26 June 2010
Methodist Vice-President speaks of God's transforming love
In her inaugural address as Vice-President of the Methodist
Conference, Deacon Eunice Attwood called on the Church to recognise
the transforming power of God's love.
Speaking at the annual Methodist Conference in Portsmouth, she said, "Tonight I want to remind you all here of a very simple message, aware that there is nothing new about this wisdom; the message is old and it is ancient; it has been there from the very beginning. God loves you, he thinks you're absolutely amazing. The awesome God who created and sustains this universe thinks you're fantastic. God loves you."
But Eunice was clear that this love is as much as challenge as it is a gift. She added, "If the Church is to be a sign of God's kingdom, it must participate in the world that God loves. For the Church does not have the monopoly on God. God is already at work in people's lives, in the world he created and sustains. In being sent into the world we get to join in with what God is doing. In the doing and engaging we meet God."
Eunice spoke of her own experience of poverty, and of her current work with vulnerable women in the sex industry. She encouraged the Church's to take seriously its calling to serve communities in the spirit of God's love, saying, "I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes - a church that welcomes those who seek asylum, a church that longs and yearns for justice, a church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.
The full text of the address follows:
In November 1992, to my absolute surprise, I opened my eyes in Hexham hospital, Northumberland. In fact it was more than surprise, it was stunned amazement, for two days earlier I thought my eyes had closed for the final time. Lying in the hospital bed my eyes now wide open I recalled the events I last remembered. I had been a terrible patient, denying I was ill, putting off going to the hospital, hoping the symptoms would disappear until it was almost too late. I arrived at the hospital and within minutes had collapsed completely and for a few moments before unconsciousness came was very aware of being actively resuscitated by my colleagues. I remember tried to talk, to indicate that I was alright but I couldn't speak. I tried to move but I couldn't. All I could do was listen to their voices, shouting at each other 'Eunice, our Eunice, is dying' I recall being very aware that I was dying and prayed what I thought was my final prayer asking God to look after my husband John, my two year old son Simon, family and friends. I recall being very aware of an incredible sense of peace flooding over me beyond anything I had ever experienced. I closed my eyes believing I was experiencing the end of my life.
No one was more surprised than me when two days later after successful emergency surgery I opened my eyes, looked around the hospital room gazing at yet more familiar equipment attached to me. And just absorbing the reality of the moment, the recognition of a new beginning, actually another new beginning for this was the fourth time in my life I had almost died although this was the nearest I had ever come to succeeding. The moment was broken into quickly when I noticed alarmingly that the blood transfusion going into my arm was not my blood group. I turned it off and shouted and all I could hear back was, 'Oh no, Sister Attwood has woken up and she doesn't sound very happy.' I was discharged very quickly.
That event was life transforming - a new start, a new beginning - the impact of which has remained with me ever since. I cannot explain why my life was given back but I opened my eyes that day to a renewed sense of God's love and purpose in my life. It felt as though I been given the most incredible, awesome, amazing gift. As I hugged John and Simon I could hardly believe it. That day marked a new beginning and a new chapter in my life.
I like new chapters. I love books, and I particularly like new chapters in books. It doesn't always make for popularity in bookshops when, at ten minutes before closing time, I have sometimes wandered in and stood reading the first few sentences, sometimes paragraphs, occasionally a whole chapter with the eyes of the assistant' piercing the back of my head and people disapproving around me as I stood in the front of the display completely absorbed in the book.
Indelibly ingrained on my mind are the first few sentences of some books which in their reading have left a powerful impression on me. Perhaps you know them.
'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.' Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' The tale of two Cities by Charles Dickens
'Dear God, I am fourteen years old. I am. I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.' The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
'Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal thank you very much.' Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by J.K Rowling
The most poignant and significant words for me however are not even a sentence they are the first four words of the BIBLE which simply say, 'In the beginning God.' What an awesome start to a book.
This is where I want to begin for my story has from the very beginning of my life, and in all its subsequent beginnings and endings, been woven into the story of God.
