Sometimes, all you need is a fresh start.
That’s what LifePrint Church in Burnsville thought it needed after its guitar-playing pastor John Erbele had, as an FAQ on the church website puts it, “a very public moral failure” in 2010. It resulted in him pleading guilty to hiring a sex worker.
“This was devastating to our church and our young name in the community,” the FAQ says. The church had only been founded in 2009. So, after a “painful and prayerful process,” LifePrint’s leadership chose to start again under a new name -- Illumination Church. The name was selected to remind parishioners “to live in the light and to point people to the light of the world -- Jesus Christ.”
But now, Illumination is changing its name for the second time in a decade -- not because of any devastating mishap or scandal, but because for the last two years, the church has been getting messages on Facebook from people who assume it’s affiliated with the Illuminati.
“They were primarily from places outside of the country,” current pastor Mike Lotzer says -- some accounts with images of the all-seeing eye for profile pictures. “They’d ask questions like, ‘How do I join the Illuminati? I’ve been trying to get in for years.’”
It was kind of funny -- at least, until they started to get “three to five messages a day,” Lotzer says. Church leadership was facing a choice between turning off their global setting on Facebook or having a staff member constantly monitoring missives from Illuminati hopefuls -- neither of which they particularly wanted to do.
A smaller contingent of church members was concerned about a potential connection to the New Age religious movement Eckankar, which has a temple in Chanhassen and often uses “illumination” and “illuminated” to describe the revelations of the faith -- including soul travel, reincarnation, and portentous dreams. (Eckankar is also plagued with rumors, including suspicions that the group is a cult, and allegations that its founder, Paul Twitchell -- a former Scientologist from the L. Ron Hubbard days -- plagiarized other religious texts.)
“We don’t want our name to give a false impression to non-believers as we endeavor to share Christ with them,” the FAQ says -- or discourage “Christian transplants” looking for a “solid Bible-based church.” So, in January, church leaders unanimously voted “Illumination” out.
The new name they settled on is Mercy Road Church, chosen to evoke a “journey of faith.” Church leaders have officially purchased the domain name mercyroad.com and switched over the church’s Facebook page. Rebranding the website and all the signage is going to cost Mercy Road about $17,000. Luckily, a nearby larger church, Hosanna Lutheran, has written them a $15,000 check to help out.
For an older, bigger, more established church like Hosanna, Lotzer says, two name changes in 10 years might have been an untenable proposition. But Mercy Road is small, new, and more accustomed to change than most. Lotzer sees the new name as an opportunity to find more ways to impart “mercy” on its congregation -- more outreach and service to those who are hurting.
“A good name should hold you accountable,” he says.