by Rev. E.B. Holschuh
I am the pastor of a Christian church in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley that welcomes over a hundred returning Winter Texans through its doors each year. Zion Lutheran Church is a 90-year-old congregation, but time has left its mark upon the inside and outside of our church. Here in the Valley, not unlike most other parts of the country, fewer folks are drawn to Sunday worship, for whatever reason. Language, denomination, and church name—once easy markers for identifying a Christian church in the neighborhood—might seem these days more like code to be deciphered by those seeking a church home (or, perhaps, looking for an Easter worship service next week).
In our neighborhood, there are a handful of churches within walking distance of each other. Two have denominational names, another calls itself a “community” church, and another uses a metaphor for its name. And in a widening radius, there are many more with names in English and Spanish that may or may not advertise a Christian house of worship. One website (thomrainer.com) notes that, over the last decade or so, more churches have cropped up under names like Journey, Bridge, Foundry, Mosaic, and Generation, while others are branding themselves as new: New Life. New Hope. New Song. NewPoint. NewPointe (an added “e” for distinction). Still others have a New-Testament-esque Greek name like Eklessia or Koinonia or Agape.
Even the tradition of using a saint’s name (as with many Roman-Catholic churches) or attaching “St.” to a prominent New-Testament name, such as the ubiquitous “St. John,” which often denotes a more mainstream Christian congregation within, seems to be falling out of fashion. So how does the person looking for (or at) a Christian church make sense of all the name/denomination variations? What though crosses the mind of the passer-by who catches sight of the name Zion Lutheran Church?
It’s possible that in this new era of bicultural and bilingual neighbors, as well as spiritual ambivalence, my church may be experiencing something of an identity crisis. To folks with only a cursory knowledge of the Bible, the “Zion” may be misconstrued as a surname; and I’ve found that amid a predominately Catholic population, the name “Lutheran” may come off as almost cult-like. (I have been asked more than once if Lutherans are Christians.)
Most Winter Texans migrating south from the Midwest grew up with Lutheran churches all around them and look for one down here like some Americans look for a McDonald’s in a foreign country. As for the locals—wouldn’t a less-puzzling name make it easier on them?
So I got to thinking—what doctrine should all Christian churches have in common? The answer jumped right off the calendar at me: Easter Sunday! What all Christian believers have in common is the doctrine of the Empty Tomb on Easter Sunday! Certainly most non-Christians and non-churchgoers ought to have some familiarity with the story of Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday and resurrection on Sunday. Then what about “Empty Tomb,” as in “Church of the Empty Tomb” or “Empty Tomb Christian Church”?
Succinct enough. Doctrinally accurate. Perhaps too macabre.
Hmm. On second thought, putting “Tomb” in my congregation’s name in a world obsessed with the undead may convolute what Christians believe about resurrection and the afterlife,and the zombie culture with its lack of purpose, lack of joy, and relentless urge to consume is hardly looking for a church (but it sure could use one).
The Church of the Empty Tomb. I’m certain there’s one near you, even if there is “Lutheran” or some other name on the sign. What better time to visit than Easter Sunday?
You might even catch a passing reference to an apocalypse.
Pastor E.B. Holschuh serves at Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Alamo. He is a retired Navy senior chief and former English and Russian teacher.