What’s In A Name?

JAN 17 2024

By Clint Schnekloth

What’s In A Name

I write this as the founder and chair of the board of Canopy NWA, Arkansas’ primary refugee resettlement site. Since 2015 our organization has served as an affiliate of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).

When we were forming Canopy NWA, we spent a lot of time deciding on the name of the organization. We landed on a name that metaphorically signified what it is the organization does and where it primarily works.

Canopy NWA is made up of people from all over the world. Our staff of 40 speak 20 languages and hails from 15 countries. We serve clients from places like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Syria, and Guatemala. Our donors and volunteer teams come from every walk of life and dozens of varying religious affiliations, including “none at all.”

What we all share in common is a commitment to long welcome and a path to thriving, a road map to help every refugee household in our community thrive.

“Today Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service announced they will be known to the world and the people we exist to help as “Global Refuge,” and I for one am glad for this name change.”

Clint Schnekloth

I don’t think there’s anything particular wrong with the previous name, and it had the added bonus that it formed an unpronounceable acronym, a common practice among us Lutherans (our denomination, for example, is the ELCA, and some of our committees in the denomination have acronyms with as many as seven or eight letters).

But what “Lutheran” in the name focused on is the founders. Yes, I as a Lutheran pastor can find myself in the name and be proud there is a “Lutheran” resettlement organization.

But can the clients? Can our staff? Can volunteers and donors?

As the publicity for the launch of “Global Refuge” points out, the advantage of the new name is that the world, and the people we exist to serve, can find themselves in the name.

We provide refuge for people from all over the globe.

Global Refuge has, with the announcement of the name change, published an FAQ giving context to the change. It’s very well done.

We really do need a “bigger table of supporters.” Here in Arkansas, we could not have done resettlement as “Lutheran” Immigration and Refugee Service without support from the Islamic Center, the synagogue, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Presbyterians, Church of Christ, Baptists, the Quakers, the evangelicals, and of course, the Lutherans.

Clint Schnekloth

I’m proud to say the most co-sponsorship teams have come from our little Lutheran church and the also small synagogue in town. We’re the co-sponsor champions.

But to do this work well in a state like ours, we benefit by being a “canopy” for all rather than emphasizing that we’re a “Lutheran” affiliate. Even if we are.

For those concerned about the Lutheran identity piece, the FAQ points out that none of the mission of the organization is changing at all, and in fact those who did the difficult work of re-branding realized “with its broad appeal and meaning, the word ‘Refuge’ draws inspiration from our enduring Lutheran heritage. It conveys a sense of hope to all people, regardless of their faith traditions, just as our work does.”

I know, I know, part of re-branding is “branding,” and so the FAQ is making the case for the brand. But I absolutely agree with the statement “As Global Refuge, we become even more accessible to clients, partners, and supporters without altering our core mission.”

It really does make it more accessible. Just put yourself in the shoes of a child arriving in Arkansas as a refugee. They don’t have any need to know that the organization of which they are an affiliate is “Lutheran” and they’ll actually be confused by the long name or acronym. But if I meet them at the airport and say, “I’m here with Canopy NWA, we’re part of Global Refuge,” all of those words say as simply as can be said who we are and what we do.

Later this spring I’ll be doing a staff presentation at Canopy NWA about how Lutheran “theology” is related to accompaniment, long welcome, and resettlement. All the aspects of our theological identity I hold most dearly are represented in this name change.

Like Luther himself, I don’t think a movement (or a refugee resettlement agency) needs to be named after him anymore than Canopy NWA needs to be named after its founders.

I believe to accompany people well you focus on their needs, help them identify as Canopy NWA. Here also I love the name change, because our clients will be able to say, “I’m a part of Global Refuge,” where as saying “I’m a part of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service” may have been an uncomfortable religious identity stretch for those who in many instances have fled precisely from religious persecution.

I’ll get to share with our staff why Lutherans are committed to non-proselytization precisely for the sake of the gospel, not as an abandonment of it.

Like Global Refugee, Canopy NWA will remain dedicated to fostering a world of just and welcoming communities, informed by our Lutheran heritage and nearly 85 years of experience. Our faith-based identity remains integral to our organization, reflecting the spirit of love that shapes our work of welcome and strengthens our relationships with Lutheran communities and congregations (the super tiny minority of them here in Arkansas), as well as with nondenominational and interfaith partners.

Watch the video. You’ll notice the narrator speaks to refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers, all those our organization serves. They are the “you” that Global Refuge exists for. The new name makes that more clear.

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