Here we've posted the latest update, written as a letter to our church congregation, from Working Group 1, tasked with communicating our purpose.
More updates to come on this process as the period of discernment continues.
Dear Third Family,
About two years ago, Working Group 1 was commissioned as a part of Strategic Planning to Communicate our Purpose— to clarify our vision, who we are, and how we share that with the world around us. As a part of that work, WG1 was commissioned to address the question of our name. What role does the name play in representing the mission God gives the Church? How might the name help welcome our neighbors into fellowship with Christ? How might our name be faithful to our history, our culture and our role in the community, yet also effectively call others to Christ?
One hundred and eighty-three years ago, a small group of believers organized to minister to dock workers and sea farers in Church Hill. This mission was commonly called Bethel, and it eventually grew into the church we affectionately call Third Church today.
Throughout her history, Third’s mission has been to seek the lost, uplift the hurting, share the Good News, and help bring God’s kingdom to this city and beyond by the power and grace of Jesus Christ. The church name along the way has changed, but the heart of our church—and the call for the global church—has remained the same: to steward God’s mission in the world.
While our identity and call have remained true in Christ, our name has changed more than once. We’ve been Bethel, Second Presbyterian Church, Third Presbyterian Church, and most recently Third Church. Four years ago, our church voted to leave and was dismissed from the PCUSA. Besides paying for our buildings, part of the cost of leaving our former presbytery was the forfeiture of the long-held name Third Presbyterian Church. We could legally keep a part of the name, but not all of it.
Because the church was also facing the retirement of beloved senior pastor Steve Hartman at that time, leadership made a strategic decision to keep as much of the former name as we could—as a placeholder. According to Dr. Hartman, whom we recently interviewed, the idea was that God would lead a new pastor and new leadership to usher in a refreshed vision for the church, and the name should be born from that vision. Thus, in the fall of 2013, Session decided that the truncated name Third Church would be adopted short-term.
WG1 has been researching, deliberating, consulting with experts and praying for months about the possibility of a new name for our church. We have spoken to many of you, and have sought much counsel. We understand that "Third" has deep equity as a name in our community—among those who know her history and identity. It is a cherished name by those who understand all that it holds of the church’s history. We wonder, though, whether "Third Church" is the name that would bear the most fruit, going forward. In an increasingly secular and culturally diverse environment, we are asking whether there is a name that could better open the opportunity to tell our church’s story—and, more importantly, to tell God's story of grace and renewal. A name can house feelings, memories, history, relationships, and associations for those who understand and know it.
A name can create appeal, draw interest, prompt curiosity, and open the door to relationship. Some names are insider names, and some names seem to welcome all.
As a working group (WG1) of Session’s Strategic Planning Committee, we've been in discernment about our name. We presented our findings and recommendations to the larger Strategic Planning team. With their support and enthusiasm, we presented the same to Session, who will make the ultimate, prayerful decision about our name. We pray that you will join us all in seeking God’s will in this matter.
Would you please pray with us about this possibility of a name change? Will you pray for Session—for wisdom, boldness and discernment? A name is just one component of who we are and how we reflect that to our neighbors, but it's an important part and one about which people feel strongly. May we honor Christ and seek His will in and through our name!
Your brothers and sisters in Christ,
Working Group 1: Val Kling, Mark Mendez, Mark Sprinkle, Chris Payne, Becca Payne