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The Gift of Oddity

Eric-FreyI am delighted to share a “guest post” with you from a FB friend, Eric Frey. Eric is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and pastors two Churches of the Nazarene in eastern Central Ohio. He is also pursuing a D.Min (with an emphasis in Liturgical Studies) at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. I invite you to open your heart and mind to what he has to say about our church (the Church of the Nazarene in particular), worship and the sacraments:

Every once in a while, some fellow Nazarene reminds me just how odd a Nazarene I am. I understand that. I accept that. I am an odd Nazarene.

I am odd for lots of reasons. In a Nazarene world where practics reign the day, and where the ends always justify the means, I reject both firmly believing that if we want to get the practics right, we have to first get the theology right, and that the means are the end.

In a Nazarene world that is soundly embedded in the pietistic notion that grace is somehow mediated spiritually, I hold fast to the catholic notion that grace is mediated sacramentally through the physical world.

In a Nazarene world that clothes itself in the best practices of the business world, I clothe myself in the ecclesial garb of collars, cassocks, surplices, and stoles.

In a Nazarene world where worship is anything a local church wants it to be, and where programs are the key to making Christlike disciples, I am completely sold on the ancient understanding that worship is the shared practice of a catholic liturgy, and that rehearsing that catholic liturgy is the best tool the church has for making Christlike disciples.

As I think about these commitments that make me a very odd Nazarene, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because we just elected two General Superintendents and both of them have earned a PhD in a theological field. While both have proven to be excellent practitioners, they have the academic ability to guide us and shape us theologically. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

I am optimistic because in recent years our denomination has moved from requiring the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated quarterly to encouraging all churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently. At our most recent General Assembly we passed resolutions to rewrite both Articles of Faith on the sacraments to bring them more in line with a thoroughly Wesleyan (and soteriological) sacramental theology. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

I am optimistic because when I left seminary was appointed to my current church, the first thing I bought was a collar, an alb, and a stole. I waited until I was ordained to wear them as these things are traditionally a sign of ordination. Back then I think Todd Stepp was the only person I knew who wore ecclesial garb, but today I see more and more people adopting and advocating these Christian practices. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

But while I am optimistic for lots of reasons, I am also still a frustrated oddball. Frustrated because I see our denomination fracturing. Frustrated because I see our intentional choice to reject the single most formative tool in our disciple-making toolbox. Frustrated because while we are moving in the right direction in so many areas, our liturgical progress is backward.

If we are committed to making Christ-like disciples, we need to realize that liturgy is the single most formative tool in our tool box. Ritual studies tell us that people are shaped most profoundly by the rituals (habits) they rehearse over and over and over again. This isn’t a church thing. This isn’t a catholic-protestant thing. This is a human thing. A couple years ago I was perusing and airport bookstore while waiting to catch a flight. I discovered that among the top books on the best selling list was one called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” The business world gets it — but we still reject liturgy as the necessary foundation of making Christ-like disciples.

If we are committed to being a unified denomination, we need to realize that liturgy is not only formative for persons, but for groups as well. Whenever someone suggests we need to move to a regionalized polity rather than a global one, someone else always reminds us that we are a global church, not a federation of smaller groups. But a united church entails far more than a shared polity — it entails a shared liturgy. Now that liturgy absolutely has to be contextualized, and liturgy alone will not hold us together, but just as liturgy is the most powerful tool the church has for shaping persons, a liturgy is also the most powerful tool the church has for maintaining unity amongst diversity.

Yes, I am still an odd ball Nazarene. And I am OK with that. I have learned to be content in my little corner of Nazarenedom. But please know that my little corner of Nazarenedom is a beautiful place to be. Ya’ll should come and visit a while. Who knows, maybe you’ll see the beauty and decide to stay a while. The door is always open.
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Copied from a Facebook post by the author. Used by permission.

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