Carol and I had the privilege of celebrating Holy Week with our daughter, Hannah, and her family this year during a week of vacation in northeast Ohio. Hannah lives on the east side of Cleveland, so I also had the opportunity to attend Opening Day at Progressive Field.
The avid sports fans among us will be keenly aware of the fact that Cleveland’s professional baseball team, which has been known as the Indians since 1915, recently changed its name to the Guardians. As you might imagine, changing the name of such an iconic establishment has generated a significant level of confusion and controversy among the Cleveland faithful. And yet, once the honorary first pitch was thrown out by Tom Hanks and his good friend, Wilson, we were all relieved to discover that the most important things we love about the game remain unchanged: the bases are still 90 feet apart, the pitcher’s mound is still 60 feet 6 inches from home plate, there are still three strikes per out and three outs per inning, no-hitters are still mesmerizing, walk-off homers are still exhilarating, and the strike zone is still a mystery that escapes precise definition … which means that umpires still miss a call from time to time and rabid fans still make sure to voice their collective displeasure.
Oh, and for some odd reason, hot dogs still taste much better at the ballpark, especially when you add just the right amount of Bertman’s Original Ballpark Mustard, found only at Progressive Field.
The fact is that the name of Cleveland’s professional baseball team has changed before, and it will almost certainly change again at some point in the future. Originally known as the Forest City’s back in 1869, the team changed its name to the Blues in 1887, the Spiders in 1889, the Bronchos in 1902, and the Naps in 1903. In 1915, following a fan poll sponsored by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the team chose the be called the Indians. Some have suggested the name was chosen to honor the first Native American to play professional baseball, Louis Sockalexis. Others aren’t so sure.
Cleveland’s professional baseball team has played at a number of different venues over the years, by the way, including League Park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and Progressive Field (originally known as Jacobs Field when it opened in 1994). The names of the players, managers, and owners have changed as well, of course. At the end of the day, however, regardless of the names on the front or back of the jersey, or on the doors of the front office, or on the ballpark marquee, the team’s core mission has always remained the same. When it comes to major league baseball in northeast Ohio, there are vast multitudes of people who live and die for the sake of the same collective dream, i.e., to play the game of baseball at the highest possible level in order to bring honor and glory to the city of Cleveland by capturing the ultimate prize, a World Series Championship.
It may sound strange to those who have little interest in “America’s Favorite Pastime,” but I believe there are some important lessons that we can glean here regarding the true nature and purpose of the church in general, and our extended family of Friends here in Mid America in particular, especially as we prepare to complete our year-long sesquicentennial celebration this summer at our 2022 Ministry Conference:
- Our names may change … what was once known as Kansas Yearly Meeting, then Mid America Yearly Meeting, is now known as Evangelical Friends Church-Mid America Yearly Meeting. The names of our pastors, elders, clerks, and superintendents have changed dramatically over the years as well. Even our local church names have been changed at times to better reflect our primary identity and/or ministry focus.
- Our venues may change … originally based in Lawrence, our yearly meeting headquarters later moved to Wichita. Our annual sessions have been held in various locations over the years, including Lawrence, Wichita, and Haviland. While Kansas was once the epicenter of yearly meeting growth and development, that has now shifted to the north and south, in places like Minnesota and Texas, not to mention online venues that transcend geography.
- Our mission will NEVER change … from the very beginning, the people known as Mid America Friends have always grounded their core purpose and identity in the words of Jesus: “You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jn 15:14). And what does it look like to live as faithful friends of Jesus? His commands are both clear and compelling: Love God (Mt 22:37), Love Your Neighbor (Mt 22:39), Love the Whole World (Mt 28:18-20).
Our current EFC-MAYM mission statement summarizes our marching orders very clearly: “To equip the Whole Church to take the Whole Gospel to the Whole World in Jesus’ name.” We are not called to be people who are identified by our positions, paychecks, popularity, political persuasions, or personal preferences. Regardless of the names on our office doors or on the signs in front of our churches, our core mission will always remain the same. When it comes to the Evangelical Friends Church in Mid America, we are all called to live and die for the sake of the same collective dream, i.e., to follow Jesus at the highest and most passionate level in order to bring honor and glory to our risen, reigning, and soon-returning Lord until we receive the ultimate prize, one that will never fade or tarnish and can never be taken away, as we eagerly anticipate that great day when “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15).
As the Scriptures remind us, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor 9:25). May the Lord grant us all the grace to live and die for the sake of the right dream.
– David O. Williams, Lead Superintendent