Welcome news: Us, the second-oldest British Anglican mission society, dating from 1701, announced on July 21 that it is returning to the acronym of its earlier name – USPG.
This sounds like a small thing, scarcely worth noting, but it is a significant event. It heralds the return of the word ‘gospel’ in the name of the society, and restores a sense of historical continuity between the organization as it is today and as it has been for over 300 years.
As the earlier acronym is restored, it comes with one change. Earlier, USPG stood for United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and now it will stand for United Society Partners in the Gospel.
In announcing the name change, Chief Executive Janette O’Neill acknowledged that many continued to express sadness that mention of the gospel was no longer in the mission society’s name and explained the substitution of ‘partners’ for ‘propagation’ by way of a focus on working in partnership with the world church.
It was clear that ‘Us’ as a name was not working. Over the past four years the society’s website and all its emails continued to bear the moniker-introduction, ‘Us. The new name for USPG.’ Introduced in 2012, how could ‘Us’ still be the new name? So it just didn’t take. ‘Us’ as a name posed many missiological problems, as I explained at the time, and the 2012 ‘rebranding’ was theologically shallow as well as stylistically faddish.
I commend the society for returning to the more theologically robust and historically grounded name. I also commend them for being willing to acknowledge a mistake – not explicitly, of course, but certainly between the lines. As we would say in Shona, Makorokoto! or in Arabic and Urdu, Mashallah! – Congratulations!
Here is the announcement:
Announcing the return of USPG.
It is nearly four years since we changed our name from USPG to Us – and launched ourselves into a new era with a reinvigorated desire to participate in God’s global mission.
During 2015, we undertook some research to discover how our new brand had been received. We learned that, while our partners in Britain and Ireland and around the world greatly appreciated the energy, values and practical work embodied in the Us brand, many remained saddened that we were no longer referring to the gospel in our name.
In response, we have decided to move forward with our original name USPG, albeit it in a modernised form; the acronym USPG will now stand for United Society Partners in the Gospel.
As well as reintroducing ‘gospel’ into our name, the new meaning of USPG emphasises our focus on working in partnership with the world church, while also encouraging the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland to participate more deeply in that partnership.
The official change to USPG will happen at the end of August to coincide with the Greenbelt festival, where we have a significant presence (please come along and visit our marquee if you are planning to attend). This event, and all future communications, will feature a new USPG logo and a style that will look a little different.
Be assured, in all our communications, we will be maintaining our focus on the important and inspiring work of our global partners. This remains an integral part of who we are and how we communicate as an organisation.
We have been so grateful for your support and encouragement throughout this process. Thank you for sharing your views and concerns with us, and helping us to continue developing our engagement with mission.
We hope you are as excited as we are about this change to USPG, and about this next step in our journey of moving towards an approach to overseas mission that is truly inclusive and empowering.
Chief Executive, Us
Our evolving name
1701: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) is created by Royal Charter
1965: SPG and the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) merge to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG).
2012: We change our name to The United Society, to be known as Us
2016: We become USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel)
Here’s the explanation the organization offered at the time of the 2012 rebranding:
Why we changed our name to Us.
November 2012 was a milestone in our history because we changed our name from USPG to United Society, to be known as Us.
The name USPG – United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel – was derived from a name coined in 1701.
But it became clear that this eighteenth-century name was not connecting with people in the twenty-first century. So it was time for a change.
Our new name is rooted in the gospel. It is a reminder that God’s love is for all of us – Jesus’ promise of a full life is for every person in every community (see John 10:10).
And we remember that Jesus is called Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).
We are all part of ‘us’, regardless of faith, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. We are all made in God’s creative image. There is room for us all.
In February 2013 I put up a 4,500-word blog post, ‘USPG’s name change to Us – smart or faddish, wise or facile, inclusive or misleading?’ in which I set forth the historical, theological, missiological, anthropological, economic and political problems with the change to Us. A friend commented at the time, ‘Now, Titus, tell us how you really feel about it!’ I won’t recap the problems here, but the post makes interesting reading in light of last week’s announcement of the return to USPG.
A couple of additional comments on the new name:
- ‘Partners in the Gospel’ rather than ‘Propagation of the Gospel’: Certainly partnership is a good and important theme in contemporary mission and one worth highlighting. Some may nevertheless cavil at the substitution, given that it appears to deliberately background and deemphasize the mandate to tell people about the good news of the reign of God inaugurated in the reconciling life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That point is valid, and it would have been fine, in my view, to retain propagation as the referent of the P in USPG.
- Biblical Resonance of ‘Partners in the Gospel’: In explaining the move to have P stand for Partners, the mission society stresses the now very common theme of mission partnership or, as O’Neill puts it, ‘working in partnership with the world church.’ Missed is the deep resonance of the phrase in the thought of the apostle Paul. A prime example is Paul’s effusive celebration of his relationship with the Philippians: ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Philippians 1:3-5). That’s how the Revised Standard Version and the English Standard Version translate the Greek word koinonia, and the New Revised Standard Version renders it as ‘your sharing in the gospel.’ Partnership and sharing in the gospel has a mystical dimension that is deeper than the pragmatic and instrumental connotations of Partnership in Mission today, which tends to focus on working together to get particular goals accomplished. Working toward goals is important, but from a Pauline perspective such effort is and must be undergirded by koinonia – community, fellowship, mystical sharing – in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The phrase chosen by Us/USPG for the current rebranding can and should be grounded in that biblical vision, and we may hope that USPG will in time be able offer a robust theology for its recovered name.
Again, the return to USPG is a good move – late, but better late than never! Best wishes to USPG in its continuing vital work around the world.