Saturday afternoon my sister Glynda and I had ridden up toward Saluda, NC, for lunch. She and I both love exploring, so on the way home we were taking several side roads and rambling over the countyside. Our route took us past Ebenezer Church near Tigerville. That led to a discussion about the name Ebenezer, and about Biblical place names in general, and how so many of these have worked their way into our own geography.
A Biblical place name such Ebenezer, Beulah, or Shiloh is often indicative of an older, usually historic congregation. The word “ebenezer” itself is an excellent name for a church – according to 1 Samuel 7:12, it was a stone to commemorate what God had done for Israel – a place to give thanks and dedication. However, in today’s society the word is more likely to conjure up a Dickensian miser, and the word “Beulah” is more likely to bring forth unflattering images of a large woman, rather than a vision of the land of Israel, as Isaiah had intended. (Although, the word did originally refer to a married woman, so the comparison may not be as far-fetched as one might think.)
Modern churches tend to pick names that are more evocative of today’s sensibilities – New Spring, Grace, New Life, etc., etc. – or they are more place specific or pick names of neighborhoods, such as Brookwood. I can’t think of any newer congregation that has selected one of the old Biblical names.