My Mum tells me that on the night I was born on 12th November when I first opened my eyes to the world it was in the early hours of the morning and was snowing. The midwife had struggled to get to the house but I had arrived safely. Born into a Christian family I was taken to church seven times a week from being a tiny baby. I grew up with powerful sermons and stories which have shaped my life. My experience of the love of God has been a story of journeying through joy, pain, and many challenges. The dominant text of childhood was found in John 3 v16, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.' The emphasis always seemed to be on the word, 'Perish.'
Being in church as a young child I can still recall my Uncle Bill singing the words of John 3 v16 very powerfully with his deep bass trembling voice. The image of God I drew from church was austere, ready and waiting to punish you, demanding always that you adhered to a very specific set of rules.
My childhood was spent in Spennymoor, Co. Durham. Our house had a front room which was only for visitors and a back room where the family actually lived. We sat around a table, myself and my older brother and sister, beneath a green plaque with large gold lettering which proclaimed boldly, 'Christ is the head of this house. The unseen guest at every meal. The silent listener to every conversation.' Any nonsense at the meal table, my father simply stopped, pointed to the plaque and any mischief from his three young children was quickly silenced.
In church and at home I grew up with the message God Loves You.......IF.
At church I sensed a very specific narrative of, 'God Loves You...if.' If you don't chew gum, if you don't smoke, if you don't drink, if you don't play with toys on a Sunday, if you read books (which except for the bible must only be about missionaries in Africa), if you behave properly (I was never any good at proper), if you attend Sunday worship and if you wear a hat! The hat-wearing in our church was not really edifying to the Lord. The hats were huge, because the ladies created internal competition. I felt there was a subtle message that God loved you if you attended church once, more if you went twice, even more if you attended the bible study and so much more if you attended the prayer meeting and if you attended seven times a week you were almost as good as the Pastor (who incidentally had to attend).
I can even recall hearing that God loved other churches a little bit but not quite as much as ours. One of my early memories is of the Pastor of the church discovering that some of us young teenagers were going to the Salvation Army for tambourine lessons. He called us into his office and told us we were to stop going - we were not to go to another church even for tambourine lessons.
My dear father was dedicated to this church. He was also the local Park-Keeper and had a bellowing voice which he used very effectively to shout at children misbehaving in the park. He could spot you misbehaving from half a mile away. He was also our Sunday School Superintendent and loved telling us bible stories using flannel graphs - giant fuzzy felt pictures which as the story unfolded gradually made up a picture. My father's favourite story was Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his very young and only son on a fire as an offering to God. I have a vivid memory of my older brother and sister, both of whom had learning difficulties, turning to me and saying, 'We had better behave or Dad might do that to us! God might tell Dad to put us on the fire', a perfectly logical response. I remember turning to my brother and sister and saying, 'I don't believe God would do that, in fact I'm certain God would not do that, God loves you and me.'
That feeling of God's unconditional love has been a powerful part of my story, woven into my life from a very early age that God's love went beyond the narrative I as a child heard and experienced. I was convinced that God's love was unconditional and that I was acceptable to him despite messages proclaimed to the contrary.
Tonight I want to remind you all here of a very simple message, aware that there is nothing new about this wisdom; the message is old and it is ancient; it has been there from the very beginning. God loves you, he thinks you're absolutely amazing. The awesome God who created and sustains this universe thinks you're fantastic. God loves you."
Only three words, 'God Loves You.' Words that are so easy to say and yet much of our lives are spent trying to earn and to prove God's love for us. Even people who attend church seem to lack confidence in proclaiming the love of God. Why? I believe it is because they are not certain it is true. The study several years ago that produced the book, 'Time to talk of God' revealed that many Methodist people are good at talking but lack confidence in talking specifically about God.
I believe we need to hear the words, 'God loves us' afresh today, to take ourselves back to the very beginning, those amazing words, 'In the beginning God.' Here is the story of God and the story of all our beginnings caught up as we are in this incredible, amazing story. God's love that is present - not because of anything we have done or are capable of doing. For God's love is not caused by anything we can do or say. God's character and nature is love.
