As some of you know, I converted from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy a few years ago. However, lately I must admit I’ve been a bit nostalgic for my old Protestant denomination: The Church of the Nazarene. You must understand that my great-grandmother was Nazarene, which made me 4th generation Nazarene – not bad for just a 100-year old denomination! My Dad was a Nazarene minister for I think 13 or 14 years, then both my parents were Nazarene missionaries in Thailand for 11 years. I went to countless District Assemblies and General Assemblies. In fact, this is the first year since I was 11 that I did not go to General Assembly (for you non-Nazarenes, that is a quadrennial meeting of all Nazarenes). The Nazarene Church was more than just my church; it was my family. Every time we’d go to these meetings, part of the fun was meeting up with old friends, other Nazarenes who had crossed our path at one point or another.
Steven and I kept up with General Assembly news on the net – the Nazarenes elected their first international General Superintendent this time! In many ways, I wish I had been there. But then there would have been the uncomfortable conversations about how I am no longer Nazarene, but I am Orthodox. I grew up with a lot of expectations for me to be a minister/missionary in the Nazarene Church. I’m sure I could have had a career and a voice in the Church if I’d stayed. But I didn’t. When I was pregnant with our first child, we chose the Church we wanted to raise our kids in.
Today I went to the Tennessee District Assembly for a short while to see a Will Knox (my brother) Memorial Scholarship get awarded to a Trevecca student. From the moment I entered the building to the moment I left, I was greeted by old friends. It was great to see some of these people – several of them who shaped who I am today – an old college pastor, an old Sunday School teacher. I realized how much I missed the friendly, loving, extended family feel of the Nazarene Church.
One of my profs in college told us that conversion is forward-looking and backward-looking. Today I was definitely looking backward, savoring and missing all that I came from. However, there were several signs that forced me to look forward to what I have chosen. First, we sat through several prayers, congregational singing, and two solo singers. The applause after the singers was my first sign. In the Orthodox Church, other than an occasional cantor singing alone, we don’t have solos. The choir is actually in the back of the church. And we certainly never clap for anyone. There is no room for performance in an Orthodox Liturgy. (Yes, we do Christmas plays. In the fellowship hall. Not during a service.) There is no room for glorifying one person over another. The second sign was that after the second solo, my daughter leaned over to me and said, “I thought we were here for Jesus.” The third sign was the foyer area of the church. It basically looked like a Starbucks. There were little coffee-shop tables and chairs everywhere, and a snack/coffee bar. There were a couple of large-screen TVs playing the service that was happening just steps away in the sanctuary. When we left, we noticed several people sitting at these tables watching the service on the screen. As you can see, this church – as do many other Protestant churches – has come to believe that in order to evangelize people, the church has to look just like the world. I disagree with that. The church should welcome all, but becoming super user-friendly dumbs down the church and takes away its identity and history.
In the end, there will always be a small part of me that misses the COTN. And there will always be a big part of me that still loves it. And maybe I gave up on it too early. But the Orthodox Church is now my spiritual home. It teaches my children (and me) right worship and right praise. It offers us visual and physical connections to their faith. It grounds us in a rich history of the church and the faith. Conversion.