster's definition and many others point out), the word Denomination simply means a way of naming a group or class of things, in this case, of Christian churches. Merely using the word "Congregationalism" is therefore causing it to be a Denomination.

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Is that the print definition? It's different from the online version. [Not that I'm disagreeing] –  Andrew Leach Jun 12 '13 at 10:14
    
Thanks for pointing that out Andrew Leach, I have clarified my sources, and a Google search brings up other similar examples. I think what is meant by LittleJohn is that Congregationalism is not a single "organisation" as such. –  user989718 Jun 12 '13 at 10:22
    
Apologies to LittleJohn - there was no "add comment" button when I answered, perhaps because I was unregistered. There is still no "add comment" button on your answer to which I could reply even to your comment. –  user989718 Jun 12 '13 at 10:24
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I agree with what you are saying here, but as others have noted this isn't actually an answer to the original question and we might be nice people but one thing about this site is we are sticklers for the format. Can we ask that you edit with a re-write to convey the information about what "congregationalist" means but direct your wording directly at the original question instead of the other answer? (Welcome to the site BTW!) –  Caleb Jun 12 '13 at 10:55
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I agree with Caleb here... This has the potential to be turned into a good answer, if you can re-phrase it to match the actual question. And perhaps the disagreement hinges on one word... "recognized". A "recognized denomination" vs. a "denomination". Recognized adds the implication that it it a denomination that is commonly understood as such. In some places, the distinction is a legal one. See BECOMING A RECOGNIZED RELIGIOUS DENOMINATION IN ONTARIO –  David Stratton Jun 12 '13 at 12:01

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