Blog — 19th June 2023
After the 2023 General Assembly [of the International Church of the Nazarene], I found myself deep in thought, reflecting on everything that took place and how it took place. Below are some of my reflections in no particular order or priority, originally posted to my Twitter account. As these were originally tweets, sentences and thoughts are snipped down in places to allow for digestible reading. I’ve combined a few, and extended a couple, so it is slightly easier to read here in a blog format.
So…first, I loved being with people. What a joy!
Incredibly strong leaders are everywhere. Some of the younger leaders were immense. We have great preachers, and I was glad we found room for faithful doubting, loyal questioning. We should be asking of every speaker (imaginatively):
- What’s your story?
- Where do you hurt?
- What’s the essence of your passion?
- What is your fear?
There a good many Wesleyan-Holiness Nazarenes in the church, willing to engage, disagree agreeably, and arrive at a place good for all. But there is definitely a very strong voice on each “edge” of the church. When the edges are strong and voice their thoughts with respect, our centre is strengthened. Gossip, libel and slander, once named, forces us all in two directions: to perpetuate it knowingly (sin) or deal directly with the person, or, if egregious, with discipline.
The global church outside the USA is strong, diverse, and astute, though we didn’t translate (literally translate, our operating language is English) well on occasion. Our processes must be improved, so that years of labour is not lost. I feel it should be done like this, when sent by the assembly:
- Crafted in draft by the breadth of us: global and with “edges” invested in process
- Widely consulted about in draft
- Redrafted again and again
- Explained at length and in detail in district assemblies by competent leaders
- Reviewed by the special judicial committee before General Assembly
- Only then presented by the BGS to the General Assembly
Training in polity, practice, and chairing must continue to equip leaders. Theologically articulately leaders from the globe should be training lay and clergy delegates and supporting them. Kindness, a fruit of the Spirit, and robust dialogue (see Jerusalem council) are not enemies.
There was a tone that said no words should change, and doctrine shouldn’t change. When people say that, I wonder if they mean we should revert to 1908? At that time, Nazarenes had less than 2 pages on essentials, and we had 76 pages as our manual. I could live with that. In fact, would welcome brevity and empowering trust.
On the other hand, the rejection of many things that would have enabled old ideas in new language to reach new generations was a shame and stood us still. Of course, people involved in mission, ministry, and connection to our cultures are always translating, always renewing and always finding ways of conveying old, good, deep, blessings, in new ways for our days. That’s part of our call.
Then, there was the revealing of anxious hearts and a level of deep suspicion of “academics.” For a church that has been from our earliest days embedded in education and development, the inference that godly biblical and theological academics are not intrinsically embedded in deep love for the church felt almost scandalous to me. How had we arrived here? I tried not to be too defensive and to listen well to undercurrents of fear and suspicion. But, on the whole, I thought that all of us need to learn to know one another and rediscover the beauty of a church ecosystem that is thoughtful, deep, developing, and orthodox.
Of course not everyone thinks the same way – what a disaster that would be for us! Of course integrity is needed in the participants in theological discussion, and, for the commissions I’ve sat on, the honest truth is that in spite of the diverse voices in the room, we often end up with something that seems good to us and the Holy Spirit.
The vitality of our college’s historical motto “scholarship on fire” felt so real to me – our ministry, calling, passion, heart for the church, in service to Christ through the church, is deeply embedded in our calling as leaders, teachers, mentors, and pastoral carers – midwifing the church and its people in preparedness to serve the world and its dynamic changes. It seemed even more important now.
Time was scheduled relentlessly. I’m not someone able to function well without exercise, being outside, sleep, and eating healthy food. We need to find a walking pace so that our souls can be fed, and good reflection can happen. A lack of trust of one another may be overcome if we have longer breaks, share food together, and all be seated alphabetically by surname.
Diversity of appearance doesn’t mean diversity of thought. We hide from differences if our diversity is simply performative. It can be painful when we are different, so we must develop muscle memory for grace, mercy, and empathy so that listening is our first stance.
There is no shaming in pruning, grafting, etc. Somethings should be able to die. Dying well is part of our hope. Midwifing the new is bloody and takes courage.
Deep learning liberates.
All of Church history, not just the last 125 years, must be taught to our people. Our own history and theological formation needs to be widely understood and interpreted in each context including Scriptural authority and reason. Deep learning liberates.
