What's In A Name?

Last week, about 15 Chicago Invitation folk gathered in Ossining for our Spring meeting. We usually meet around this time of year, often on Ascension Day. As highlighted in two previous posts (here and here), the main purpose of this meeting was to discuss whether the Chicago Invitation has a future, and if so, what that future would be. The question before us was, as one keynote paper stated in its title, “Is it time to end the Chicago Invitation?”

For those of you who have been (perhaps anxiously) wondering, I can report that we decided that our answer to that question must be “No.” It is not time to end CI; we still have a role to play in the Reformed Church in America, one that is distinctive and for which there is no formal provision within the denomination at any level of governance.

Before the meeting, it was by no means obvious to me that we would arrive at this answer. A number of outcomes were possible: completely disbanding the CI group and shuttering the web site, sunsetting the group and web site while starting a new group with a new purpose and new site, continuing on as if nothing has changed, or retaining our name while becoming re-energized about a renewed and refreshed statement of our purpose. That we agreed on something like the last of these items was a happy development, but one that I did not know in advance would be the outcome. I believe that all gathered at the meeting seriously considered the issues before us and worked together to craft the consensus that we must continue, even as we must make some changes in how and why we do business.

One of the most helpful things I heard at the meeting was from Rett Zabriskie. The group had been talking quite a bit about what our name should be, if we should decide to drop “The Chicago Invitation.” The discussion had yielded many suggestions, but none were overwhelmingly compelling. At a certain point Rett, who had not yet spoken much, said that when a group changes its name, they basically start from zero. The change wipes out everything that had been accrued: members, identity, reputation. All of that must be rebuilt. Such a change may nonetheless be important, but it should be effected only when necessary and as its radicality is appreciated.

For me, this made all the difference. I have been uncertain about how well our name communicates, and have argued that the name (and thus the group, the web site, and the purpose) is an artifact of history and needs to be allowed to recede into history. But now I think that this name is simply how we are known by sufficient numbers within the RCA to make changing our name at least regrettable. Let me put it this way: I don’t happen to like my own last name much. Yet it’s how many people know me, so that the cost for changing my name is not worth the anticipated benefit. If we agree that the signatories of the Chicago Invitation still have a purpose for gathering to discuss, instruct, and persuade, then perhaps we can agree to live with the name by which we have become known.

So, we’re keeping the name, and we’ll continue to meet, although with significant changes in format that will soon be announced. Yet even though we won’t change the name, I thought that a refreshed web site would be a good way to mark the re-energized CI that I trust this meeting has fostered. I hope you enjoy the new theme.

Peace,

Dan

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