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Originally published March 27, 2011 at 7:34 PM | Page modified March 27, 2011 at 7:34 PM

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Mars Hill Graduate School — not Mars Hill Church — is changing its name

What's in a name? For Mars Hill Graduate School in Belltown, the answer has been, in a word, confusion, with people wrongly presuming the progressive Christian school is connected to the better known — and considerably more conservative — Mars Hill Church, headquartered in Ballard. So, after 14 years, the misunderstood school is changing its name.

Seattle Times staff reporter

What's in a name?

For Mars Hill Graduate School in Belltown, the answer has been, in a word, confusion.

Almost since the Christian school opened some 14 years ago, people have wrongly presumed it's connected to Mars Hill Church — especially as the Ballard-based church became widely known and opened many branches, including one in Belltown.

At career fairs and conferences "it's very common for individuals to walk up to our booth and say: 'Oh, Mars Hill Church. I didn't know they had a school,' " said Nicole Greenwald, the school's manager of admissions. "Sometimes I'll get 15 minutes into a conversation and realize" they're talking about the church.

Some folks even wander inside the red-brick graduate school on the corner of Elliott Avenue and Wall Street thinking it is the megachurch and asking when the service starts.

In fact, the two institutions are decidedly not related, the 300-student school considering itself progressive while the church, which draws more than 10,000 people each week to its nine campuses, is outspokenly conservative theologically.

Now, all those years of explaining what it's not are coming to an end for Mars Hill Graduate School, which plans to change its name to one it hopes will convey its openness to discussing different theological viewpoints as well as its expanding programs. The school board is scheduled to decide in late April what the new name will be.

"I think our students, faculty and staff are tired of having to explain who we're not, and we're ready to start explaining who we are," said school spokesman Josué Blanco.

Founded in the 1990s as a branch of the Portland-based Western Seminary, the nondenominational school has been independent since 2002 and offers graduate degrees in counseling psychology, divinity and Christian studies. Among its graduates are women who go on to become pastors.

Mars Hill Church, founded in 1996, does not have women as pastors, holding to the view that men and women have different, if complementary, roles in the church and in the home.

Both church and school are named after a hill in Athens where the high court met and where the Apostle Paul is said to have delivered his speech proclaiming his understanding of one God and belief that people could be saved through Jesus.

Like other churches with biblical names, such as Bethany or Calvary, there are many other churches nationwide, and at least one other school — Mars Hill College in North Carolina — named after that hill.

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The school in Seattle has been mulling a name change for several years now.

With the school now expanding, hosting forums and lectures and offering a new certificate program on abuse and trauma counseling, Blanco said, "the timing now feels so right."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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