We should sing in multiple languages, preach in our heart languages, pray more in participatory ways, and re-examine our assumptions more. We should also conduct business in the primary language of the leader chairing and provide translation from Portuguese, Spanish, etc into English. Folks might not get frustrated with delays, repetition, and broken language because they’d hopefully understand that it’s exhausting & functioning in your additional language, perhaps even your third additional language. It’s very difficult, exhausting, and inevitably error occurs. We need to be compassionate, empathetic, and global.
We non-Americans in the church of 2023 are much different than we were in the 1990s and 2000s when we were colonised in our minds, our systems, and our leading. We are not who we were. Our diversity is strong. Good. Deep. We’re free to develop. We won’t look identical. Nor should we. Accordingly, we should find a country for gathering where more people can get access to visas. 17 Indian delegates didn’t get visas and could not vote.
Where’s the power? What’s at stake as it wanes? How we will become a church in solidarity with the poor of the world? Perhaps declined central funds are a blessing.
We non-Americans in the church of 2023 are much different than we were in the 1990s and 2000s when we were colonised in our minds, our systems, and our leading. We are not who we were. Our diversity is strong. Good. Deep. We’re free to develop. We won’t look identical. Nor should we.
I was torn from day one about being in the General Superintendent election. (For non-Nazarenes, this is the global leadership of the denomination, elected by 2/3 majority every four years.) At least for now, I am a better prophet and servant of the Church than a gatekeeper and guardian. I love the church, but I couldn’t move to the USA that quickly, and I’m ethically conflicted about long-haul flying. My current contract can’t be finished in 30 days. I would be constrained from every disagreeing in public with the church, and I think we need to do better in some areas, and I think our structure needs to change significantly. And, I am called to NTC and our way of serving the Church for now.
A word that kept coming to my mind was “trust.” I kept hearing things like
- “I hear from…”
- “Social media says…”
- “They/pastors want wiggle room”
- “They want to destroy…”
The Holy Spirit showed up. I believe after Fili Chambo prayed for forgiveness for us all, our collective tone changed. Conversations happened. Truth was told. Hardheartedness defeated. Hospitality grew.
I am called to NTC and our way of serving the Church.
I missed Dan Copp, our former Global Education Director who passed away in 2021, deeply as someone tender with a big heart. We could always talk about power, reactionary thinking, fear and hope. I was on my own, but I discovered again that I was pastored by many who demonstrated love, friends old and new. I was also adopted by a friend who changed plans to support me there.
Those in the role of General Superintendent in any church need to be prayed for fervently. There are significant changes now for them to work through: World Mission, Regional Leaders, structural review, Articles of Faith, referrals–the list goes on. It’s going to be a fast four years.
I learn best when I can chat with people. I kept thinking, “This would be amazing at a round table.”
We must develop muscle memory for grace, mercy, and empathy so that listening is our first stance.
And speaking of in-person and relational… and in utter transparency: I also saw and heard things that were at best misinterpretations and at worst libelous. There were four people who came to me in person to ask about rumours that they’d heard or things they’d been told. I have nothing but admiration for them. I was grateful (though shocked initially) and utterly shredded in a way that had nothing to do with my withdrawal. But because I withdrew from the running for General Superintendent, I could speak to it from the floor. Without that, I might have be seen as campaigning which would have felt compromised in my integrity. That gave me a small sense of the constraint I’d perhaps feel if I had been elected.
The wooden pulpit made of reclaimed wood, crafted by a master craftsman, symbolic of Christ’s reconciliation, should be use all the time. I’m happy to not see people’s legs in favour of a simple cross. For those not there, the wooden pulpit was made of reclaimed wood from a church in the USA where the leaders had gifted a wooden church to an African American congregation whose building had burned down. They said this:
With humiliation we confess that we and our fathers, of the white race, of this country [USA], have not done near as much as we might have done toward the well-being and advancement of the colored race and are willing to take our part of the blame for the unneighborly and unbrotherly feeling which has sprung up and seems to be growing every day.
Texas Holiness Association
I love that we were called to gospel, scriptural holiness, reconciliation, love for the world, and people in their wholeness. At our best, we have call to serve those on the margins: all of them. Faithful to that, we thrive.