Church of Saint Genericus
Not everyone believes in the Great Purple Lilac, but don't argue about it now. This is a funeral
In works of fiction, this trope is the habit of not mentioning or showing the specific denomination (or even religion) of a temple, church, or place of worship where the denomination would be expected
to play a role. This can take the form of using a generic/made up denomination name in place of a real one, not identifying the church, or combining traits of different denominations to confuse the issue.
This trope is usually used to introduce religion while avoiding it entering too deeply or divisively into a show, a sort of Law of Conservation of Detail
used to keep from distracting the audience. Similar to Jesus Taboo
, this trope is sometimes purposely used to avoid accusations of favoring/disfavoring a religion, especially when used to avoid marketing mishaps in children's media. Usually in the case of Christian churches, they just have a steeple, pews, a dais and generic stained glass windows without direct symbolic links (such as crosses or angels) that could be identified or interpreted as a specific denomination.
Interestingly, this trope is very much Truth in Television
. Much as Secular Hero
and Jesus Taboo
are common in communities that have diverse religious practices, it's common to see non-denominational "places of worship" in funeral homes, wedding chapels, hospitals, prisons, and airports in these communities. And there are
some denominations that combine elements of the theology and practices of preexisting ones (e.g. Anglicanism, being somewhere between Catholicism and Protestantism), to say nothing of ones that syncretize Christianity with other
religions (aka Interfaith Smoothie
To avoid People Sit on Chairs
, cases where the denomination of a church wouldn't be expected to play much of a part in the plot shouldn't be included as examples.
For example, a lot of films have newlyweds driving away from an unidentified church — here, the church is used mainly as a signifier that this couple is just married, and its denomination isn't at all important to the plot.
Compare Jesus Taboo
and Ambiguously Christian
. Contrast Christianity Is Catholic
, Interfaith Smoothie
. See also Crystal Dragon Jesus
, Anime Catholicism
, and Saintly Church
Anime and Manga
Film — Animation
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, the Maxwell Church is supposed to be a Catholic church, although it's unusual because it's not named for Mary or a saint (it's named for the street it's on), and the roles Father Maxwell and Sister Helen play are more akin to a Shinto priest and miko.
- A flashback scene in Yu-Gi-Oh! shows Pegasus and Cecelia's wedding in a church with a fancy cross in a stained glass window; one can only assume it was a Christian church, but no other clue to the specific denomination is given.
- In the anime adaptation of the Key/Visual Arts visual novel Kanon, we see Yuuichi coming out of a fairly generic church in the final episode.
Film — Live Action
- Pixar has a fondness for this trope:
- This trope is used in the wedding scene in The Incredibles.
- Pictured above in Up, Carl sits at the chapel, mourning his wife. No explicit holy symbols are shown.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, the church shown in Calhoun's ambushed wedding flashback and later wedding to Felix is shown this way, with pews, a dais, and a pretty sunburst stained glass front lacking any denomination. Interestingly, the church is very angularly designed to fit in with the noir/futuristic setting of Hero's Duty, Calhoun's game. The church in Hero's Duty is actually based on the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs; the interior shown in the movie specifically resembles the Protestant Chapel section. Comparison here.
- The bishops who appear in Tangled and Frozen wear national symbols on their mitres instead of crosses: the sun of Corona and the crocus of Arendelle respectively. State-sponsored religions maybe? In Corona at least, the name and some of the solar iconography (particularly the cross replacement and the patium designs) seems to indeed imply a state religion akin to real life solar henotheism, like in Heliopolis and Emessa. Given that Real Life Scandinavia is chock full of current or until-quite recently state churches, this might well be Truth in Television.
- The very beginning of Zootopia includes a character dressed as what is clearly an angel for a School Play — she has a rainbow for a halo rather than anything explicitly Judeo-Christian, probably a winking nod to Noah's Ark. Later, we see a polar bear cross himself, and numerous characters say "Oh, my God!", "Hallelujah!", and the like. No further specifics about this sapient-mammals-only world's version of Judeo-Christianity are given.
