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USPG's name change not all it is cracked up to be

USPG's name change not all it is cracked up to be
Name change reflects loss of gospel imperative say critics

By David W. Virtue
January 2, 2013

A recent article on the name change of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) to Us (United Society) has met with push back from VOL's readers and missionaries, many of whom reside in the Global South.

The article, which can be seen here, noted the 311-year old milestone of the Christian charity with the organization's Chief Executive Janette O'Neill saying that the USPG name had become a barrier. "People thought we were old fashioned and preachy. In fact, we have always been a radical organization - breaking down barriers and taking bold steps together with our church partners.

"Our work today is as dynamic and life changing as ever. We are living the gospel through our actions. Us supports local Anglican churches as they work to share the love of Christ in their communities. Working together we are providing access to healthcare for expectant mothers, reducing HIV-related discrimination, equipping church personnel with practical development skills.

"Us also offers volunteers the opportunity to live and work with churches around the world on a medium-term placement so they can enrich their own spiritual and personal development. And we provide assistance for church relief work in times of emergency, such as when natural disasters occur and lives are at risk," O'Neill added.

USPG changed its name to "Us", with the accompanying words/strapline "Every person, every community, a full life". The name change received the full endorsement of Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who said human dignity in the gospel [has] always been at the heart of the charity's mission.

"In its new form, under the very telling name of 'Us', it will be looking for new ways of taking forward the same vision - the vision of a Christian hope that reaches every area of human life, that values the active co-operation of every human being in promoting their dignity before God; the vision of a self-aware, hopeful, excited humanity, set on fire by the gospel; the vision of a new world, a new human society. None of that will change and, in its new form, Us will take forward that vision to a new generation and, we hope and pray, will inspire and kindle enthusiasm in a rising generation for this work of the kingdom, this vision of humanity."

Not so fast, say observers and missionaries. "They've completely eliminated any reference to the gospel or even God. It's one thing to want to update your image; it's another to lose your roots and your focus. What is to distinguish them from any other Millennium goals/social work/do-gooder society?" opined one reader.

If the Us isn't delivering the timeless message of the gospel to people, what does it stand for?

The Chair of the charity's trustees, the Rev. Canon Chris Chivers explained, "The name Us is a reminder that God's welcome is for all of us. Jesus' promise of a full life is for every person, in every community."

One critic noted that it seems to leave out the idea that one has to be made aware of Jesus' offer in order to accept it. In our "Me" focused society, does one really need another name that puts ourselves first?

The Rev. Ian Montgomery, an Episcopal-based missionary in Peru, was even more scathing in his denunciation and disdain over the name change writing, "This society seems to have abandoned missionaries and now mission - I am sure they are religious but not sure about anything else. They have no connection to the mission of the Gospel as I see it in Peru, South America where they have abandoned us."

Another blogger said that dropping the USPG name was "horribly disturbing."

"The phrase 'propagation of the gospel' was coined in the eighteenth century and research found the name does not resonate with church-goers in the twenty-first century." The primary concern of the Anglican Church is to PROPAGATE THE GOSPEL. Everything else is secondary to the good news of Jesus Christ. Twenty first century church goers ought to be educated in the way of the gospel instead of looking for trendy new ways in which to create outreach to others."

Said another, "When I was at university many years ago, we rather unkindly referred to USPG as the united society for the prevention of the gospel. Were we unwittingly prophetic?"

"The word "propagate" is somewhat unwieldy but there are other words that could "inculcate" the Christian message, said another blogger.

"Do we have to change our name to hide our purpose because we are embarrassed about what we do?" asked another.


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