I believe, if God had a Facebook page I believe his status would permanently say, 'I love you.' If God could write on your wall it would say, 'I love you.' If God was on twitter his tweet would be, 'I love you'. And he'd just keep telling us thousands and thousands of times.
1 John 4 v7 -12 (selected)
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.... Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
It seems that despite all of God's efforts described with his people in the Old Testament and despite what God has done for us in Christ described in the New Testament, we his people still at times don't really believe it.
We need to hear the words again, God loves us, but knowledge about God is not the same as knowing God - there is a difference which is rooted in our relationship with God. God's transforming love must transform us and then we ourselves can become a transforming presence in the world.
As an Intensive Care Nurse many years ago I was involved in the re-location of the Intensive Care Unit from the old crumbling Victorian hospital to a brand new purpose built state of the art hospital. Our department was going to be one of the first to move into the new hospital. We had been hearing about how wonderful the new hospital was and particularly of the fantastic new fully equipped Intensive Care Unit, how it would transform our work. I was asked if I would like to go on a visit and see what I thought of the new unit prior to us moving in. The hospital managers would accompany me with the architect and some of the builders. They were very excited and saying, 'Sister Attwood, what do you think?' I replied, 'Well it's beautiful but where is the oxygen?' One of the workmen exclaimed, 'Oxygen, Sister Attwood? What for every bed?' 'Yes,' I replied. 'Every bed has a ventilator and every ventilator needs oxygen.' And he said, 'There's no oxygen here, Sister', and I said, 'It's really, really important. We tend to find that our patients do not do well without oxygen in the ventilators.' And he said to the rest of his team, 'This is going to take longer than I thought'. There was silence as everyone realised a crucial ingredient of this newly transformed Intensive Care Unit was missing - oxygen. In the same way that oxygen only transforms the human body by being breathed in - so the power of the spirit must be breathed into our lives, the life of our church, the life of our communities.
I believe it is the spirit of God that brings an awareness of the love of God. The oxygen of our faith that transforms our story, can transform our lives, our church - and our society.
In 2 Cor 3 v 18 we read, 'And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.'
Have you ever really wanted change? Desperately wanted things to be different? Supporting Newcastle United, I know a lot about desperation and looking optimistically for change.
In January 2008 Newcastle proclaimed that the answer to its all prayers had come, an event that would transform Newcastle United, local papers proclaimed. 'St James' Park is preparing for a second coming after Newcastle this afternoon announced that Kevin Keegan is to become the club's new manager. In an official statement that was as short as it was sensational, the club announced: "Geordie messiah to return". Everybody thought he'd be the answer to everyone's prayers.
The crowds gathered outside St James' Park, local TV and radio stations buzzed with excitement. Newcastle United fans have always hoped for transformation but sadly the messiah in the form of Kevin Keegan failed to deliver leaving only eight months after his arrival. Something in human nature yearns and longs for transformation to occur.
My father had a saying, 'You know Pet, God loves you just as you are but too much to leave you that way.' God wants us all not just to know about him, but to know of him, to experience him.
The story of God's love for us in Christ describes transforming love that God loved us so much he sent his son. The story of Jesus' birth, death and resurrection speak of God's transforming love for us.
Jesus said in John 13, 'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Tertullian, in his 2nd century defence of Christians, remarks how Christian love attracted pagan notice: "What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness, 'Only look,' they say, 'look how they love one another'."
How can we know transforming love? By being disciples, following the example of Jesus. Living to follow, learning to love. We are followers of Jesus not volunteers for Jesus. We're not doing God a favour, we're not helping him out - he's got it sorted - we're joining in with the story of God as it continues to unfold in the world.
God's transforming love is spoken of in the Old Testament and offered to us as an example in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. It has often been said Jesus did not come and write a book - he formed a community of people to experience the love of God.
