Many of you have asked why I haven’t shared my opinion, which you suspect may be a strong one, about the proposed church name change. In a word, curiosity. Despite my own feelings, I have wanted to remain curious and sift through all the questions this discussion brings up. (For a quick unofficial poll, see the link at the end of this article.)
I have heard some questions that I can address:
1. Why is this conversation happening now?
This conversation was not generated by the ministers, other staff, or your Board of Trustees. A signed petition asking for a church name change was delivered to the Trustees last year, which per our by-laws requires a congregational vote.
2. What is lost by changing the name?
Some of you are concerned that our name has special, positive meaning in our larger community. Changing the name of an institution, when it has a strong public presence, runs the risk of diminishing the reputation and power of that name. For examples from the tech industry, consider how many of us know Google (which is everywhere) is now a company called Alphabet? Or that IBM personal computers (which used to be everywhere) are now Lenovo?
3. Who is harmed by not?
Some of you don’t resonate with the word “church,” feeling it too exclusively Christian. Others want to add the name “Universalist,” which reflects a theology of boundless love as well as our denominational affiliation.
4. What is the proposed name?
That is still 100 percent up in the air. The original petition suggested “Unitarian Universalists of Evanston,” but other names have been put forward and are being discussed prior to the May congregational meeting. Another name is “The Unitarian Universalist Church of Evanston.” A few have even suggested returning to our original church name, with updated denominational affiliation: “All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Evanston.” We don’t have to change the name, so no name change is also something you can vote for. I’ve seen “Keep UCE” popping up on Facebook, so I know there are some who are interested in the “no change” option.
The above queries are four I could address, but there are some I haven’t yet been able to answer. For example, there are semantic questions:
If church is both the place we gather and the community, what is a better term for both? In other words, I belong to a congregation (community) and go to a church (place). What about other religions? Jews belong to congregations and go to synagogues. Muslims belong to communities and go to mosques. Buddhists belong to sanghas and go to temples. Where do UUs go if they don’t go to a church? It is funny to think of saying “I am headed to the community tonight,” or “on Sunday morning I attend congregation.” Even if we change the name on the sign, we will not stop saying “church.” I say this from experience. I attended a UU “congregation” for 15 years, and we almost all called it church when we talked about the location we gathered. The first church (I mean congregation) I served was actually a “society.” We called it church.
And historical questions:
Unitarians and Universalists have been going to churches for hundreds of years. Why are we, rather than those who have misused the name and power of religion, the ones who have to give up this awesome word, “church”? By awesome, I mean awe-inspiring. Perhaps we are the ones doing “church right” and everyone else has drifted from the true meaning of the word. Of course I don’t believe that. I believe there are many ways to do church right. Ours, too.
I will say this, even if the current name change conversation does not end in a change, I think we should put “A Unitarian Universalist Congregation” under our name — especially on our sign. Such a change would not even require a vote. After all, it is merely a better description of who we are, our denominational affiliation, and hints at our congregational polity.