What’s in Our Name? Join the Discussion!

by Rev. Aaron Payson

Many of the most lasting myths in a number of religions have to do with the power of naming.  In the Hebrew scriptures, Adam is given this responsibility early on in the book of Genesis. “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” Naming is an act of power and as such it has ethical implications, which is why names and those who do the naming have been an important part of most movements for liberation and freedom, especially as it relates to the rights of women, people of color, religious minorities and those whose gender expression or identity are non-binary.  Furthermore, as we have been reminded during recent incidents of violence and terror in our country and across the world, names evoke memories and keep the image of those who have gone before us alive. And so we shout “Remember their names!”  Names are important, claiming them and giving them are acts of autonomy, liberation and power.  So we should take names seriously and be mindful of who it is that does the naming.

As a faith community governed by congregational polity, no one but the congregation has the right to determine what name the community will take.  Over the course of our history, since our founding in 1841, we have had three names, The Universalist Society of Worcester, The First Universalist Church of Worcester, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester.  These names reflect the ethic and religious orientation of the congregation at various moments; ethics and orientations that have changed over time. Now the Board and I wonder if we have come to another moment when we might consider if our name reflects what we are and are becoming as a faith community.

Mindful that the world “church” in our name has been a source of reflection and discussion over the years, particularly on the part of those members and friends whose histories are non-Christian, and that we celebrated the 250 year Anniversary of the founding of Universalism on our continent last fall, as well as looking toward the 180 Anniversary of the establishment of what is now UUCW in June 2021, not to mention the fact that we are in the process of purchasing and moving a new sign out front, I approached the Board with this question.   And while I gave them an example of a name that spoke to the issues above, I did so not to advocate for a particular name, but to recommend that we as a congregation consider what possibilities there are in considering a new name.  To be honest, I will cherish and promote this community under whatever name it chooses (or not) for itself.

So the Board advanced the idea through the creation of a document that sought to address some of the history and issues related to our name, and promised to then engage the congregation in further discussion.  CLICK HERE for a copy of the paper.  If there is sufficient energy and support for a name change then it would be up to the congregation to vote on such a proposal at an Annual Meeting or Special Congregational Meeting of the members this Spring or at a time to be determined.

Next Sunday, we will begin these conversations with the congregation by inviting those who would like to learn more about our name and share their own thoughts about names that have been proposed and perhaps offer another alternative of your own.  There will be more opportunities for discussion in the coming weeks as well as opportunities to provide feedback online.  These conversations will be facilitated by members of the Committee on Right Relations and the Board.

HERE’S MY INVITATION TO YOU!  Join us for worship this Sunday, March 28 @ 10 am and then join us for break out room discussions about the possibility of a name change following the service (@ approx. 11:15 am).  If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our Board President, John O’Dell () or me ().