The prophet Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel when declaring this promise of God:
“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3 NRSVUE
This promise is so powerful and personal from God that we find comfort in it in many times. Our baptism banner includes a portion of these prophetic words that continue for many more verses.
To know and call someone by their name conveys respect and intimacy. To be known is a deep desire of the human heart. I learned the holy significance of names my second Sunday in ministry. It was October 2004; I had just started as a Youth Pastor at a start-up church. I was hired to create a High School Youth Group out of thin air. That first Sunday, everyone, except for the hiring team, I was meeting for the first time. Names came at me like a firehose. I met two high school aged boys – Matt and Andrew. I didn’t know that it was their first Sunday at the church and they had been encouraged to check us out. My first worship service went great, and I spent my first week planning how to turn a roster of 3 high schoolers into a youth group. My second Sunday came around and Matt and Andrew were back. I greeted them by name. Probably in a room of 75 people, I only knew a dozen other people by name. After church Matt and Andrew’s parents came up to me. Paul -Matt and Andrew’s dad- reintroduced himself to me. He could tell I had no clue what he and his wife’s names were and then told me as much. I was a bit embarrassed as he called me out on it and then told me that it didn’t matter if I ever remembered their names, but that I called their sons by name after only meeting them once. He told me that they’d be joining the church and sure enough, Matt and Andrew helped anchor the newly formed High School Youth Group. In a little over a year, that church doubled in size, in part because the congregation set out to know and call people by their names.
Last month, Pastor Lisa and I concluded a series on our core values as a congregation – one of which is welcoming. One of the simplest ways we all can be welcoming to guests and regulars alike is to learn and call each other by name. Throughout this month in the Messenger, worship, fellowship time, and in the bulletin, we are going to help equip us all with ways to be more welcoming by learning and calling each other by names. It may seem silly to offer tips on social etiquette, but we’ve all felt the embarrassment of not knowing each other’s names; we can be skittish at something so basic. We’re going to share some tricks to use when you forget a name and need help recalling it. We’re even going to lead up to a ‘nametag Sunday’ on March 26 where everyone wears a name tag and then we will try to keep it up through Easter (and beyond!)
Someone once told me that 40 years ago what helped grow UMCG was that Pastor Larry was exceptionally good at remembering everyone’s name. I know God gifted him a large heart to hold all those names and a photographic memory to recall them easily. We may not have the same capacity as Pastor Larry, but we all can do our best to wear name tags; ask, learn, and call each other by name. What an easy way to grow our church!