After 52 years, the West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale is switching gears and billing itself as a celebration.
A celebration without “Mennonite” in the name.
Although its legal incorporated name is staying the same and will appear within promotional materials, the April 17-18 relief sale at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University supporting Mennonite Central Committee will now be known as Celebration for World Relief.
The change was announced Nov. 16 on Facebook and other online social media, after the sale’s board voted earlier that month to make the change after months of consideration.
“Nothing has changed except our name,” said board chair Steve Goossen, who will begin visiting churches in January to promote the sale. “We’re trying to reach out into the community and celebrate world relief.”
As before, all funds raised will go to MCC.
Goossen said discussions did not center on removal of Mennonite identity from the sale but on giving a positive outlook to auctions and other activities.
“We want to try to reach out more to the community, just like our churches want to reach out to the community,” he said. “. . . If someone in the community sees the poster, they might pay attention to it more instead of it saying ‘West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale.’ ”
Of the 71 Mennonite Brethren churches in California, only 11 have “Mennonite” or “MB” in the name. The suggestion to change the name was brought by an MB board member in September.
“He knows Mennonite Brethren. He made the suggestion just for the year because we’re celebrating MCC’s 100th anniversary,” Goossen said. “We talked about it. People agreed with me that we shouldn’t just change the name for one year.
“When people come to the sale we sensed some think they can get rock-bottom prices, assuming that because the word ‘sale’ is in the name. We want to convey through our name the spirit of generosity.”
Among MCC relief sales across the United States and Canada, the Fresno sale is unusual in how many Mennonite Brethren church members are in leadership positions. Goossen said the board is about 90 percent MB.
“We’ve opened it up in our bylaws to have at least three non-Anabaptist members because we need volunteers to come on board,” he said. “Our quilt chairwoman is non-Mennonite, and she’s great.”
There are 38 MCC relief sales scheduled for 2020. Counting the Fresno sale, 13 lack “Mennonite” or “MCC” in their names. In Canada, only the Aylmer (Ont.) Charity Auction leaves out a Mennonite mention.
MCC North American relief sales coordinator Les Gustafson-Zook said he was caught a bit by surprise by the Fresno sale’s name change, because it has been around for so long.
“At the same time, I recognize the questions you get interacting with people from outside of the Mennonite world — ‘Why do Mennonites need relief?’ — and recognize the descriptor as being more accurate when calling yourself a ‘Celebration for World Relief,’ ” he said. “It seems to be the sales that attract people outside the Mennonite circles who feel the need to more accurately describe what their event is in the name.”
Gustafson-Zook said he usually hasn’t experienced such changes as wanting to avoid negative connotations about Mennonites but to expand events’ appeal with a broadly understandable name.
Eleven of the sales divide proceeds with MCC and other organizations, but Gustafson-Zook doesn’t think there is a correlation between having “Mennonite” in the name and MCC receiving all the funds.
“We continue to celebrate every year that relief sales bring people together who normally don’t interact — seeing it as peacebuilding with our own constituency,” he said. “We pray that this continues as we celebrate 2020 as MCC’s centennial year.”