Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 252
July 14, 1997

"What's in a Name?"


The name was an absolutely logical choice, given the year--1957. The world-wide ecumenical movement was in full swing, and churches in numerous countries gathered under the name "United Church of Christ." Then there was the stated desire to be a "uniting" as well as a "united" church. So logical was the denominational name-United Church of Christ-that little thought was given to how this name would be heard in the Southern part of this country.

I live with the unintended consequences. For the immediate and inevitable response to stating our denominational name is "Oh, Church of Christ." Then, I again find myself explaining what I am not. Neither people's patience nor their interest is sufficient to last beyond the brief denial. As a result, I now find my response to others a bit more calculated.

When asked of what church I am a minister, I now respond with "Congregational." I have learned to expect a blank look, for Congregational is a total unknown. This gives me an opportunity to quickly and simply say: "The Pilgrims in 1620 were Congregationalists. They founded Harvard and Yale, were instrumental in abolishing slavery, and ordained the first woman in this country--a decade before the Civil War." With those brief items hung on a person's mental hooks, I then add, "And, denominationally, I belong to the United Church-followed by a very slight pause and lowering of voice-of Christ."

Previous unproductive explanations are now avoided. "Congregational" starts me at point zero rather than at a minus ten as with "United Church of Christ."

In "Romeo and Juliet," Shakespeare wrote:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

True, whatever name we use, the reality to which the word points doesn't change. But names really do matter.


--Robert H. Tucker
14 July 1997

© Robert H. Tucker, 1997.
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