When someone asks, “what’s the name of the church you pastor” and I respond, “Mars Hill,” three things happen:
- A blank stare
- They ask: “Are you affiliated with the church that disbanded in Seattle, WA?” (NO! We were Mars Hill before they were)
- They ask: “Are you affiliated with Rob Bell and the church in Grand Rapids, MI?” (see #2)
History makes one’s life richer by giving meaning to the origin. It broadens one’s outlook and enables one to grasp an understanding of one’s being by shedding light on its past. Since it is Black History Month, I would like to share the history behind why we chose Mars Hill as our name.
The Origin of our Name
The Areopagus or Areios Pagos is the “Hill of Ares” or Mars Hill. It is located northwest of the Acropolis in Athens.
In classical times, the Areopagus functioned as the chief homicide court of Athens. It is known as the location where Ares was supposed to have been tried by the Gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son, Alirrothios. Also, the hill was said to be the site for the trial of Orestes, for killing Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, his stepmother and her lover.
In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders, in the city, and were much like the Roman Senate. Similar to the Senate, its membership derived from those who held high public office, in this case that would be the Archon. In 462 BC, Ephialtes put forth reforms, which deprived the Areopagus of mostly all its functions, except the murder tribunal.
At the foot of the Areopagus was a temple dedicated to the Erinyes, where murderers would find shelter, in an effort not to face the consequences of their actions. Near the Areopagus, the Basilica of Dionysius Areopagites was constructed. The basilica was a rectangular building used as a town hall and law courts. It was used in the Christian period and served as the blueprint for early churches.