Monday, July 6, 2009

My General Assembly Top 10 Moments

The 27th General Assembly of the International Church of the Nazarene, the major legislative body of our denomination which meets every four years, was held last week in Orlando, Fl. I had the tremendous privilege of attending thanks to the generosity of the church where I pastor. Here were some of the highlights of the event from my perspective.

10. Lack of "Concerned Nazarenes". There is a group that calls themselves "concerned nazarenes" whose concern is over what they consider to be the heresies of the emergent church movement influencing the Church of the Nazarene. If you are not familiar with the emergent movement, I've written a little bit about it here and you can learn more about it at emergent village. Leading up to General Assembly, it sounded as if there might be a significant group of concerned Nazarenes who would make their voices heard at General Assembly. There were indeed "concerned nazarenes" present, easily identified by the polo shirts they had embroidered with the name of their group. However, it became quickly apparent that they were a very small minority among those present at assembly. While I still consider these concerned individuals to be my brothers and sisters in Christ and do not in anyway wish to exclude them from the fellowship of our denomination, I am glad to know that their voice is not the dominant one in our denomination. The emergent movement raises some valid criticisms of the modern day Church in North America and those of us in the Church of the Nazarene would do well to take those criticisms seriously as we follow Jesus.

9. Dr. Middendorf's Sermon. On our first night at assembly, Dr. Middendorf preached a relatively simple and straightforward message from Philippians 3:7-11. While there was nothing radical or surprising about his message, it was good to hear one of our General Superintendents affirm that one of our highest expressions of Christ's resurrection power at work within us is when we as a church practice solidarity with the suffering and broken in our world.

8. Workshops. There was a vast array of workshops about a variety of topics to choose from in the week leading up to assembly. It was encouraging to participate with fellow Nazarenes from around the world in considering how we can better live out our calling as the Church. I wrote in detail about one of those workshops here.

7. Cocoa Beach. Ok, so it would be dishonest if I didn't list going to the beach as one of my favorite activities of the past week and a half. On the very last day of our stay in Orlando, after all the business was concluded we were able to take a trip to Cocoa beach and had a great time there. There are some pictures here as well as some other pictures of Hannah throughout the time we were in Orlando.

6. Seeing Friends. One of the great things about going to the biggest event in our denomination is that we got to see a lot of friends from seminary and college and the churches we grew up in. It was great to catch up with some friends and colleagues in ministry that we hadn't seen in a while.

5. Dr. Diehl's honesty and transparency. Dr. Diehl spoke about healing in his sermon on Saturday night and had a time for people to come forward to be anointed for healing at the end of the service. So often messages about healing are completely unrealistic and disingenious in that they focus solely on miraculous stories of physical healing without acknowledging the real pain and suffering that continue to exist in our world. Dr. Diehl spoke confidently about God's ability to heal us in all kinds of ways, not just physically. But this confidence was given an uncommon depth and grace when he also spoke of the loss of his son to cancer just a year ago. Dr. Diehl was inspiringly honest about his hopes for his son when God began to speak to him about having a healing service at General Assembly. He believed that he would be able to call his son up on stage in that service at assembly as a powerful witness to the fact that God heals. Instead, Dr. Diehl's son lost his battle with cancer. Dr. Diehl's openness before a crowd of thousands was a powerful reminder that often we have to trust that God's healing power extends even beyond the grave.

4. The Revision of Article X. For the past two years, the Board of General Superintends had been working on a significant revision of our tenth article of faith on Entire Sanctification, an important part of our identity as Nazarenes. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the whole revision since the resolution was submitted too late to be printed for guests and therefore only the delegates got to see it in its fullness. However, what I did see of it looks very promising. It seemed to articulate a more wholistic understanding of holiness and entire sanctification. I hope to see the revised article in its entirety in just a few weeks at District Assembly since two thirds of the districts in the church must now ratify the change after having been adopted by the General Assembly.

3. International Church Committee Resolution. The ICC proposed major revisions to our Manual to help our church become more truly global in its mission and polity. Due to the fact that the Church of the Nazarene began primarily as a North America denomination, our organizational structures and modes of thought are still very North American in many ways despite our reality of being a global church. Allowing large sections of the manual to be regionalized will aid our church in becoming a more truly international denomination on every level. Nazarene Communications Network has a good summary of the ICC resolution here.

2. Sharing Communion with thousands of fellow Nazarenes. Sunday morning was by far the largest worship service during our time in Orlando. I haven't seen officials numbers for attendance but the enormous room of the convention center we were in was packed. It was a unique experience to have the opportunity to share in the Lord's Supper with that many brothers and sisters in Christ in one place at one time.

1. The Election of Eugenio Duarte to the office of General Superintendent. Easily the most exciting experience of this General Assembly was being present on Tuesday morning for the election of our first General Superintent from outside the United States. When the ballot was read and everyone realized that Eugenio had recieved enough votesto be elected, the enitre room exploded with cheers and applause. Fellow delegates from his home region of Africa immediately swarmed him and began to lift him up on their shoulders. Some were even running to him with the flag of his homeland of Cape Verde. This was a moment when the Church refused to be held captive by the constraints of its past and took a bold step forward into a new and hopeful future as a truly global denomination.

We also elected David Graves and Stan Toler to the Board of General Superintendents along with Duarte. These three join the three remaining generals; Jesse Middenorf, Jerry Porter, and J.K. Warrick. Other notable events of this General Assembly included the opening service Wednesday night when delegates from around the world entered carrying the flags of their nations, the announcement that Nazarene Youth Congress 2011 will be in Louisville, KY, the election of our first Nazarene Missions International President from outside the U.S. (Jennifer Brown of Jamaica), and the participation of international delegates in the Nazarene Youth International Convention via videoconferencing.

You can view a complete list of actions taken by the assembly on various resolutions at this link.

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