This is the first full essay submitted to the Renovating Holiness Project.
Grant Zweigle pastored in Kansas City, MO; Seattle, WA; and currently in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Grant and his wife Aisling are relocating to Manila, Philippines with their two boys in 2015. Grant is completing a Doctor of Ministry at Nazarene Theological Seminary.
My grandmother lived in a German Mennonite Brethren community in Southern Russia as a young girl. When her parents immigrated to Canada they made their new home in a German Mennonite Brethren community in Yarrow, British Columbia. My grandmother learned some English in school, but spoke German at home and in church. Her family maintained their cultural distinctiveness in their new home, even as they adapted to a new way of life in Canada.
My mother spoke some German in home and in church, but English was her first language. Her parents brought her up in the German Mennonite way, but as a young adult she forged her own way and more fully embraced the life and culture of Canada than her parents did.
My mother never spoke German to me. When I was 2, my Canadian mom and American dad moved to the United States. I am culturally an American and an English speaker. I tried studying German in high school and college, but it didn’t stick. I’ve always known my ancestry is German Mennonite with a Canadian flavour, but it didn’t seem to have much bearing in my everyday life.
Eight and a half years ago, I moved back to Canada to pastor First Church of the Nazarene in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Since coming back to Canada, I’ve been able to spend more time with my grandmother who is now 95. When I visit my grandmother, she shares stories with me about her childhood in Southern Russia; about why and how her family came to Canada; and about the joys and struggles of making a new life in a new land.
Over the course of her lifetime, my grandmother has learned to adapt to the cultural changes taking place around her. Some of these changes were forced upon her, but some she willingly embraced. As I’ve listened to her stories, I’ve discovered that many of the values that are dear to my grandmother are dear to me as well. Some of these values transcend culture. These include hospitality, generosity, stewardship, courage, diligence, faith, hope and love. As a dad, I now want to instil these values into my two boys. I like to take my boys to visit their great-grandmother so they can hear her stories and be inspired by the values that have shaped our family.
Our spiritual grandparents and great-grandparents in the Church of the Nazarene had to adapt to cultural changes taking place around them. Some of these changes were forced upon them, while others they willingly embraced. As the spiritual grandchildren of these holiness pioneers, we would do well to listen to their stories, and in doing so we might discover values that we can embrace and pass on as well.
Vancouver First Church of the Nazarene is a traditional Nazarene church in the midst of a rapidly changing urban context. Many of the core members of our church are of that generation of spiritual grandparents who lived a life of holiness in the midst of changing and challenging circumstances.
Several years ago, we went through a process of Appreciative Inquiry to discover the values that undergird this historic Nazarene congregation. The process included sitting in living rooms and around dinner tables to share our stories. Through sharing our stories we discovered a rich set of transcendent values that shape our mission in Vancouver today.
Through this process we discovered that as a congregation we value:
- Godly hospitality
- Intercultural relationships
- Spiritual transformation
- Service to one another
- Godly wholeness
- Vital relationships with the Triune God
- Loving our neighbors.
It might seem strange that a traditional Church of the Nazarene like ours did not say: “We value holiness.” This is because for us, holiness is not a value in and of itself. Holiness is our way of being in the world that is expressed through specific practices that flow from all of our congregational values.
What sort of practices? We are a people who:
- Practice Godly hospitality by making space for newcomers to Canada
- Seek out and invest in new relationships that cross cultural boundaries
- Meet in small groups for spiritual transformation
- Rearrange schedules to serve one another
- Desire to be whole, healed from the vandalism of sin
- Remain committed to public worship in a city that no longer protects time for the sacred
- Seek warm, intimate fellowship with God
- Seek creative ways to love their neighbors.
These are the practices of holiness people. These practices are derived from the values of our spiritual grandparents in Vancouver, and these have now become the values of their spiritual grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.
We believe that these values and the practices that flow from them are what identify us as holiness people. What does this look like in everyday life? In our context, this looks like welcoming immigrants and strangers and seeking to build meaningful and supportive friendships with those who come to Canada and would benefit from a warm and encouraging welcome.
Vancouver First Church has historically been an English speaking, white, Canadian congregation. Today two-thirds of the neighbors around our church speak a language other than English as their first language. In the 1980’s the congregation responded to this demographic change by sponsoring ethnic congregations, including a Spanish, Tigrinya, Mandarin, and Korean speaking congregation. By making space in their building for these new immigrants, the congregation lived out their values of Godly hospitality, serving one another and loving their neighbors.
But soon it became clear that making space for other congregations to meet in the building was not enough. Because they valued intercultural relationships, the predominantly white English speaking congregation desired to welcome and include immigrants and new Canadians into the English speaking congregation, not just to have them worship in another part of the building.
In order to achieve this, English as a Second Language classes were started. The church made funds available to hire a part-time associate pastor to focus on intercultural ministries. Today on any given Sunday, you might find Canadians, Filipinos, Americans, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Pacific Islanders, Indians, Sri Lankans, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Ghanaians, Nigerians, Kenyans, Russians, Dutch, Irish, and British people worshipping alongside one another, celebrating birthdays in the fellowship area, praying for each other, serving one another, discipling one another and going on mission together throughout the city and around the world.
At my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, my Egyptian uncle, who married into the family, spoke about how he was warmly welcomed into this German Mennonite family. There was always a place at my grandmother’s table for someone who was hungry, someone who needed a friend, someone different. My grandmother was not from a holiness tradition, but this is holiness in action. Jesus, the Holy One, welcomes everyone at his table. This way of holiness can be found among God’s people everywhere.
When we stop, watch, and listen to our spiritual grandparents, we might discover values and practices that embody holiness in compelling and visionary ways. Having pastored many of these spiritual grandparents, I’ve discovered a rich and compelling set of values that make the life of holiness alive and compelling for me and my generation.