- In 2012, the White House has a non-denominational chapel with pews and stained glass art of doves. Interesting considering that not long before, the Vatican was destroyed by earthquakes, and not long after, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery is destroyed by a tsunami.
- Eli and his two wards from Hot Lead and Cold Feet belong to a faith that espouses a lot of mumbo-jumbo about "human kindness," and Eli at least has some familiarity with The Bible, but the movie reveals zero details beyond that. When he gets his own church at the end, there aren't any holy symbols to be seen.
- In Man of Steel, Kal is sitting in a church when the pastor comes over to talk to him about turning himself in to authorities. While almost certainly a Catholic church (allowing Kal to invoke the Sanctity of the Confessional), the pastor is dressed in normal street clothes.
- In I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle it is unclear whether the priest who Nobby seeks to exorcise his demon-possessed motorcycle is Catholic or High Church Anglican. Although since Nobby isn't very religious, it's plausible that the issue wouldn't come up.
- In Ted 2, the outside of a church is shown which appears to be a Catholic Gothic-style structure, but when the inside is shown (during a wedding), all stained glass windows have generic symbols, there are no Christian symbols, and the "priest" is wearing generic robe-like vestment with no markings.
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever revolves around the activities of a Christian church in the 1970's, and takes the combination-of-elements approach. The Virgin Mary seems to be revered pretty highly for a mainstream Protestant denomination, the church is presided over by a married-with-children "Reverend," and the King James Version is used at a time when more contemporary translations were quickly gaining ground.
- Redwall: Abbey. Aside from being a monastery, no religion is mentioned.
- Possibly a different trope: it's almost an Abbey to St. Martin...
- However, the nearby church is to St. Ninian, a Catholic and Anglican saint. This was later retconned out of existence (though that does create a plot hole about why there are church mice, or why they even have the concept of a church without religion).
- The murder mystery anthology Board to Death. All three of the heroes are openly Christian, but attend specifically non-denominational churches.
- The climax of book 5 of Alex Rider takes place in a Church of Forgotten Saints (but technically it's an oratory).
- Lampshaded in-story in G. K. Chesterton's "The Vampire of the Village". Since "the English know nothing about the Church of England", it takes the Catholic priest Father Brown to spot that the village parson's purported doctrinal beliefs are an implausible mish-mash of High Church and Low Church opinions, indicating that he is really a criminal impostor.
- In the Maggody mystery series, the actual denomination of Brother Verber's Voice of the Almighty Lord Assembly Hall is never stated. The narrative shows Brother Verber being suspicious of Catholics, Methodists, Unitarians, Lutherans and Episcopalians at various times, and there's a Baptist church down the highway that competes with him for followers, but the Assembly Hall's exact affiliation is never specified. (Of course, Verber's "theological training" was via a Las Vegas correspondence course that he seems barely to have passed, so it's possible he doesn't know either.)
- 7th Heaven revolved around the family of a minister, and as you would expect, church and churchgoing often figured prominently in the story. They're clearly Protestants, but the denomination is not named.
- On Amen, the church's denomination (if it had one) was never mentioned. The church council was called the 'board of deacons', and there is no mention of a bishop, synod, or other higher judicature; this indicates that it was Baptist, probably more specifically COGIC.
- Cicely's community church in Northern Exposure falls into this. Chris presides, after a mail-order ordination in "The First Church of Truth and Beauty".... and what his theology is, or whether he even has one, is anyone's guess.
- A church Rick Grimes enters in The Walking Dead appears on the outside to be a Baptist-style church (the marquee says "Southern Baptist Church of Holy Light")... but there is a very large Roman Catholic crucifix hanging on the back wall. Either this was a St. Genericus church or the writers didn't know better. (Or both.)
- The church the characters on The Andy Griffith Show attend has a preacher who is never shown praying or talking about Jesus, and although occasionally a scene in the church will have the congregation singing a hymn, when the choir is shown, they're usually rehearsing a secular choir number. Andy is mentioned as being on the church board.
