Dear Members and Friends of MCC Austin,
Most of you know that we have a Name Team that has been leading us through a process for considering a new name for our church. The Team began its work a year ago by surveying the congregation to see if people were open to the idea of changing our name. Nearly 80% of you told us that you were hopeful about or at least open to the possibility. The Name Team followed up with opportunities for you to tell us what you feel are the most important qualities of our church, and eventually with an invitation for you to submit possible new names. The Name Team has completed its work, and on January 26, at the congregational meeting, you will be asked to vote For or Against the proposed new name.
In preparation for the vote, I’m offering a series of sermons that will explain the process we’ve been through, why we undertook the process, and what a new name might mean for us. I encourage all of you who plan to vote on January 26 to be here for all four sermons leading up to the vote. If you can’t be here for all of them, then please be here this Sunday, January 5, for the opening sermon in the series, “Are You Ready for a Different Way?” On January 12 the Name Team will reveal the suggested new name. On January 19 and 26 our sermons will be “Call Me by Your Name” and “Do We Really Want To Fish for People?”
A name change is not something to be undertaken lightly. Before we vote we should learn all we can, have open and honest conversations with one another, and pray for the Spirit’s leading. If you’d like to talk with me or other members of the Name Team during the time leading up to the vote, please send me an email. It’s very important to me that you know your perspectives matter and that you have opportunities to share them. In the meantime, I’m repeating below a piece I originally shared in September.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Shakespeare penned centuries ago. I do not disagree. But I think, like many things, his claim is relative. Consider your grocery list—do you find yourself more excited about “coagulated milk protein” or “aged cheddar”? Would you rather spend money on “Tooth Fish” or “Chilean Sea Bass”?
Names matter. We know that on many levels. We know that when our personal “she” is called “he.” We know that when people continue to mispronounce our name though we’ve patiently and consistently corrected them. We know that when we marry and change our names. We know that when we pause to consider that the trajectory of the world changed when Simon became Peter, Saul became Paul, and Mary heard her name spoken by Rabbi Jesus.
Changing a name is no light undertaking.
Most of you know that MCC Austin is in the process of discerning whether we should change our name. Our discernment is not based on a desire to distance ourselves from MCC—though we did previously spend several months discerning our appropriate relationship with MCC. (If you have questions about that process, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
More than anything, our discernment about our name is motivated by a desire to bring more people into our community. This is not a self-serving desire. The more people we bring into our faith community, the more people are regularly receiving the Good News of God’s love for all people, and the more people are then going out into the world motivated by that same Good News.
We need a name that elicits more emotion and connection than it does questions. We need a name that tells people something about who we are, what we do in the world, and what’s important to us. As each year goes by, our church is claiming its identity beyond “a Metropolitan Community Church in Austin, Texas.” We are still a social justice church, with a special outreach and heart for the lgbtq community. But we are also increasingly a church that draws young people looking for purpose and passion in their lives. A church that is committed to dismantling racism, to compassionate immigration reform, to feeding children and families, and to building alliances of hope with our unsheltered neighbors and other organizations that care about the epidemic of homelessness. We are a church that understands that the truest expression of our faith is found in the ways we act.
Sam Laurent, the director of the Center for Theological Engagement at the Episcopal Center at Duke University, admits that many Christians are opposed to the idea of “branding” a church. But he points out that “a feeling of belonging and identification, a way to locate oneself in relationship to the complexity of the world — these are no small part of what religious communities offer.” And they are also what brand recognition offers. Don’t believe it? Think about it the next time you put on your Longhorn, Aggie, Cowboy, or Texans t-shirt. The next time you choose Home Depot over Lowes or HEB over Randalls.
We need a name around which we can build a consistent brand. A name that makes an immediate first impression. That inspires people who are seeking a Christian faith community to check us out for the first time. After that, it’s up to us to be the place through which people experience the presence of God through the people of God. After that, the Spirit can do its work.
Always in Hope,