We’re in the "Bible Belt" here in North Georgia so we have a lot of churches.
Missionaries were some of the first folks through here back in the Cherokee days and there was even a Moravian mission just across the creek from the Chief Vann House in Murray County. Spanish conquistador Hernando DeSoto probably had some missionaries with him when he was fighting his way through here in the 1500s.
As soon as some of the communities got a few people settled they would start a church and so some of the oldest churches are scattered throughout the county. Downtown Dalton was laid out with a space for a church and churches to be built. Driving around now we see signs welcoming people to congregations all over the place. I thought it would be interesting to look at all the different names of the churches and see where they were derived from.
To begin with, there are the different denominations of the Christian churches. Usually there is a small difference of interpretation or perhaps a specific focus on some portion of doctrine that started them. It may have something to do with how people are baptized (either full submersion or sprinkled on the head) or perhaps in the choice of music. Some of the main denominations you’re familiar with here include the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalian, Lutherans, Catholics, Church of God, Church of Christ, AME (African Methodist Episcopal Church) churches and then plenty that are independent or non-denominational.
And even within these denominations there are subgroups, for example there are different types of Baptists and different types of Presbyterians. Words like fundamental, orthodox and progressive are sometimes used to describe the approaches taken. The point is, I think, there’s something for everybody.
As I check out the different church names in the area I see different choices in how they got their names. Some are location based, some are geographically chosen, some are based on getting a point across, some are biblically based and some get named because they’re the “first” one in the neighborhood.
Let's go first
So starting with the “First” churches, we have the First United Methodist, First Baptist, First Presbyterian, First Assembly of God, First Baptist Hispanic Church, First Spanish Seventh-day Adventist, First Christian, First United Pentecostal, First Church of the Nazarene and First Evangelistic Church. First one in gets the bragging rights!
By the way, evangelistic refers to getting the Gospel out to other people, and Nazarene means a person who is from Nazareth, meaning Jesus, since that was his childhood home. A Nazarene was also an early name for followers of Christ and in some languages today a from of the word is used as a name for Christians. Cohutta and Tunnel Hill are big enough that they each have a First Baptist as well. And while we’re counting, Dalton has a Second Baptist Church.
Many more names
Not all congregations use the word “church” in their names.
There are some “Assembly” names such as Apostolic Assembly and Calvary Assembly of God. Apostolic comes from the word apostle which literally means “one who is sent out” as in a messenger. It also refers to the original followers of Jesus, specifically the ones that were actually there and saw him in person. Later followers are better known as disciples. Calvary is the place where Jesus was crucified.
There is also a Bethesda House of Mercy. Bethesda is the name of a pool of water in Jerusalem that had porches around it and people gathered there, especially infirm people. Bethesda also means “house of mercy” as the name of this congregation includes.
There’s a Dalton House of Prayer and a Dalton Baptist Tabernacle, with the original tabernacle being the place where the Israelites worshipped God after they had made the exodus from Egypt and up until the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. In the tented structure were such things as an altar and the Ark of the Covenant.
There’s an Eternal Light Temple and a Holy Gospel Temple. The temple, a magnificent structure built by Solomon, replaced the tabernacle in Jerusalem. At the time of Christ there was a Second Temple that had been built after the original was destroyed. This temple in turn was destroyed by the Romans in about 70 A.D. The “eternal light” references a lamp that burned continuously in the both the tabernacle and the temples and in Jewish synagogues today you can find the light that is always on. Gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon "God spell" which is the translation of the Greek for “good news."
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a Kingdom Hall. And there’s a Cathedral of Faith Church, which is not necessarily redundant because “church” can mean the members as well as the structure. A cathedral is the church where a bishop operates from and it can also mean an important church or even one that looks like a grand cathedral. And did you know we have a Monastery of the Glorious Ascension? It’s a Russian Orthodox Monastery down in Resaca. I told you there was something for everyone.
Continuing our church tour
There are several other churches in town that don’t have church in the name. With the growth of Dalton’s Hispanic population the Spanish word for church is "iglesia." So if you’re driving you may drive past the Iglesia Apostolica (Apostles), Iglesia Bautista Palabra De Vida (Word of Life Baptist Church), or maybe the Iglesia Pentecostal.
Some churches are named after biblical locations. Antioch Baptist Church, which was started before the Civil War, is named after Antioch which is in modern day Turkey. During New Testament times it was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem. It was near the coast and on an important highway so was very diverse. When the first Christians started being persecuted in Jerusalem, many moved there and started their own church. They began spreading the Gospel to non-Jews and it is from Antioch that Paul started his missionary work.
For Macedonia Baptist Church, Macedonia is a region north of Greece. Paul preached there and the first conversion in Europe, a woman named Lydia, occurred there.
There is a Bethel AME Church here and Bethel in the Bible was at an important crossroads about 11 miles north of Jerusalem. Abraham built an altar to God there and then returned to Bethel after he had traveled to Egypt. AME stands for African Methodist Episcopal. The AME Church was officially formed in Philadelphia in 1816. It was started so Blacks could have a place to worship freely and escape racism they were running into in the white churches in the North. They expanded greatly throughout the South after the Civil War and then to Africa and many other countries. And there’s a Shiloh Baptist, Shiloh being the place the Tabernacle was for about 300 years (before Solomon’s Temple). Shiloh is the place where the Ark was captured.
Faith and grace appear in church names, as in Faith Tabernacle of Praise and Grace Baptist Church. In the Bible, faith is defined as “... the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Grace is God giving undeserved blessings on people ... kind of the opposite of karma.
Many church names have very promising words or phrases in them. There is New Hope, Good Hope, Abundant Life, A New Beginning, Fellowship, Freedom, Freewill, Harmony, Liberty and New Life. All of these come from positive concepts related in the Gospels.
Speaking of the Gospels, let’s not forget the saints. There is St. Mark’s Episcopal, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and St. James Overcoming Church of God. St. Mark wrote one of the Gospels and it’s believed to be the first one written. St. James was Jesus’ brother and didn’t convert until after the resurrection. He has a book in the New Testament. And St. Joseph was the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus.
Geography in the names is another biggie around here. There’s Grove Level and Pleasant Grove and since they’re just down the road from one another — I’m assuming it’s the same grove. The mountains and hills are primary features so that shows up frequently. There is a Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Rachel, Mt. Salem, Mt. Vernon and Mountain View. There’s a Mountain Ridge Baptist, a Shadow Ridge, a Hillcrest and a Cohutta Hills.
And if you’re not on the mountain you’re in the valley with Valley Baptist, Cedar Valley and Valley Brook. Even more than the mounts, the water features find themselves in names. There’s a Cove and a Harbor House. There is a Five Springs Methodist, a Deep Springs, Mineral Springs and Poplar Springs. There is also Mill Creek and Swamp Creek.
Some other names of interest include a couple of the longest, Church of God of the Union Assembly and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
There’s Little Prospect which sounds a bit pessimistic, but I think it’s actually named after a small creek. There’s Preaching the Gospel Church whose name let’s you know what to expect there. There’s a Hurricane Church of God, which I like the sound of, and perhaps my favorite, just because it sounds like something from the Southern Appalachians, Gobbler’s Knob Church of God.
With a church for anybody and everybody, I’d say there’s a church name for everybody as well.
Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.