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Church of Saint Genericus

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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.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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.
  • Akira's all-girl Christian school in Sweet Blue Flowers has a chapel with flower engravings on the windows instead of a cross.
  • We see the ruins of a church in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but Kyouko's story leaves unclear what denomination or even what faith it belonged to before her father started his own sect.

    Comic Books 

    Film — Animation 
  • Pixar has a fondness for this trope:
    • This trope is used in the wedding scene in The Incredibles.
    • In Up, Carl sits at the chapel, mourning his wife. No explicit holy symbols are shown. Perhaps it's the chapel at the funeral home?
    • Averted in Coco and Luca. Both have openly religious Catholic characters due to being set in Mexico and Italy, respectively, countries that have historically been overwhelmingly Catholic, as opposed to the more religiously diverse United States.
  • 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 Ever After and Frozen (2013) 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, Arendelle isn't too far off the mark either.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Perfect Creature depicts a vampire Christian order of unclear denomination; they are aesthetically Catholic/Anglican and monastic in nature.
  • The Church in Priest (2011) serves as mankind's spiritual and governmental body, yet its not clear what kind of denomination they are. To complicate things, the story takes place in an Alternate History scenario where mankind has been at war with vampires for practically all its recorded history and human development being affected by it. As such the Church shares no ties with any real-world counterpart.

  • The climax of book 5 of Alex Rider takes place in a Church of Forgotten Saints (but technically it's an oratory).
  • Arly Hanks: 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).
  • 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 fact that the building is called a church indicates it is not the worship place of Jehovah's Witnesses (who worship in Kingdom Halls, and don't celebrate Christmas anyway) or Quakers (who worship in meeting halls); the church has a Reverend, placing it firmly with the Protestant persuasion, but not the Salvation Army (whose leaders are called generals). The church celebrated Christmas, which means it isn't Adventist and probably isn't Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. The made-for-TV movie adaptation shows an almost entirely white congregation which means the church is probably not Pentecostal. Gladys Herman drinks what Alice at first believes is communion wine but what Beth correctly says is grape juice, and not many Protestant groups drank grape juice at communion exclusively, adults and children, that long after Prohibition except Baptists and the Christian & Missionary Alliance. At the same time, the congregants seem to have a higher opinion of the Virgin Mary than any Protestant group except Lutherans.
  • The murder mystery anthology Board To Death. All three of the heroes are openly Christian, but attend specifically non-denominational churches.
  • Father Brown: Lampshaded in-story in "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, for example, having an ornate crucifix in his office (High Church) while verbally describing himself as a Puritan (Low Church), indicating that he is really a criminal impostor.
  • Redwall: Redwall Abbey. Aside from being a monastery (however many laity live there too), 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, Anglican and Orthodox 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).
    • One comedic song tells the story that it only got named "St Ninian's" because there was a Ninian, but he was an ordinary mouse, not a saint, and his wife kicked him out of the house, saying "this ain't Ninian's"—hence the "church" name.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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 (2010) 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 & 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.
  • In the Highway to Heaven universe, it's obviously that God, angels, and the afterlife are all real. However, it's less clear what religion is supposed to be true or mostly true. While vague nods might be given to Christianity, or you might see Jonathan appearing "undercover" as a Catholic priest, or you might have Protestant ministers as protagonists in some episodes, Christian doctrine is never whole-heartedly and unambiguously endorsed. In fact, it's occasionally challenged, albeit indirectly. In one episode, "The Silent Bell," a Protestant minister is talking to some children in his flock and he mentions John 14:6,in which Christ claims that He is the only way to the Father. The children are not impressed and question why Jesus didn't come in the modern age so that he could get on TV and tell everyone this. The premise of the episode is that it would be wrong for them to preach Christianity at a multi-ethnic school. However, elsewhere Jonathan quotes a (Old Testament) Bible verse about God creating man in His own image as if it is authoritative. One could say that the show is broadly Judeo-Christian in outlook, and while Jesus seems to be obliquely referenced in at least one episode, things are kept pretty general. Since Michael Landon himself was Jewish, it's understandable that while he wouldn't want to offend Christians, he also wouldn't want to use his show as a mouthpiece to announce Christian dogma.
    • The show occasionally challenges traditional Christian ethical norms as well. In one episode, a woman's previous extramarital affair is dismissed as not a huge deal in the big scheme of things, even though adultery is always a grave sin in Catholic theology and the majority of Protestants would consider it a serious violation of God's law.
    • Pretty flawed angel-ology as well, at least from a Judeo-Christian perspective, since angels are generally believed to be exalted spirits that are directly created by God. Hence Jonathan's becoming an angel after his death as a man doesn't make any sense, nor does his "earning his wings," since Biblical angels are never depicted with wings—that's a carryover from Renaissance art into modern popular culture. They do get some things correct about angels, however, such as their not needing to eat.
  • 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? 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.
  • Whatever religion Shepherd Book works for in Firefly. It seems vaguely Christian but with their clergy being called shepherds. They say grace before meals and also practice funeral rights. Word of God says Book's clothes were designed to make him look like a Protestant minister, but his particular order requires an oath of celibacy. Then again this is a series set several centuries into the future in a solar system that was colonised without Faster-Than-Light Travel, so it's not unlikely that existing Christian denominations would have shifted a bit and a few new ones arisen in the interim.
  • Gilmore Girls:
    • Apparently, there's only one house of worship in Star's Hollow. One episode briefly shows Lane's mother (a Seventh Day Adventist) finishing up a service, when the priest is prompted to speed up by the waiting rabbi. Once the service has ended, the rabbi goes to the altar and replaces the cross with a Star of David and begins his own service.
    • Played straighter when Sookie and Jackson's children are baptized. What denomination of Christianity they are isn't mentioned (though Sookie and Jackson are doing it mostly to appease his parents, since they don't seem to be practicing members of the church, so it might not matter that much to them anyway).
  • Appears multiple times in Smallville. Whenever one of the couples get married, the denomination of the church in question is never mentioned or indicated.
  • Played outrageously straight in the Grand Finale of Lost. Christian Shepherd's funeral is scheduled to take place in a large cathedral in Los Angeles. When Jack goes to view the body, we see a stained glass window with images from a whopping six separate religions, including symbols from Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, Judaism, and Buddhism.

  • In some episodes of The Life Of Riley, plot points happen at a church called simply the Community Church.

    Video Games 
  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Bad Faith, the assembly building in which Apologia Assemblies take place is represented in-game by what is very clearly a church (this goes doubly so for the interior, which has pews), but no religion or denomination is ever mentioned.

    Western Animation 
  • For a long time on The Simpsons, the First Church of Springfield wasn't identified with any particular Christian sect; 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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 deconsecrated 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.
  • In many historically Protestant countries in Europe, there are numerous formerly Catholic or Greek Orthodox churches that have been converted to the local dominant brand of Protestantism after the fact. This means that their decor tends to be a mixture of the original denomination's preserved for historical purposes, and the current one's.

Alternative Title(s): Non Denominational Church