- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010

I can’t say I’ve run into too many Nazarenes in my life.

Nazarenes belong to an evangelical Protestant denomination that was founded in 1908 and affiliated with the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition from the 19th century. They are based in Lenexa, Kan., and have 1.9 million members worldwide, including 769,470 in the United States. People who are — or were raised — Nazarene include Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, politician Gary Hart and author Ann Kiemel Anderson.

But they are not known for focusing on the sacramental, which is why I was surprised to find a recent book by a Nazarene college journalism professor on some of the traditional seven sacraments of the Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation, confession, marriage, ordination, anointing of the sick and last rites.

Sacraments, for the nonliturgically inclined, are ceremonies pointing to what is important and sacred in Christianity. Dean Nelson, author of “God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World,” said few of those sacraments have been part of Nazarene tradition.

“If you look at Nazarene practice — and that of many Protestants — they mainly do baptism and Holy Communion,” he told me. “And they don’t seem to take Communion very seriously.”

I first met Dean Nelson in 2003, when I was in San Diego researching a story on Christian colleges. He directs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, which occupies an unbelievably beautiful spot atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific. Originally intending to write a book on family life, he became interested in the sacrament of marriage. That segued into a book on how to apply all the sacraments to everyday life.

This being Lent, when the sacrament of confession or penance particularly comes into play, I figured this would be a good time to review how admitting one’s sins is helpful.

“Researching this sure took me into an area I didn’t know much about,” the author told me. “I knew that John Wesley, the spiritual father of the Church of the Nazarene, had these cell groups. He felt the heart and soul of the Christian church was in small groups. They’d sit around in a circle and say, ‘The state of my heart today is ….’ Even Wesley was big on confession.”

Key to doing confession is finding a good spiritual director.

“Most of the people whose spiritual lives I really respect do have one,” Mr. Nelson said. One of his models is theologian John Polkinghorne, 79, a top British physicist who played a major role in discovering the quark. Mr. Polkinghorne has a spiritual director in his 80s.

“If a guy that smart, that deep and old finds value in it, then it is worth something,” he added. “Just to get someone who sees the world a little more clearly than me, I hunger for that.”

If counselors to the soul are in short supply in your area, he suggests having an accountability group of like-minded individuals.

Mr. Nelson likes to experience a sacrament in living color, which is why, on Good Friday, he goes to Mass at a local Catholic mission.

“I feel like I am home,” he said. “I think they are acknowledging the mystery of the presence of God in the world. In our post-enlightenment America, we have tried to eliminate mystery. The Catholics, Orthodox and Episcopalians still see the value of saying there is so much more going on than we will ever know and here are some symbols acknowledging that mystery.”

Julia Duin can be reached at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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