Mother Church

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Mother church (Ecclesia Mater) architecturally represented in a mosaic of a fifth-century chapel floor (tomb marker/cover of a certain Valentia with the added invocation to rest in peace: Valentia in Pace). Bardo Museum, Tunis.

In Christianity, a mother church is the church "considered as a mother in its functions of nourishing and protecting the believer".[1] The term has specific meanings within different Christian denominations.

A mother church also includes a parish church "which has responsibility for or oversight of another (as a chapel of ease, chantry, etc.)"; "The principal church of a country, region, or city; a cathedral or a metropolitan church"; "The original church of a particular Christian movement, serving as an organizational or spiritual centre; esp. the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts, that of the Christian Scientists"; and "The church (i.e. organized body of Christians) of which another church or denomination is an offshoot; (also) the oldest or original church from which all others have sprung".[2]

"Church" as organization[edit]

Universal church[edit]

This term is most often used among Roman Catholics as the Holy Mother Church or Sancta Mater Ecclesia (Lat.). Another term often used in Catechism in many pious Catholic countries is the title "Mater et Magistra" (Mother and Teacher), referencing its matrimonial espousement to Jesus Christ[citation needed]. It is used as "Designating the whole Christian Church or all Christians collectively."[3]

Ecclesia matrix[edit]

Bingham in 1855 wrote: "Ecclesia matrix, a mother-church, is sometimes taken for an original church planted immediately by the Apostles, whence others were derived and propagated afterward. ... And in this sense the Church of Jerusalem is called 'the mother-church of all churches in the world.'" He also refers to "Arles the mother church of France, because supposed to be planted by the Apostle's missionary Trophimus, first bishop of the place." [4]

Anglican Communion[edit]

In Anglicanism, the Church of England gave rise to all the other Churches in the Anglican Communion, and as such, She is considered the Mother Church;[5] the Archbishop of Canterbury thus serves as the focus of the Anglican Communion.[6]

Methodist Church[edit]

In Methodism, the Methodist Church of Great Britain is considered the Mother Church by all the other Methodist Churches in the World Methodist Council, with Methodist Central Hall often being a symbol of this tradition.[7][8] This is because the Methodist Church of Great Britain "gave birth to the whole Methodist enterprise and then of a nineteenth-century church whose influence reached out across the world through the missionary endeavors of the various British Connexions within and beyond the British Empire."[7]

Roman Catholic Church[edit]

The Roman Catholic Church is thought by some to be the mother church of the Protestant and other churches that broke away from it over time. Prominent among these are Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican churches and other Christian faith communities formed over time from these[citation needed].

Mother Church of the National Baptist Conventions[edit]

The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. is often referred to as the 'mother church' among African-American Baptists. This Convention is the oldest and largest of the Conventions and all other National Baptists trace origin to her. Not only do all National Baptists trace origination from the NBCUSA but several large Pentecostal Organizations do as well.

"Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head" ("Sacros[ancta] Lateran[ensis] eccles[ia] omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput") Inscription on the façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome).
The Greater Refuge Temple in Harlem, New York City, the mother church of the Pentecostal Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith

"Church" as building[edit]

First mission church[edit]

The first church built in a mission area is sometimes called the mother church. For example, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, Hawai'i was the site of the first French Catholic mission of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, from which the modern Hawai'i Catholic Church was established. Under these circumstances it is today considered the mother church of all Hawai'i.[9] Similarly, the Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel, California is considered the mother church of California, as it historically served as the headquarters of the California mission system.


Mother church may also be a title of distinction based on a church's hierarchical importance. The church of the bishop of an episcopal see is often considered the mother church of the diocese. Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois falls under this category. While it was not the first Roman Catholic cathedral of the city, it became the mother church due to the presence of the episcopal cathedra. This form of distinction based on hierarchical importance is usually used by the Roman Catholic Church, and, sometimes, the churches of the Anglican Communion,[10] while most Protestant denominations tend to refrain from using the title in this manner.

The Pope's cathedral, the Papal Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, is called the mother church of all churches not only in the city of Rome but throughout the world.[11]

Principal church of a religious institute[edit]

The term may also relate to the churches of the various religious institutes, royal orders or civic orders. For example, Madonna Della Strada Chapel is the mother church of the Province of Chicago of the Society of Jesus. It is the principal church of the Jesuits in its particular province which includes Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.[12] On a broader scale, the Chiesa del Gesù in Rome is the mother church of all Jesuits throughout the world as it is the church of the order's Superior General.[11]

Plantation churches[edit]

Another form of the phrase is mainly used in Protestant churches. A mother church is a local church from which other local churches were planted. These churches are known as daughter churches. [13]

Historically significant churches[edit]

The oldest churches of various religious communities are often considered the mother churches to others that follow either in that same tradition or, alternatively, in a reformist tradition. A church's hierarchical importance is often derived from its historical importance in its organization. In addition, in communities where churches may change their ecclesiastical association or become independent (particularly in Pentecostal, charismatic and nondenominational churches in America), a mother church may have daughter churches in one or more organizations.

Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania founded in 1794 is the "mother church" of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Mount Olive Holy Temple is the "mother church" of the Mount Sinai Holy Church of America. Bishop Ida B. Robinson began pastoring the church in 1919. In 1924, Mount Olive Holy Temple became the mother church of the denomination when it received its charter.

The mother church in Christian Science is The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, the Church of Christ Scientist of which all others are branches. Per the Manual of The Mother Church, the legal title of the mother church is "The First Church of Christ, Scientist," and while its branch church may call themselves First Church of Christ, Scientist, or Second Church of Christ, Scientist, etc., they are prohibited from using "The" in front of their names. Only The Mother Church can do so.[14]

Greater Refuge Temple Church in New York City is the mother church of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, an Apostolic Pentecostal denomination. As such, it is also ultimately the mother church of its various offshoot churches and organizations, including both Bible Way organizations and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and its daughter churches. In addition, churches that were independently founded by ministers who were ordained or directly influenced by the church's founder, Robert C. Lawson, or his spiritual successor, William L. Bonner, may also look to Greater Refuge Temple as their mother church, including the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Evangelistic Church of Christ, and many others.[15]



  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  3. ^ OED, under Universal.
  4. ^ Bingham, J., The Antiquities of the Christian Church, University Press, 1855, p. 22-23.
  5. ^ Juergensmeyer, Mark; Roof, Wade Clark (18 October 2011). Encyclopedia of Global Religion. SAGE Publications. p. 37. ISBN 9781452266565. A reduced Church of England at home is, however, the mother church of an expanding Anglican Communion--that is, an international association of Anglican churches. The nature of this entity is important. 
  6. ^ O'Donovan, Oliver. Church in Crisis. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 19. ISBN 9781621898528. This is complicated by his special role within the Church of England, for the Anglican Communion is constructed on the historic relationship of its member churches to the English mother church, its senior primacy vested in the primate of all England. 
  7. ^ a b Jr, Charles Yrigoyen (25 September 2014). T&T Clark Companion to Methodism. A&C Black. p. 73. ISBN 9780567290779. British Methodism therefore holds an inescapable chronological priority in the history of world Methodism and it has also often been accorded a courteous priority of esteem, being regard still as the 'mother church' by Methodists from many parts of the globe. The story of the origins and development of Methodism in what is now the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, therefore, is the story, first, of an eighteenth-century movement which gave birth to the whole Methodist enterprise and then of a nineteenth-century church whose influence reached out across the world through the missionary endeavors of the various British Connexions within and beyond the British Empire. 
  8. ^ Melton, J. Gordon; Baumann, Martin (21 September 2010). Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices. ABC-CLIO. p. 1878. ISBN 9781598842043. Then in 1855, the Methodist Church in Australia became independent of the mother church in Great Britain. 
  9. ^ "Cathedral Art and Architecture". Retrieved 2012-04-11. 
  10. ^ See e.g. Rogers, KJN., A practical arrangement of ecclesiastical law,Saunders and Benning, 1840. p. 154.
  11. ^ a b Roma Sito Turistico Ufficiale - Christian Rome Dipartimento Promozione del Turismo e della Moda Accessed 11 Apr 2012
  12. ^ HONORING THE BISHOPS OF SCRANTON, CHURCH AND THE JESUITS: THE CAMPUS The University of Scranton Accessed 11 April 2012.
  13. ^ E.Raymond - SOME CONVICTIONS ABOUT CHURCH PLANTING AND THE MOTHER / DAUGHTER CHURCH RELATIONSHIP published February 17, 2011 by TGC The Gospel Coalition Accessed 11 Apr 2012.
  14. ^ Mary Baker Eddy Institute: The Manual of The Mother Church, by Mary Baker Eddy, Article XXIII, Titles. Section2, p. 25 online and p. 70 in book
  15. ^ Christ Temple WORD Processing Ministry - History of C.O.O.L.J.C. Christ Temple of Clinton Maryland Accessed 11 Apr 2012.