Friday, April 29, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Nazarenes Plan Regional Caucuses before General Assembly

The Church of the Nazarene recently announced plans related to their upcoming 30th General Assembly in 2023. The General Assembly is the denomination's highest body, analogous to The United Methodist Church's General Conference.

General Assembly had been scheduled for 2021, but the Nazarenes announced in June of 2020 that, due to travel difficulties and visa restrictions, General Assembly would be postponed until 2023. Like the UMC, the Nazarenes determined that an electronic or virtual meeting would not allow them to accomplish what was required by their Manual (the equivalent of the Book of Discipline). At the time of the postponement, they named "significant global participation via attendance and an appropriate emphasis on the health and safety of visitors and delegates" as goals for holding General Assembly.

In their recent update about General Assembly, the Church of the Nazarene acknowledged that, even though General Assembly is still over a year away, visa delays will prevent some delegates from attending. Delegates to General Assembly come from a very wide range of countries. The Church of the Nazarene will, however, continue with plans to hold General Assembly in June 2023, and still does not believe a virtual or distributed conference is feasible. Nevertheless, the Nazarene leadership emphasized that representation of all districts is important.

Fortunately for the Nazarenes, their Manual allows for several solutions: It provides more latitude for districts to select alternate delegates who already have visas. But more importantly, the Manual allows for early regional causes. Therefore, Nazarenes in regions outside the United States will gather by region before General Assembly meets to deliberate on the business of the General Assembly, make nominations for denomination-wide positions, and convey the results to the General Assembly via the delegates that can attend. While voting on final legislation is not possible at the regional caucuses, the recommendations will be taken into official consideration by the relevant legislative committees.

The Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene recognizes that this arrangement is still "not ideal." Nevertheless, it is a way to balance the stated value of global participation and the need to hold a General Assembly.

This plan is only possible, though, because the provisions of the Nazarene manual allow for it. The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline does not make similar provisions for early regional caucuses. Thus, this is not an alternative that the UMC could have taken to allow General Conference to meet in 2022.

But, it is a model that the UMC would be wise to keep in mind as it continues to develop its polity. I have previously suggested that regionalization would have prevented some of the problems with delaying General Conference 2020. The Church of the Nazarene shows that greater regionalization can also help address issues around equality of representation at denominational gatherings.

While the UMC cannot go back in time to prevent some of the problems associated with a delayed General Conference 2020, it can and should take steps to ensure that the next time General Conference is unable to meet or to meet fully--whether that is because of a future pandemic, war, climate disaster, or other reason--the church is able to be more flexible and respond better.

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