I am very aware that I have discovered this transforming love of God through my own personal experience and people who were trying to be his followers.
The church I grew up in and family life provided me with a story of God's Love being conditional on all manner of things - but during my young life, thankfully, there were also many narratives which I experienced as transforming love.
My own inner voice rejected completely the idea of a God who would ask my Father to put me, my brother or sister onto a fire and burn us. The same voice that, when we were banned from tambourine lessons at the Salvation Army, felt this wasn't right. How could the lovely people who had been so kind to us, in their smart uniforms at the Salvation Army who had been so kind to us not be loved and valued by God? Early childhood was not easy, my brother and sister both had learning difficulties and my father had severe epilepsy. We didn't have a lot of money. My father received his wages on a Thursday which often meant by Tuesday there was very little to eat as we had run out of money, but my personal experience was of a love that would not let me go, the God who so loved and loved me. To this day some of the most significant words for me are found in the hymn, 'O Love that wilt not let me go' especially in the second verse, 'O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, And feel the promise is not vain, That morn shall tearless be.'
As a family there were many times when it didn't just rain, it seemed to pour down as torrential rain but I have seen many rainbows, experienced many signs of hope. I have clung onto this hope in God throughout all of my life.
Curiously the tiny little place that is Spennymoor has its own coat of arms and Latin motto -'Spe Nemo Ruet" "With hope, no one shall fail." I can still recall being told at junior school that this is what we should live by. Over fifteen years ago when I first read Walter Bruggeman's inspiring book, 'The Prophetic Imagination' I heard an echo of Spennymoor's motto again as he described the life transforming hope offered in God. 'This hope is radical and subversive for it limits the grandiose pretensions of the present daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.'
I firmly believe God is at work in the Methodist Church bringing a life transforming prophetic message of hope to a society that needs to hear this good news.
Hope is an essential part of transformation. In the fantasy film, 'The Never Ending story' there are some very memorable words, 'People without hope are easy to control.' My observation is that there many people who feel that they are without hope doubting their experience can ever be different. The singer Lily Allen writes in her song, The Fear, 'I don't know what's right or what's real anymore cos I'm being taken over by the fear.' Into this narrative of anxiety and despair we as a people of faith need to remind people of God's story of hope, love and transformation.
One of my earliest memories of experiencing transformational love came at the age of ten. My mother sadly had a mental breakdown and was taken away from the family home. I recall the quietness in our house as lots of adults coming and going. I remember my father sitting in the corner of the front room kept only for visitors with his head in his hands, in despair. I can still recall the anxious faces of my brother and sister looking at me and I did what many children in that situation have done before me and after me - I took charge! I did a bit of fettling - sorting things out. At ten years of age I became the carer of our family, organising meals and giving tasks to my brother and sister.
My mum had been gone for several months and we were taken very infrequently to see her, the feeling being that it was better not to see her in the old Victorian Psychiatric Hospital, an austere place that had been a workhouse. We had adjusted to a strange kind of normal in the way that life in any crisis has to eventually, for the house still had to be cleaned, shopping purchased, meals cooked. We had developed our own routine. Dad would get up early and light the coal fire, I would come down and organise my brother and sister into sorting out breakfast before we all set off for school. I remember one day going to the front door to get the milk in from the step as usual. To my surprise alongside the two pints of milk, there was also huge casserole dish with a tiny note on the lid, 'With love from the Methodist Church.' I picked it up carefully and took it into the kitchen and I remember just looking at it, mesmerised by it. Oh the absolute joy for now I didn't have to sort out the evening meal before school. Actually there was enough for two meals there. To this day I don't know who in the church brought the casserole although I suspect it was the Methodist Minister's wife and to this day I am grateful for that small act of kindness which had a huge impact on my life. The church we belonged to prayed for us which, was lovely, but what we really needed was a casserole, practical support -love not just in word but found in action. Love that could breathe life into us, love that could be experienced and not just spoken of, loving action that could transform the situation we were in. That day, a casserole transformed my world.
