What’s our name?
God is the author of the most effective name changes in history. Think of Abram to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah or Jacob to Israel. Yet even more famously, from Simon to Peter and from Saul to Paul. God promises: “To the one who conquers …I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)
What’s a name? A name is identity. When God gives a new name in scripture it’s an emblem of a new identity. Getting a new name is akin to a new birth or a new creation. When we are baptized, we take a new name. We are marked by God’s name—the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Our church has had three name changes in our history. We began more than 150 years ago as “Highland Station Methodist Episcopal Church” or HSMEC. In 1939
we became known as “Highland Methodist Church” or HMC. Fifty years ago we became “Highland United Methodist Church” or HUMC. Our oldest members have lived with three names!
But I submit to you we don’t really have a name per se. We have a location—Highland and a label—United Methodist. For a century and a half as a church we have been nameless.
Church names fall into four categories: 1) theological values and virtues such as Grace, Hope, Faith, Charity, Peace, Abundant life and etc.; 2) Great Christian saints like John Wesley, Martin Luther, Peter, Paul, Martha and Mary; 3) Biblical events like Resurrection, Ascension, Redeemer, Gethsemane, or Christ the King; and 4) Miscellaneous qualities such as Friendship, Family, Neighborhood, Bible.
Why name a church? Names carry identity. They remind members of who they are and what their key value is—what it is that makes their church unique. Names communicate with outsiders about what a church offers. A name like “Grace Church” for example reminds its members of this Divine attribute and motivates them to live into their name. After all, if you call yourself “Grace Church” you’d better conduct yourself graciously toward others! In this way names serve to shape the people of any given congregation.
If we were to name our church, I’d encourage us to ask these questions: what are our enduring core values? What are our highest aspirations? For example a church with a keen interest in evangelism and mission might name itself “St. Paul Church” or “John Wesley Church”. These examples speak only to the members. To communicate to the community, such a church might name itself “New Life Church”.
Names shape us. A scoutmaster had conflict in his troop over names. The boys hung the nickname “Fatty” upon one of the stockier scouts. He lived into the name acting sullen and apathetic. The other boys countered by repeating his nickname “Fatty”. It escalated into conflict that shut down the troop. One evening the scoutmaster announced a name change. He declared the new nickname to be “Happy”.
It worked. The boy’s attitude changed as he began to live into his name. Conflict decreased and the other boys became positive and encouraging.
What name would you choose for our church? I’d love to hear from you!
Connect, Grow, Serve
Pastor Tom Anderson