- An episode of Dharma and Greg took place in a hospital that sported a chapel complete with rotating religious symbol on the dais, so that anyone could use it.
- In Eureka, some of the town's Mad Scientists attend the First Church of Eureka. The church has a female pastor but, other than that, there is no indication of what denomination they belong to.
- Star Trek: The Original Series has a chapel on the USS Enterprise, which is fittingly devoid of any specific denomination. It is seen a few times through the course of the show.
- Grimm has this twice. In the episode with the Wesen church, although the building seemed to be of an established main-line Protestant church (Presbyterian or Methodist), the congregation seems to be organized like an independent Evangelical church. Also, in the episode where the boy was 'possessed' he was being exorcised by what looked like a Catholic ritual by two clergymen vested like Roman Catholic priests, but the church was laid out like a Protestant church.
- What church, exactly, did the Ingalls family attend on Little House on the Prairie? Reverend Alden never gave a clue.
- Lutheran, most likely. Reverend Alden referred to his bishop on occasion, and he's clearly not Catholic or Episcopalian (he would have been referred to as a priest). He could conceivably be Methodist, but Walnut Grove is in Minnesota which was then, as it is now, strongly Lutheran country. The real life Rev. Alden was a Congregationalist, but on the show he could not have been, since Congregationalists have no bishops.
- Mystery Case Files: Shadow Lake gives us the Bitterford Community Church. In the US, a name like that implies Generic Protestant, and the building is a typical New England church; white-painted wood, clear glass in the windows instead of stained glass. It also has two icon-style paintings at the front of the sanctuary, and the hidden-object scene set there has you looking for bottles of holy water. The psychic vision linked to that area show the pastor (normally a Protestant title) in Roman Catholic vestments and collar.
- Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of Mass Effect explicitly does believe in God (she at one point queries Shepard on whether s/he has a problem with it, implying she's gotten flak for her faith in the past), but which exact religion or denomination she belongs to is never stated.
- For a long time on The Simpsons, the First Church of Springfield wasn't identified with any particular Christian sect; Word of God says it was specifically designed with conflicting features, for example, Rev. Lovejoy wearing Anglican robes with a Catholic collar. Eventually it was labeled as a fake denomination, "the Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism."
- Futurama went in the opposite direction and has an amalgamated world church that merges every religion together.
- Truth in Television. Many chapels in Real Life hospitals, airports, and other public facilities play this trope straight, to accommodate the needs of multiple denominations.
- Benjamin Franklin wrote about a building designed to accommodate preachers of all religions in his autobiography. This building was created after a wandering Irish preacher was forbidden to preach in existing churches and had to preach outside, drawing huge crowds. Franklin said that "even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service." He might've been exaggerating a bit (colonial Pennsylvania had what was then a very progressive guarantee of religious freedom, but only monotheists had any rights and only Christians could hold office; only Rhode Island had an absolute guarantee of religious freedom before the Revolution), but the point was well taken.
- Unitarian Universalism allows people of any religion or of no religion to be a part of their community and their churches are designed to reflect this.
- Many Protestant and Evangelical denominations (especially those with roots in Calvinism, Quakerism, or Anabaptism) either place a fairly low value on religious symbolism or are openly hostile to what they regard as idolatry, so they can appear to be rather generic when compared to symbol-rich traditions such as Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Those expecting a house of worship to be filled with icons, statues, paintings, vestments, and altars may be surprised to find a church building that looks like almost any other community center, with maybe at most a cross, some pews, and stained glass windows with geometric patterns. Newly constructed churches (or more austere denominations) might not even have those.
- The "generic church" thing has gone so far in Europe that quite a few churches that were shut down in recent years due to lack of a congregation have been "profanized" and now serve as community gathering places, warehouses or whatever. Some cannot even be recognized as former churches any more. The German Lutherans for instance don't build any steeples in the rare cases they still build new churches.