The Church of the Nazarene, the denomination that takes its name from the hometown of Jesus and calls for a commitment to a devout and holy life, is marking its centennial.

Lawn Griffiths on Spiritual Life

The Church of the Nazarene, the denomination that takes its name from the hometown of Jesus and calls for a commitment to a devout and holy life, is marking its centennial.

Lawn Griffiths on Spiritual Life

And when the church holds a one-day celebration on Oct. 8, Scottsdale First Church of the Nazarene will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

What started out in 1908 with a historic Hallelujah March around a church tent in Pilot Point, Texas, is being showcased this year on the theme "Out of Many, One. Out of One, Many."

"There were a number of Holiness churches or groups from around the United States that came together in union on that date," said the Rev. Byron Schortinghouse, Arizona District superintendent whose offices are in Chandler. All 21,000 Nazarene congregations worldwide, including 17 in the Valley, are encouraged to hold their own events Oct. 8. "Every congregation will be celebrating on the same day," he said. "There were several denominations that came together for the Holiness revival in the 1800s, and out of that was the birth of the Nazarene Church," said the Rev. Brian Welch, who is beginning his fourth year as senior pastor of Scottsdale First Church of the Nazarene, 2340 N. Hayden Road.

It's a faith that emphasizes living in balance and "wholeness," sometimes pronounced "whole-len-ness" to bring out its Holiness roots and the quest for wholeness in living.

"The word 'Nazarene' depicts the toiling, lowly mission of Christ," Dr. J.P. Widney, one of the denomination's founders, once said to explain the name. "It was this name that was used in derision of him by his enemies. It is this name that links him with the struggling, sorrowing heart of the world."

The denomination traces its roots from a conservative branch of Wesleyan and Methodist theology, emphasizing holiness in Christian living. It embraces 16 specific articles of faith that define the Triune God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the divine inspiration of Scriptures, original and personal sin, atonement, free agency, repentance and other keystones of the faith.

Welch, a third-generation Nazarene, said what's important is "what takes place in our lives as we grow in our relationship to God."

"I believe our goal in life should be what God has intended for us to be," he said. "It is a lifelong learning process we go through to get there. But if we are on the right road, walking in his life, that is God, we are able to fulfill that." As a pastor, he said, he strives to help his congregation to follow that process "and experience what God really has for us."

The denomination, with its largest concentration of members in California, Ohio and Indiana, has its headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. There are about 1.7 million followers worldwide. It's a church with intense international missions outreach in some 150 countries, Welch said, and missionaries regularly visit area churches to report on their work.

Scottsdale First, which began in a farmhouse on its campus in 1958, has launched new initiatives to become better known and engaged in the wider community of south Scottsdale, Welch said.

"We are trying to get prepared to be a ministry modeling Christ for the people of our community," Welch said. It has launched a capital campaign to raise $550,000 for campus improvements and ministries, including a baseball/softball field at the back of its spacious property for community use. On a theme of "Being God's Church - Building God's Dream," the church uses three "touch points": "in reach," caring for the needs of church members through many established ministries; "outreach," by meeting targeted needs in the surrounding community; and "up reach," by "giving God all the glory."

Recently the church, which has about 120 members, started a 6 p.m. Saturday service on the theme "Revolution," which is targeted to people in Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1982). "A lot of people see this as an older church," Welch said. "It has been here a long time, and that is a challenge for any church trying to accomplish its vision for its community." Besides offering a more contemporary service, with nontraditional Christian music, the setting will be a relaxed atmosphere with hamburgers and other food served.

For its 50th anniversary celebration, the church is inviting all living former pastors to return to participate and share memories.

"Every church has its own personality," said Schortinghouse. While they adhered to doctrine and "our particular emphasis on sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit," their congregations reflect their communities. He pointed out the distinct senior citizen congregation in Sun City, which focused heavily on ministry to that age group. That contrasts with the New Beginnings Nazarene church in Casa Grande, he said, where "you may see their trucks running all over Arizona, gathering foodstuffs" as a kind of M*A*S*H unit, carrying out a compassionate ministry program to needy people.

Welch said the Church of the Nazarene had women pastors from its beginnings. "Some very strong women leaders started some of our first Nazarene churches," he said.

Unlike many denominations, Nazarenes have not been rocked by debate and division over whether to ordain homosexuals. "We take the biblical stance on all those issues," he said. "We wouldn't ordain someone if they are outside the biblical standards of how we should be living our lives," Welch said.

The national church has developed many resources for its churches to fully celebrate and educate during its centennial year, including a sermon by General Superintendent Jesse Middendorf titled "The Church as a Holy People."

Special attention will be paid to the Rev. Phineas Bresee, who is credited with having the energy and shoe leather to bring the forces together to create the Church of the Nazarene in 1908. "Getting the glory down" was a mantra of Bresee's mission.

Later he proclaimed, "The Church of the Nazarene has set its face toward the northern star of perfect love and will not swerve to the right or to the left."

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