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Service at Big A Highlights Nazarene Convention

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Second base was lost underneath a decorative stage supporting two college choirs. Home plate was draped in flowers shaped to portray a wreath of flames and a dove in flight. And the enormous video screen above right field--ordinarily flashing batting averages and instant replays--projected 30,000 Nazarenes rising from the stands for a chorus of “Amazing Grace.”

The Sunday morning communion service at Anaheim Stadium was the highlight of a nine-day general assembly of the International Church of the Nazarene, the church’s first convention in California since its founding in Los Angeles in 1895.

Setting a Course

The service--a combination of hymns, prayers and spiritual guidance setting a course for the 750,000-member church over the next four years--was broadcast over loudspeakers to the 30,000 faithful in the bleachers and translated into Portuguese, Spanish, French, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Zulu for Nazarene delegates in attendance from throughout the world.

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“I think we have just begun to sense that we are in the house of God. It is no longer a stadium. God is in this place,” Eugene L. Stowe, general superintendent of the church, proclaimed in a prayer that began for a missing 12-year-old girl and concluded with a plea for the 40 hostages from a TWA airliner being held captive in Beirut.

“If this one moment could be spread all over the world, war would end. Hatred would die,” avowed V. H. Lewis, a retiring church superintendent.

For the City of Anaheim, the Nazarene general assembly, which opened Thursday and closes this Friday, represents the single largest convention of the summer and an estimated $16,000 in revenues.

For the church, it is a forum for adopting new policies, electing new leaders and overseeing progress in the church’s worldwide educational and missionary programs that have spawned 8,000 Nazarene congregations throughout the United States and in 75 foreign nations.

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The church, which describes itself as “conservative evangelical” rather than fundamental or charismatic--meaning that it shuns a “wooden view” of the Bible and such outright spiritual manifestations as “speaking in tongues"--has a much less focused political agenda than many of its evangelical counterparts.

‘Agenda Is Not Political’

Though the church is opposed to abortion, homosexuality, pornography and other “songs, literature and entertainments not to the glory of God,” general secretary B. Edgar Johnson said the church encourages its congregations to act on those issues within their own families and their own communities.

“Our agenda is not political. We have been one church that has deliberately sought to avoid that kind of thing,” said Johnson.

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“We don’t tell them what to do in their community. We say, join forces locally where you live and make your influence felt. Try to get laws passed through your own community council. Remember your responsibility with your own family, and don’t allow the home to be eroded by, for example, the videocassettes that we’ve brought into the home; we must not allow the decency of the home to be eroded.”

Nazarenes also encourage their members to refrain from drinking or smoking--a message at odds with the large stadium billboards touting Marlboro and proclaiming that “This Bud’s For You” on either side of the video display during Sunday’s service.

Church leaders had initially proposed covering the billboards, confessed convention press director Mark Graham, but when stadium officials protested that they were part of a long-term advertising contract, he said, “We decided to let Providence take care of it.”

Providence, so far, has been kind to the denomination. Several decades of tremendous growth leveled off during the 1960s and early 1970s, but the church has now resumed an annual growth rate of 2 1/2% to 3%, which has boosted average weekly attendance to 1.2 million.

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Sunday night, Nazarene leaders announced a goal of 1 million full-fledged members by 1995--a 25% increase which Johnson said could be achieved through a continued strong focus on missionary programs and efforts to “plant” new churches in communities not presently represented.

Church members said this week’s assembly will spark new energy to carry on that work--in addition to providing a chance to renew old acquaintances. Explained Grace Burton of the 500-member Nazarene Church in New Zealand: “It’s good being together with all these people who believe and think the same way you do.”


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