Our church recently changed its name from Zion-Amabel to Sauble Beach United Church. We reflected at a few board meetings that we needed to express who we were in different terms and with more accurate language. In the early years when much of Ontario was settled, a huge number of churches were called Zion, a term at the time which implied a hopeful sense of God’s presence wherever you found yourself. I suspect that when the wilderness was pushed back enough to set up and build a church, that Zion felt like the right term: here we are, so far from home, (like the psalmist says: how can we sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land?), yet we know God’s presence is with us even in this strange place we will now call home.
But over the years the term Zion has taken on political tones. It reflects a darker side of Zionism, a more militant stance perhaps about Israel’s preservation as a state, than we might wish to assert. Without debating that issue, the term suggests we have taken a side, whether we wished to do so or not.
So our Board decided that it was time to update the name of our church. They chose a more easily googled name: Sauble Beach United Church, thinking it might make it more accessible to the mobile-phone generation. I guess time will tell! We know getting younger folks into the church is a trial, but we thought we could remove one barrier at least in the name of the church.
Taking on a new name is a chance for us to reflect on something deeper: what name do we as Christians take in the world, if not “child of God?” A hymn in More Voices expresses very well the sentiments I would write:
I have called you by your name, you are mine…
I have gifted you and ask you now to shine.
I will not abandon you, all my promises are true,
You are gifted, called and chosen: you are mine!
(Dan Damon, 1995)
It occurs to me that the name of the church is not quite as important as this sentiment: that we within these walls claim who we are as God’s people, as God’s children. Outwardly we have a new name; inwardly we keep what we already know to be true and that won’t change: that we are called by name, and held within the palm of God’s hand.