“Fathers” and “Mothers” among the Universalists

For decades, perhaps generations, Universalists applied the honorific term father and mother to honored elders. The most obvious use is Father and Mother Murray — John and Judith — but there are others, none recent.

So I wondered: how did one earn the honor, to whom was it applied (generally, for it was surely not ministers only, and, which particular persons were so called) and when did the practice fade? I know the term brother, to describe a minister, has survived into living memory. I recall Brother (Leonard) Prater, for instance; he died in the 1990s. And the translation of honored and beloved siblinghood can easily be transferred to parenthood.

I’ll post or link future findings from here.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Don’t know how it was amongst the Universalists, but I know that in many black churches–across denomination–church “Mothers” tended to be elder Deaconnesses. “Fathers” tended not to get the same honorific, as they had Deacon and Elder or Pastor. However, you will hear “Uncle” a lot; but that can be attributed to the extended family nature of many black churches.

  2. I look forward to hearing more about this fascinating topic. I grew up Episcopalian (1950s), so there was none of that among us, but one heard “Brother” or “Sister” so and so usage (at least via literature, TV or film) that seemed to be among rural, White traditions, as well as African Americans. “Mother” not at all, “Father” only among the Roman Catholics in our small, upstate New York town.

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