What's In a Name?

by Ron Smith

[Ron Smith chairs the membership subcommittee of the Board of Ministers and Deacons.]

Outside my family, the person who has most influenced my life is my major professor in graduate school. The day I stopped calling him "Professor X" and started calling him "Charles" marked a major change in our relationship—from teacher/student to colleague. Likewise, when I stopped calling my primary care physician "Dr. Y" and started calling him "Scott," it enlarged our relationship from doctor/patient to friend and collaborator in my health care. Have you ever thought about the communities in your life—large or small, work or social—and how the use or non-use of first names establishes the tenor of interpersonal relationships?

I find it significant that Biblical accounts, especially of Jesus' life and times, rely on the use of first names rather than lineal names. Peter and Mary the mother of James are important actors in the Jesus story; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are key chroniclers; Paul follows as a prolific letter-writer, and so on. If the last supper was reported in today's tabloids, it might read something like as follows:

"A source close to the Nazarene carpenter told this reporter, on condition that his name not be used, that the charismatic religious leader hosted a dinner for his closest followers last night. Several present corroborated the account of an emotional moment at the dinner party when the Nazarene washed the feet of his guests."

Biblical reliance on first names is not a practice repeated in writing modern history. The "father of our country" may be called General Washington, or President Washington, certainly not "George." Lincoln may be the great emancipator, but certainly not "Abraham." If a single name is used, it is the family name, not the "Christian" name. Meanwhile, here at Old South the church council has established a theme, "Building Community," as a goal that encompasses many recommendations in the New Century Report.

A first step in community-building is getting to know each other. We enrich our interpersonal relationships when we associate names with faces. Have you passed someone here at the church, recognized the face, and wished that instead of a "Hi," it could be "Hi Elizabeth," or "Hi Roger," or "Hi Suze," or "Hi Arlen," or "Hi Judie?" The Membership Committee has reinstituted, from a few years ago, the practice of wearing name badges on occasions of fellowship and social gatherings. When name badges were first used, they were tacked helter skelter on a large corkboard, It took a lot of searching to find your badge.

Under the guidance of Rick Chrisman, Ted Parkins designed and built a movable display board on which badges can be stored in alphabetical order for easy access. Ted applied his engineering expertise and woodworking skill to produce a fixture that will serve Old South well for many years to come. Evan Shu designed and printed name badges with large print—no squinting to read these names! Three types of badge holders are available: clip on, pin on, and string holders worn around the neck. It will take a few weeks to make this renewed process work smoothly. We pray this will be another step forward in building community at Old South.

In the weeks ahead, the Membership Committee and Board of Ministers and Deacons will be exploring other means by which we can come to know each other better. As Jim Crawford reminded us recently, the author of Hebrews invites us "to be Christ's Holy partners in a heavenly calling." May we greet each other, by name, as Holy partners gathered together at Christ's invitation. +

To contact the author, click here Ron Smith

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