Mum eventually returned to the family home and as many a psychology book has described, a child who takes early responsibility in a family often goes a bit wild! The church I attended prayed for my rebellious spirit! My teachers, being very aware of our family situation, were incredibly kind and patient with me and a real testimony to the importance of teachers and their ability to make a difference in a young child's life. During my early teenage years my attitude and behaviour were a disaster. I worked my way through my church's 'no list' with some degree of satisfaction and then added another list of my own invention. I stopped going to church preferring to smoke and drink in the back lanes with friends.
Around the age of fourteen my cousin started to tell me about a group of young people from the Methodist Church who she went to school with and who had invited her to some of their groups and best of all - here comes the most predictable thing for young teenagers, although she said they were a bit weird they had some very good looking boys.
To be honest I couldn't think of a quick enough excuse to refuse; it seemed easier just to agree to go along. After all it was only round the corner from where I lived and I could meet my friends afterwards. I was taken into this huge church building in Spennymoor entering a large musty hall with bright orange chairs and notice boards covered in yellow and green. Some of the young people were even wearing yellow and green clothing, a hideous combination I thought and further proof to my young mind of their weirdness. We all sat around chatting, eating pop and crisps and all seemed pretty normal until someone announced it was time for the bible study! My instant reaction was how strange and where is their Pastor? I asked the person beside me where he was, 'Oh,' they said, 'We haven't got one; we've got a minister and he sometimes comes along but we usually look at the bible ourselves'. I couldn't believe it - how extraordinary, looking at the bible themselves? Praying together without anyone telling them to do it? What was this all about?
They talked and I sat back and listened, they spoke about how much they loved God and what a difference loving God made to their lives, how they related to their families (some of which didn't go to church) and friends at school. I didn't go and meet my friends that night I just sat in the Methodist Church hall until the end and left when they had finished, knowing I would go back, feeling that these young people didn't just know about God - they knew God.
It was so clear to me that these young people were different. Their lives had been changed by the transforming love of God. I was left disturbed, challenged and humbled and I wanted to be like them.
Subsequently at the age of 14, in Newcastle City hall, I discovered a personal faith in God that was transformational, taking someone who was rapidly becoming a wild child to be a daughter of the living God. I made a new start. I believe in the transforming love of God because it has changed my life and I have seen it change the lives of many other people. I believe it is this transforming love by the power of the spirit that can transform our Church, the people called Methodists. I believe in new life. I believe in resurrection. I believe in transformation. I believe Methodism needs to be re-ignited by the love of God in the power of the Spirit to be the renewal movement we were called to be.
I believe and see many signs that God is renewing us, re-shaping us, calling us ever on to respond to his transformational love.
John Wesley experienced transformation when his heart was strangely warmed. The Methodist Church was born as a renewal movement, a movement of change. The opposite of the word transformation is stagnation, preservation, predisposition to sameness, ultimately death. I don't believe change will come from changing the connexional team around, new policies, new projects and new plans as good and well intentioned as they are. I believe that we need the power of the spirit to open our hearts and our minds, unlock some doors and windows and breathe the fresh air of the Spirit of the living God into us. An experience like that described on the day of Pentecost in
Acts 2, ' When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.'
I believe in the power of the spirit to transform life. I believe in the unconditional love of God. I have had many experiences of transformation within the Methodist Church.
Rob Frost Missions where as very young people Rob encouraged us, as that dear man encouraged many other people, to do things neither my husband John, myself or anyone else thought we were capable of.
When we as a family coped with terminal cancer, the love of the Methodist people was overwhelming, it was life-affirming and life-giving.
At the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, which is an incredible place to work, where a commitment to learning in an environment of honouring and acceptance is deeply, deeply energising and transformational.
Participating in the community that is the Methodist Diaconal Order in Area group and at Convocation where we share stories, laughter, and joy together in an atmosphere of honesty and grace-filled acceptance.
