ARLINGTON, Va. March 9 (RNS)--For Bishop Kevin Mannoia, who likes wateranalogies, the term "sea change" is an appropriate description for thetransformation occurring in the National Association of Evangelicals.

As he travels across the country and meets with members andprospective members, the new president of the organization isreiterating his vision for the evangelical umbrella organization thathas been struggling with its identity.

"We are healthy churches moving in unity to transform our culture,"he told denominational and ministry leaders gathered in this Washingtonsuburb for the group's annual meeting, which ended Wednesday.

But as the NAE seeks to transform others, it more immediately isattempting to transform itself.

The board of directors Monday approved a path-breaking change in theorganization's bylaws, allowing denominations that are members of otherecclesiastical groups to have dual membership with the NAE. Last fall,the NAE moved its headquarters from the traditional evangelical centerof Wheaton, Ill., to the Los Angeles area.

And this year's conventionwas held jointly with AMEN, a Hispanic evangelical organization whoseacronymn stands for Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales(Alliance of National Evangelical Ministries).

Mannoia called the new membership rule "a fairly major change" thatcan make the organization more inclusive by allowing denominations thatwill commit themselves to NAE's statement of faith and mission--even ifthey also belong to members of more liberal groups like the NationalCouncil of Churches.

"This is not a statement of weakness, of capitulation or ofdilution," Mannoia, a bishop of the Free Methodist Church of NorthAmerica, said in an interview. "This is a statement of maturity and strengthas represented in the NAE. We have come to a point where we don't haveto define ourselves in terms of being relative to anyone else."

The move from the Midwest to the West Coast also fits into theorganization's new identity, he said.

Mannoia believes it's important for the NAE to be in Los AngelesCounty, an area he says represents the urbanization, globalization andmultiethnic nature of modern America.

"Wheaton has served us well to this point, but it has the potentialof giving an image that we are somehow theologically exclusive," hesaid. "It's a positive emphasis of saying we want to be in a place thatis a reflection of what America is becoming."

Speaking to NAE members, Mannoia stressed the need to be open tothose with differences in worship styles and theology.

"It's beyond tolerance," he said. "It's an embracing of thewholeness of the body of Christ."

The NAE, which has some Pentecostal members, gained its 52nddenominational member at the meeting, the charismatic Association ofVineyard Churches.

Mannoia, who succeeded the Rev. Don Argue in July, was pleased tohave a joint meeting with Hispanic evangelicals. "It's an accurate reflection of the nature of the kingdom of God, which is not a segregated kingdom," he said.

Mannoia said the organization also hopes for closer ties with theNational Black Evangelical Association.

"We are anxious to maintain a very close relationship with NBEA andeven beyond the NBEA, with African-American denominations throughout thecountry," he said.

Both the Rev. Jesse Miranda, president of AMEN, and the Rev. AaronHamlin, executive director of NBEA, spoke of being in "partnership" withthe NAE but said their groups intend to maintain their independence.

Beyond embracing more of those within the church, Mannoia said NAEmembers need "to roll up our sleeves and to get our hands dirty in the culture."

While continuing its work in Washington, the political center of thecountry, Mannoia said he also wants to turn his organization's attentionto Hollywood, the cultural center now in the back yard of NAE'sheadquarters. Now located in temporary space in Glendora, Calif., heplans to move it to permanent space in the neighboring community ofAzusa.

The Rev. Edward Foggs, the NAE's first African-American chairman ofthe board, said leaders are keeping in mind the organization's 58-yearhistory and the influence of its senior members while forging ahead innew ways.

"It...across the years has come to be viewed as too male, toowhite and too aging," said Foggs, minister at large for interchurchrelations for the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.).

"There's nothing wrong with being male. There's nothing wrong withbeing white and there's nothing wrong with aging. We all do it. But ifthat becomes the primary basis by which an organization gets identified,it obviously becomes problematic.


Foggs said NAE will join with the Convoy of Hope relief organizationto help distribute groceries, job information and evangelisticinformation to inner-city Washington during the weekend after themeeting--a first related to the NAE annual gathering.