Written by Emily Mullins
What's in a name? For the newly-branded Peace United Church of Christ in Webster Groves, Mo., a name is everything. Formerly the Evangelical UCC of Webster Groves, the church changed its name in a ceremony Sept. 9 to better reflect its open and affirming environment and its progressive style of worship.
"The name ‘Evangelical' was a serious barrier," said Pastor Katherine HawkerSelf. "We heard anecdotes that people would pull in our driveway, see the name on the sign and start to cry because they thought, ‘Churches like that don't want people like me.'"
The congregation has spent the last five years debating the need for a name change, and nicknamed itself the "Other" Evangelical UCC of Webster Groves in the meantime. While there was a clear disconnect between the church's name and its beliefs, changing the church's identity was still an emotional and tender process, HawkerSelf said, and it took some time to get everyone on board.
The congregation spent time between Thanksgiving and the end of last year celebrating its old name and its heritage. In January, the church presented a six-week opportunity for each congregation member to suggest a name on the community bulletin board. After collecting about 80 names, the church sent out a ballot asking each member to rank their top-five choices. While there was a debate about whether to choose a geographic or descriptive name, members were asked to rank their choices using the congregational values as a guide. The winning name was Peace United Church of Christ, with Sojourners UCC and Webster Groves UCC as popular runners-up.
"We wanted them to think about how each suggestion stacked up against the things we say are important to us," HawkerSelf said. "We found it was not only numerically the winner overall, but in every single category of our values, ‘Peace' was at the top. There was a real consensus in that regard."
The congregation spent this summer getting accustomed to its new name and hosted activities like folding peace cranes and making peace poles, and held its annual Peace Trail alternative to vacation Bible school. The congregation also designed a new logo and made plans for a new website. The culmination of the transition occurred on Sept. 9 when the congregation "baptized" the church during both of the day's services.
"I think it signifies turning a page," HawkerSelf said of the name change, adding that the church has already seen a lot more new visitors. "We have been increasingly more progressive in our message and in our style of worship, and it just really affirmed that commitment."