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What's In a Name?

Growing up, I always struggled with how to answer when people asked me where I went to church. I grew up in Waco, Texas, at Zion United Church of Christ—and that meant that I got a lot of blank looks and questions like “so that’s Church of Christ, right?” and “what’s a Zion?” And it wasn’t much easier when my mother was growing up and they were known as an “Evangelical & Reformed” church. Huh?

This congregation knows something about that experience, too, having been known originally as Friends United Church of Christ. A perpetual confusion with our friends in the churches of Christ led us to add Congregational to our name in the 1990’s, embracing that part of our UCC heritage and hopefully distinguishing ourselves from our faith cousins. Still, people often ask what kind of church we are, and occasionally, we get referred to as Friends Congressional Church. A quick internet search reveals that no less than the National Park Service believes that our sister church in Charleston, SC, is known as Circular Congressional Church.

We take this in stride, though, and with a healthy sense of humor, since Congress is probably the last thing we’d want to be associated with! But we know that ultimately, it’s not our name or our denominational label that distinguishes us or defines us. We know that it’s what we do, what kind of God we proclaim, and who we welcome that will define our reputation and our standing in our community. Names are important, sure. But what will that name mean to someone who’s struggling with their faith, someone who wonders whether anyone cares about them, someone who needs to know that God loves them just as they are? If we aren’t caring for those whom Jesus went out of his way to lift up, the best and most influential name in the world means little. But if we’re reminding people of who they are in the eyes of God, then it doesn’t matter what the world calls us.

In 1976, UCC General Minister and President Rev. Robert Moss lay dying of cancer in a hospital bed. Moss was a pivotal leader in the UCC, someone who spoke out boldly for racial justice, for peace, for women’s rights, and for gay rights. Bob Moss had been raised in the German Reformed branch of our UCC family in Pennsylvania, and in that tradition the Heidelberg Catechism was important for learning about the faith. Bob’s pastor walked into his hospital room and stood at the door, holding high a worn copy of the Catechism. Before he said anything else, he spoke these words: “Robert: what is your only comfort in life and in death?” And without missing a beat, Moss responded boldly: “that I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Those words were from Question #1 in the Catechism, words he had memorized some 40 years earlier. Through all of his years of ministry and activism, they stayed with him, and reminded him of who and whose he was in his last days. Most of all, they reminded him of his name in the eyes of God: Beloved.

Friends—that is your name too. Whatever else the world or others may call you, know this. God names you beloved, and that is the most important name you can have. You belong to God, and nothing can change that. No one can take away that name. Thanks be to God.


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