Words are powerful things and names, especially, are very personal.
One of the reasons we recently decided to change our name is the fact that “fellowship” – the final, anchoring word in our former name – had almost stopped meaning what we wanted it to mean and even, at times, started to mean something closer to its opposite.
Within the church (ours, at least), “fellowship” is a relatively common word. It’s a way of describing not just what happens when we get together but also why we get together.
I John 1:3 says: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” What John has ‘seen and heard’ is that “the eternal life, which was with the Father, has appeared to us” (v.2). In other words, the most central belief of the Christian faith – that Jesus is the Creator become a creature – is grounds for ‘fellowship’ both among humans and with God.
At the risk of overstating it, these two kinds of “fellowship” are kinda the whole point of life.
That, at least, is what the word means to church people.
And that is at least part of the reason many people in our church were hesitant to drop it from our name. One little suggestion changed some minds: “Try asking people who don’t attend church what they think of the name Pemberton Christian Fellowship.”
The answers we heard were very revealing:
“Do you have to be a member before you can come to one of your meetings?”
“It’s just for Christians, right?”
Language is always developing, changing. Words shift and shake. Meanings don’t hold still. Somewhere along the way, “fellowship” stopped being a way to express the purpose of human existence and started sounding more like a clique of ring-obsessed half-humans enroute to Mordor.
So we figured maybe we should change things up.
There were brief discussions about giving ourselves a name that sounded hip. These were brief because we’re not especially hip. Nor do we aspire to be.
But we do aspire to be a place where our community can feel comfortable, to be a group of Christians among whom the spiritual tire-kicker or the religiously curious can be welcomed and high-fived and group-hugged and made to sing Kumbaya, solo.
Just kidding. The whole point here is that we’re trying not to be too weird.
But we are a church, which means we’re about Jesus, and about trying with God’s help to follow him - even if it means seeming a bit odd from time to time.
We are also a "community" church - a pretty powerful word, actually. In fact, "community" is another possible translation for the word in the Bible that's underneath "fellowship."
Maybe our name hasn't changed that much after all.