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Hallo again to all.

During the last five months, we have watched a sea-change take place in the way people speak and write about that Anglican church whose official name is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. For a time in our memory, it was known as (the) PECUSA for short. Then, much more recently, it was called ECUSA; some British writers used the word Ecusa. Here we have generally called it the Episcopal Church USA. (Its own website indicates that material there is copyrighted by just 'the Society'.) We do not generally focus our reflections on one national church's life, but in this instance the importance of a national naming-shift with legal teeth is significant worldwide.

Registration markIn June, an official from the Episcopal News Service indicated that the church should be called 'The Episcopal Church' or TEC henceforward, in light of this church's comprehension of congregations in some sixteen countries around the world. Also cited was the adoption of the shorthand appellation 'The Episcopal Church' beginning in 1967 for use in some documents. Bloggers, journalists and talking heads of all kinds followed in lock-step to make the change in their vocabulary. We have not, and there are several reasons why.

Adding to the alphabet soup of our modern lives strikes us as unhelpful at the outset; TEC meant many things already before this year. And we have begun to notice the use of 'TEC/ECUSA' or 'TEC, formerly known as ECUSA'—an unwieldy and confusing circumlocution that calls our minds to the pop-star Prince's naming shenanigans a decade ago. The use of a majuscule T in the definite article is quirky at best, as we do not refer to The Diocese* or The Embassy or The City unless we are using 'inspeak' understood by our closed audience, and even then we are always happy to use the. Life today is local, national and global all at once, and it behooves us to clarify who and what we mean with modifiers in the interests of both accuracy and humility. In the global context of our communion, it is folly to assume that mentioning 'The Episcopal Church' will result in widespread recognition of the 16-country ecclesiastical province now linked with that name.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Anglicans in Brazil, Cuba, the Middle East, the Philippines, Rwanda, Scotland, Spain and the Sudan already refer to their local churches as 'Episcopal' along with a geographic modifier. Referring to 'The Episcopal Church' without a modifier somehow diminishes these churches' names in the print and web media. But referring to the Episcopal Church headquartered in New York City as the 'Episcopal Church USA' does make clear what church we mean; it also chips away slightly at the caricature-fulfilling American arrogance demonstrated in a quick shift to lock down the name 'The Episcopal Church' as belonging somehow to one small body with most of its territory between Canada and Mexico.

Our bewildered impression was reinforced by three trademark applications filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at the end of 2004 for the three words THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH by an unincorporated association organized under the laws of New York state with an address at 815 Second Avenue. (For the curious, they are of public record, and available at Serial Nos. 76/625,301, 76/625,304 and 76/625,305. One application would have sufficed to cover all the goods and services in the applications, but that is neither here nor there.) These applications assert rights to the name THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH for religious instruction services; informational publications; and 'ministerial, evangelical and missionary services'. They were published in the Official Gazette of the USPTO recently for public review.

Chi RhoWe are not opposed by any means to the acquisition of a trademark by a religious organization in order to safeguard its intellectual property rights. Clothing manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, publishers, hospitals, individuals and groups of all sorts assert their rights to names, phrases and logos in this manner every day. It is an internationally-recognized way of protecting consumers from confusion. But we worry about the possible connotation that 'The Episcopal Church' is a brand with a central marketing and distribution agency instead of a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, alive and abroad for the good of all saints and all souls. Episcopal is a descriptive term that has been elevated (or diluted, depending on one's point of view)—with congregational, catholic, orthodox, presbyterian, baptist, reformed and pentecostal—to mean more than it did originally. We will continue to use 'Episcopal Church USA' to protect ourselves and our readers from confusion.

Lawyers and church officials have already gone to years of trouble to secure the name of an ecclesiastical body that can already claim inherent distinctiveness for its corporate identity. We hope that the rest of us can be calmer in the knowledge that we are part of the blessed company of all faithful people, gathered together because of our love for and in the Name above all names. 'Anglican-Episcopal' is now being used often on parish sites and signboards in Canada, the United States and throughout Europe to indicate the affiliation of congregations that by the books would probably use just one or the other. We like to see it so, as it draws us together in the fellowship of faith and thanksgiving for the treasures of our tradition.

See you next week, whether you're an Anglican in Scotland or an Episcopalian in Australia.

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Last updated: 29 October 2006
*Except, alas, in Virginia.

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