On February 26, 2021, Dr. Carla Sunberg delivered the annual Board of General Superintendents’ Report during the 97th Session of the General Board. This year’s General Board was held virtually.
Sunberg’s report, titled “A Journey of Grace,” was met with enthusiastic approval by the members of the General Board, officers, Global Ministry Center directors and staff, regional directors, and leaders from The Foundry Publishing.
To view this year’s report, click here
An extract from the report can be found below. God is moving in some amazing ways!
GOD’S GRACE IN THE MIDST OF A STORMY JOURNEY
As the pandemic developed, we discovered that 2020 would become a year defined by unexpected restrictions that affected nearly every aspect of our lives and ministry. Almost instantaneously, we had to learn new ways to be the Church and respond as God’s people. However, through it all, the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ has brought comfort to our lives. His grace has been a constant companion, reminding us daily that Jesus remains “the way and the truth and the life.”
In the midst of a year where our calendars changed almost weekly, we have been keenly aware of the presence of the One who does not change.
We watched the church mobilize into action around the world. Local churches reached out to their communities and provided food for those struck the hardest by the economic challenges caused by the pandemic. Districts organized health and safety teams, educating churches on how to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as providing medical care and treatment for those who fell ill. Congregations established educational support centers to help children who had to attend school by virtual means. As a result, stories of hope have continued to emerge on a regular basis, and we have seen the church rise up to meet the needs of both the church and the community.
Sometimes we fail to recognize the presence of God’s grace in the midst of turbulence. It is easy to become discouraged and focus on the storm that is raging around us. Grace reminds us that there is always another perspective. Joseph’s words to his brothers when they were reunited in Egypt are an encouragement to us today as we continue to live with this virus: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Throughout this storm, the Church has reached out to touch and save the lives of many.
GOD’S GRACE IN THE LIFE OF PEOPLE
Sometimes God’s gracious presence is so near that we are led gently into glory. John Wesley believed so strongly in dying grace that the first generation of Methodists were known as a people who died well. His emphasis on grace that provides assurance of God’s love and forgiveness meant that we do not need to fear death. Wesley often shared the stories of those who died well because he understood that to die well, one had to live well.
We have experienced the loss of a number of spiritual giants over the last 12 months, including the passing of three of our emeriti general superintendents: Dr. Gene Stowe, Dr. Jerald Johnson, and Dr. Paul Cunningham. Dr. Thomas Nees, urban missions practitioner and the denomination’s first Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Director, passed away January 24, 2021. We are also grateful for the life and service of our missionaries around the world. Since our last report, 10 retired missionaries received their eternal reward. Their combined service totaled 356 years for the Church of the Nazarene and the kingdom of God.
Month by month, we began to realize the impact that COVID-19 was having across our global church. In one of our Mexico districts alone, the virus affected over 500 members and 27 died. On the South America Region, 10 percent of all our district superintendents were infected. Let’s take a moment to recognize the impact and loss that we have experienced this past year.
Lord, we join with the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, in lamenting, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations!” (Lamentations 1:1). This last year has seen a disease ravage our world and touch our congregations, families, and friends. Today, we pray for all those who have lost loved ones in this pandemic. We pray that the God of all comfort will surround each one whose heart is broken from the pain of loss.
Just as those of the holiness movement that birthed our church, may we be a people who live and die well in the loving grace of our heavenly Father. We join with Paul in declaring, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” May the Holy Spirit continue to be with us through this season, comforting and leading us by God’s divine love and power. Amen.
GOD’S GRACE IN THE MISSION
This has been a year of adaptation, where we have experienced God’s grace in the midst of the mission. Thankfully, technology was immediately available to help keep the people of God connected during this time. We watched as the creativity of our local churches became apparent in the midst of great challenge. From Zoom small groups, YouTube and WhatsApp worship, the church continued to focus on the mission. The church’s online presence became exponentially larger than it had ever been in the past, taking the good news of Jesus outside the walls of our buildings.
When technology was not available, people traveled to towns and villages to preach in the open-air, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of COVID-19, Nazarenes have planted new churches in communities that needed to experience the hope found in Jesus. Churches in Peru reached out to reopen churches in Paraguay; a church in Virginia adopted and reopened their mother church in a community that had become almost entirely unchurched. The church has kept adapting, and in the process, has continued to minister.
Responding to the needs of our church members and communities became a priority. Faced with unknown health and economic challenges, the church became an instrument of God’s grace in tangible ways. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries immediately mobilized to respond to the needs. This crisis exposed the value of our interconnectedness as a denomination because of the already established networks through regions, districts, and local churches.
Throughout the year 2020, NCM helped to sponsor 192 specific projects related to the pandemic with over 450,000 beneficiaries in 88 countries. Nearly 400 districts were involved in these projects and almost 6,000 churches with close to $1.7 million disbursed. This does not include all of the projects and ministries that local churches carried out without the use of NCM funds.
