What’s In A Name? Are we a “Fellowship”?

Several years ago, one of our guest speakers was puzzled about why we had the word “Fellowship” in our name. This comment began a conversation about the word and whether it was gendered, exclusionary, and outdated.  The definition of “fellowship” does not denote gender – it refers to friendly relationships, or a community of shared interest.  It is often used in relation to Christian congregations.  The word “fellow” does come with a gendered definition, meaning “man or boy”, as well as a broader meaning, as in academic fellows.  BUT… the dictionary definition is less important than how the word makes us feel, how it defines us.  And how the outside community views us.  What do you think when you hear the word?  A warm fire?  Friendly people?  A great potluck?  Men in academic robes?  A group of (male) hobbits, elves, and men in quest of the one ring?  “For he’s a jolly good fellow”?

We could decide to keep the “fellowship” in our name, or respectfully retire it in favor of another identifying word.  What is the best word to define our Beloved Community?  What reflects our dedication to being a community of people with shared values,  open minds, and welcoming hearts?  Community?  Congregation?  Society? Association?  Meeting?

What do you think?

-Sheila Eckman


When we started the discussion about changing our name, I was curious about what other congregations have chosen for names. I went to the UUA website and wandered about “Find a Congregation.”  I learned that of the 184 congregations in the Pacific Northwest region 90% identify as Unitarian Universalist and 10% as Unitarian. Of those congregations, 34% are “churches”, 38% are “fellowships, and the next four categories were “congregations,” “UUs”, “communities,” and “societies.” In contrast, of the 183 congregations in the mid America region, 78% identify as UU, 16% as Unitarian, 1% as Universalist, and 5% as something else.  MidAmerica has more “churches” (43%) and fewer “fellowships” (33%), reflecting in part that “fellowship” became common in the mid nineteenth century, and UU congregations in the midwest tend to be older than those in the northwest. Most of the “Unitarian” congregations in MidAmerica were founded in the 1800s, while “Unitarian” congregations in Washington were often founded (like VIUF) shortly before the Unitarians and Universals merged. If you are still curious about other congregations’ names, look at my Google spreadsheet ( UUA congregation names – Google Sheets ) or explore the UUA website.

– Kate O’Hare


More about the work of the Name Change Task Force can be found here. 

What’s in a Name: Values, Purpose, and Vision

What’s in a Name? – Some VIUF History

What’s in a Name – Location, Association, and Description