A new name for a new age

Karen Laister, our head of marketing, communications and strategic relationships, explains why the time has come to change our name.

17 September 2023

In my 30-plus years with BRF, when I’ve talked about the charity, I’ve sometimes used the full name, Bible Reading Fellowship, and at other times I’ve simply said ‘BRF’. I’ve found myself smiling when I’ve said ‘Bible Reading Fellowship’ and been told ‘you mean BRF’ or I’ve said ‘BRF’ and been corrected: ‘You mean Bible Reading Fellowship.’ In the nicest possible way, I couldn’t win!

But what has always been clear is that whether people refer to the charity as BRF or the Bible Reading Fellowship, they do so with great affection and warmth. It’s a huge tribute to the organisation that so many people have been lifelong readers of our Bible reading notes and often take the time to tell us how important our work has been in inspiring, sustaining and resourcing their Christian faith and discipleship.

Hello, BRF Ministries

And now, as we enter our second century, we have a new variation on our much-loved name: from this month, we are changing our name to BRF Ministries to reflect the nature of the organisation as it is today. In recent years BRF has become the home of an exciting family of ministries that people know and love. Anna Chaplaincy, Living Faith, Messy Church and Parenting for Faith each reflect our bold and pioneering work in action. Each is making a unique contribution to people’s lives, while sharing our overriding passion to inspire people of all ages to grow in Christian faith.

We used the occasion of our centenary to reflect carefully and prayerfully on our past, present and future. As we have worked on this project over the past couple of years, we’ve come to believe that our new name will help us to talk to a whole new generation about our diverse but complementary family of ministries. For people who have always known and valued us, we are still very recognisably BRF – but the addition of the word ‘Ministries’ refocuses our identity for a new audience and a new era.

Re-envisioning and renewal

The centenary in 2022 rightly concentrated on the beginnings of BRF, the vision of our founder, Canon Leslie Mannering, and the congregation of St Matthew’s in Brixton. It gave us the opportunity to remind ourselves of Leslie’s bold vision, prompted and led by the Spirit. Reading his early, hand-duplicated newsletters, I sensed the excitement of the new venture and saw afresh how, from the very beginning, BRF has been an organisation that has adapted creatively to the needs of the times and experienced a number of periods of renewal and fresh vision.

The Queen Mother recognised the dynamic life of the charity when she gave her address at BRF’s 25th anniversary service in 1947. Speaking about the challenges people faced following World War II, she said that the burdens of the day could be tempered when, through ‘prayer and Bible reading, we learn to live in the strength and power of God’. Then, she continued, ‘we might well go forward in confidence and hope’.

In the past 25 years, we have seen BRF adopt and embrace new areas of ministry. As at other times in our history we’ve evolved to meet new opportunities and changing environments and we’ve relived the same excitement of stepping out in faith that St Matthew’s experienced in the early 1920s.

When the ministry was founded, it was known as The Fellowship of St Matthew’s, reflecting its small and local beginnings. But the hunger for Bible reading notes and prayers was so great, its influence quickly spread beyond that small patch of south London and in the mid-1930s The Fellowship of St Matthew’s was renamed The Bible Reading Fellowship, to reflect its new reach and role. In particular, the new name explained the essence of the work of the fellowship and was a more meaningful descriptor for a newer, wider audience with no knowledge of St Matthew’s and the movement that had grown from it.

The early trustees must have wrestled with the same question that we have faced in recent years: how best to describe what we do.

What’s in a name?

It’s become increasingly clear that neither ‘BRF’ nor the ‘Bible Reading Fellowship’ accurately or meaningfully describe the rich and varied totality of the work of our four ministries, nor the many ways in which individuals, groups and churches can benefit from it. We have considered changing our name completely, but this has never felt right because it was so important to acknowledge the golden thread that links us to our past. Hence the new name, BRF Ministries: it retains our heritage but encompasses all that we do today. As Richard Fisher, our chief executive, has said: ‘We look forward to this new era in the life of BRF Ministries with great excitement for all that is to come, but also with a deep sense of gratitude for God’s faithfulness and provision for the road we have travelled.’

Shakespeare’s Juliet famously asked, ‘What’s in a name?’, suggesting that it was a trivial detail which prevented her from being with her beloved Romeo. But the whole tragedy of the star-crossed lovers is rooted in the deeply held family identities encapsulated in the names Capulet and Montague. There is nothing trivial in a name – indeed, in some cultures, names are tightly guarded: the giving of one’s name gives the recipient power over you.

Names aren’t trivial. They are really important – just think how many mentions there are in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, of the power of a name.

Different voices, shared mission

The change to BRF Ministries enables us to talk about Anna Chaplaincy, Living Faith, Messy Church and Parenting for Faith as the activities of the charity. Each ministry has its own voice, purpose and identity, but they share a vision for inspiring people of all ages to grow in Christian faith and their home is within the BRF family.

Do explore our new website to discover the breadth of what we do and to see how our work is sustained. Please support us in whatever way you can: by praying, by volunteering, by purchasing our resources and by giving. If you can display our new leaflet in your church, please contact us for copies. Above all, please pray for us and with us in the words of our new BRF Ministries prayer, written by Martyn Payne:

Faithful God,
thank you for growing BRF
from small beginnings
into a worldwide family of ministries.
We rejoice as young and old
discover you through your word
and grow daily in faith and love.
Keep us humble in your service,
ambitious for your glory
and open to new opportunities.
For your name’s sake

Keep in touch with all the news from BRF Ministries.

Karen has been at BRF Ministries since 1991 and oversees the whole of marketing and communications for the organisation. This involves developing a communications strategy to reach both existing and new audiences through digital and print marketing. Karen is also responsible for developing relationships and initiatives with other organisations and is the lead for our Holy Habits discipleship initiative.

Award for BRF Ministries

We were very excited to learn that BRF Ministries has won the inaugural ‘Supplier Impact of the Year Award’ for its highly regarded Spiritual Care Series course, designed to help churches seeking to develop their ministry to older people. The award was announced at last week’s CRT conference at Swanwick.

Kate Gunning of the Booksellers Association (pictured with Karen below) said: ‘The Booksellers Association was delighted to sponsor the Supplier Impact of the Year Award at this year’s CRT. Warmest congratulations to BRF Ministries on their win, in recognition of the superb work they do to inspire, equip and support people of all ages to grow in faith.’

Karen and Kate Gunning CRT SCS award