IMPACT ON GIVING
During 2020, our global church, educational institutions, districts, and local congregations all faced significant financial uncertainty as the global pandemic forced most of our local church congregations to suspend in-person worship services beginning in March. Many of our local congregations reported declining income after that time, which also caused declines in World Evangelism giving in the last half of fiscal 2020. However, because of the continuing faithfulness of Nazarene congregations, receipts for the World Evangelism Fund for fiscal 2020 as a whole were only 1.4 percent lower than the previous year. Giving for Mission Specials declined by only 0.4 percent.
In order to meet the financial challenges of declining revenues, the Board of General Superintendents implemented austerity measures during 2020, which included the suspension of all discretionary spending and the elimination of most travel and events. In July, after much prayerful reflection, we also took the regretful but necessary action to reduce our Global Ministry Center staff by 25 percent and implemented a hiring freeze.
As we move forward, the Lord is helping us to find new ways of leveraging technology that will allow us to continue our mission effectively. We also know the year ahead may continue to hold some financial uncertainty. Therefore, our Senior Leadership Team used a reduced projection of 13.4 percent in World Evangelism giving to build our fiscal 2021 budget. Even with a reduced overall budget, our highest priority for 2021 is to maintain our current level of missionaries deployed around the world.
The members of the Board of General Superintendents are usually on the road. However, since March of 2020, the BGS has met together nearly every single week, and often twice a week, via Zoom. Probably no BGS in the history of the Church of the Nazarene has spent this much time together. The purpose of our meetings has been to remain up to date on the life of the church and the adaptations we would need to make during the pandemic. We developed a set of temporary rulings to help churches and districts navigate the jurisdictional challenges they were facing. The vast majority of districts cancelled their assemblies and tasked the District Advisory Committee with caring for the essential business of the district.
Members of the Board of General Superintendents used technology to meet on a more regular basis with leadership in their international jurisdictions. Some assemblies convened via Zoom, and teaching and training events for district development took place virtually. A few districts in the United States were able to hold special ordination services while following strict protocols to maintain the health and safety of all involved.
One of the rich manifestations of grace comes through the gathering of the global church family in the General Assembly. The next Assembly was scheduled for the summer of 2021, but as the year wore on, and with the advice of Nazarene healthcare experts, it was determined that the General Assembly would need to be delayed. Taking into account the amount of time it would take for a vaccine to become available in all world areas and for economies to recover, the General Assembly Commission made the difficult decision to move the General Assembly to June 9-16, 2023. It is important that we provide enough time for recovery so that the entirety of our church family is able to attend and be represented appropriately.
LEANING INTO THE MISSION
Paul’s concluding remarks to the church in Corinth found in 2 Corinthians 13:14 are an appropriate benediction but also a blessing for us in the year 2021: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
In this one small verse, Paul captures the entire journey of grace that we embrace from a Wesleyan framework of understanding: prevenient grace, saving grace, and sanctifying grace, all found within the life and work of the Triune God. God’s people, all of us, are invited to live under grace in the love of God and through fellowship, filled with the Holy Spirit.
Far too often, we are hard on ourselves, unwilling to accept the love that God is pouring out on us. God’s grace is lavished on all, for God does not want any to be lost. We read about it over and over again. In Luke chapter 15, we find prevenient grace overflowing in Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The shepherd, acting with prevenient grace, leaves the 99 and goes in search of the one lamb that is missing. The lost sheep is of great value to the shepherd. In the story of the lost coin, we find the woman sweeping her house, searching every nook and cranny for her coin. She represents our heavenly Father, doing all that He can to find His lost ones. The house will be swept and every corner searched until the coin is retrieved. This is grace, lavished on those who do not deserve it. And grace is seen in the father who stands on the side of the road, day after day, waiting for his prodigal to come home. He is waiting, always with open arms and filled with abundant love.
In 2020, we were forced outside the walls of our church buildings, and God used this to help the church become a vehicle to bring prevenient grace into communities, airways, and even social media. God’s grace is revealed when we practice the incarnational presence of Jesus among those who are poor and needy. Prevenient grace circulates as Christian sisters and brothers stand for justice in the world and work toward reconciliation among all of God’s children.
In this report, we have celebrated the lives of those who died well in the Lord. The testimony of Christians who live and die well serve as instruments of prevenient grace. Many a child, grandchild, friend, or acquaintance has turned to Christ because of the long-term witness of a loved one who refused to succumb to the temptations of the world.
This past year certainly has been a journey of grace. God’s grace has taken us through many a surprise circumstance. We do not know what 2021 holds for us, but we, as the Church of the Nazarene, intentionally and willingly, choose to participate in God’s grace as we walk this journey together.
Prayerfully and respectfully submitted,
The Board of General Superintendents:
Eugénio R. Duarte
David W. Graves
David A. Busic
Gustavo A. Crocker
Filimão M. Chambo
Carla D. Sunberg
Prepared and read by Carla D. Sunberg.