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"Memories or Mission?"
by Tom Goodman
December 22, 2006

Hog Mountain Baptist Church has decided to get a new name.  Reading about the whole process of their decision-making made me think about our mission.

For 150 years the church has been know by that venerable name.  It’s not the most unusual name I’ve seen for a church.  There’s the Jesus Lives Here Methodist Church in Roan Mountain, Tennessee.  And in Campbell, Alabama, you’ll find the Witch Creek Baptist Church.  There’s the Happy Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or the Welcome Home Baptist Church in Mount Airy, Georgia (Great Hills Baptist Church can loan them some of their bumper stickers).  I’m a little curious about why some churches chose their names: Rising Daughter Church in Camden County, South Carolina, or the Hanging Dog Baptist Church in North Carolina.

Hog Mountain Baptist Church was simply named after its community of Hog Mountain, an area in eastern Gwinnett County, Georgia.  According to the article, “It was a high place on the ridge of the Eastern Continental Divide, where, the story goes, men would stop overnight while herding hogs to market.  White settlers were there before the War of 1812.  The Hog Mountain community saw Gwinnett's first courthouse and jail.”  For decades, business signs adorned with large porkers proudly proclaimed Hog Mountain this or that.

But in recent years, Gwinnett County has developed considerably, including an upscale golf community.  More and more, the area is known as Hamilton Mill.  Long-established businesses have dropped “Hog Mountain” from their names in favor of “Hamilton Mill” this or that.

But when members voted to change their 150-year-old church from Hog Mountain Baptist Church to Hamilton Mill Baptist Church, it wasn’t without controversy.

“I think it's a shame to change the name,” said 49-year-old Claudette Miller, who has been a member since she was 12.

That’s what 65-year-old Charles Warbington said, too.  “All the old people around here, their hearts are broken.  What’re they going to do with the historic marker?  Change it?”  Not that he’s a member there anymore.  According to the article, he’s been in a megachurch up the road for years.  But it’s been my experience that moving one’s membership doesn’t keep someone from opining about what their former church ought to be doing.

Even the Gwinnett Historical Society weighed in on the name change.  They wrote to the deacons at Hog Mountain Baptist, asking them to reconsider.  But the vote passed on December 10.

As I said, reading about the whole event got me to thinking about a church’s mission.  I can feel for those long-time members who saw that dropping the name “Hog Mountain” from their church was an act of disloyalty to their community heritage.  But I’m on the side of the majority of the members whose eyes were on the future, not the past.  Fewer and fewer people moving into the community saw it as Hog Mountain anymore.  To them, it was Hamilton Mill.  Even most business owners recognized this, and changed the name of long-established businesses.

Ironically, by changing the name, the church was keeping the mission they had known for 150 years.  For nearly two centuries, they have ministered to the community known by most residents as Hog Mountain.  They’re still ministering to the same community:  It’s just that now the community—and the church—is known as Hamilton Mill.

The whole debate in this little church revolved around whether to preserve the church as a museum of past memories or position the church as a mission outpost to the community that has grown up around it.

When I served as pastor of the 175-year-old First Baptist Church in Eastland, Texas, I enjoyed leading worship in their new worship center.  Twelve years before my arrival, a visionary pastor had led them to demolish the 1920s-era building so that a new worship center could be built on the site.  The architect directed that the Tiffany-style stained glass windows be carefully removed from the old structure and incorporated into the overall design of the new building.

Ten minutes away in a First Baptist Church of another town, the members got a historical marker for their sanctuary.

H-m-m:  a historical marker for a building that could never be changed, or a new worship center incorporating the beautiful stained glass of the old building into the fresh design of a new building for a new generation.  I think the Eastland church got the better deal.

Do you make you church decisions based upon what will preserve the church’s memories . . . or what will propel the church’s mission?


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