In the last nine years at Brunswick Methodist Church working alongside lay and ordained people who everyday are learning and demonstrating to me what it means to model God's love and generosity.
God's transforming love must transform us and then we ourselves can become a transforming presence in the world.
We as God's people are also messengers of God's love in Christ described beautifully in 2 Cor 3 v2-3, 'You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.'
My concern is that this transforming love of God must go alongside engaging faith for the two are inseparable. I wonder sometimes if we spend so much time IN church that we don't have time to BE church. Our life is out of balance as the people of God if we do not engage our faith. The gospel is incomplete unless we balance the gathering of God's people for worship together and the sending of God's people out into the world to engage their faith in the world.
John 3 v 16 said. 'God so loved the world.......that he sent his son'. It does not say, 'God so loved the church that he sent his son.' Motivation of God for the story of his Jesus' engagement with us was and is, 'love for the world.' The whole of creation beyond and including human kind. In Rev. Dr. Roger Walton's book, The Reflective Disciple we read, 'The overarching story of the Bible is about God reaching out in love! God's attitude towards the world is one of profound and unfathomable care and concern, which continually issues in action.'
If the church is to be a sign of God's kingdom it must participate in the world that God loves. For the church does not have the monopoly on God. God is already at work in people's lives, in the world he created and sustains. In being sent into the world we get to join in with what God is doing. In the doing and engaging we meet God.
One of my favourite examples of Jesus engaging people is found in the story of the woman at the well in John ch. 4. It is the wonderful story of Jesus in Samaria where, as a good Jewish man, he's in the wrong place with the wrong person at the wrong time of day! In Jesus speaking to a Samaritan Woman he is breaking the Jewish codes of the day, in a place he shouldn't be, talking with someone he shouldn't be talking to.
This story is typical of how the gospel writers choose to describe Jesus engaging with people, not in the Temple or Synagogue but outside of them with people - ordinary people doing ordinary things; in this instance collecting water. Except of course that here at the hottest time of the day Jesus is at the well without a bucket asking the Samaritan woman for a drink. Jesus takes the initiative with a very simple request, 'Will you give me a drink.' He begins a conversation, an interaction that enables her to slowly understand who he is. At first she sees a thirsty man, then a Jewish man, and then she wonders is he a Prophet greater than Jacob? The ultimate moment of revelation comes when she says at the end of the encounter, John 4 v28 'Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?"
Ann Morisy in her recent book 'Bothered and Bewildered' describes this encounter as a story of a conversation where, through small actions, hope is enacted and revealed.
Here is an example of engagement. The encounter is intentional and invitational although the conclusion is slightly ambiguous in terms of the Samaritan woman. Did Jesus or the Samaritan woman ever get a drink from the well? Did she come to faith? The biblical text doesn't actually tell us - we are left to wonder. What we do know is that she found her voice and her wonderings led to the faith of others. We read that Jesus stayed with them for two days and their response was this.
Despite being a member of the Methodist Diaconal order, one of things I have never been good at is engaging with feet! As an Intensive Care Nurse I had a reputation for double-gloving whenever I washed a patient's feet. For a long time I was never very keen on what seemed like our obsession with foot washing and the bowl and towel symbols from John 13 when Jesus washed the feet of Peter and, the said horror of horrors, they were to wash each other's feet. In recent years this image of John 13 has spoken to me and been redeemed for me in a variety of ways, hence the delightful gift from my District of an Olive wood carving of the John 13 story.
I have found myself deeply challenged by our engagement in the wonderful City that is Newcastle upon Tyne.
Firstly, the story of Healing on the Streets in Newcastle. It began in Newcastle during October 2008 when the evangelical churches of the city were brought together to hear of this ministry in other places. It involves placing eight chairs in front of Grey's Monument at the heart of the city, a few hundred yards from Brunswick Methodist Church, and inviting people to sit on them and be prayed for. The training felt uncomfortable seeming to focus on the spectacular and unusual, but something kept me there. We went onto the streets of the city and the first thing we were invited to do as a group of Christian people was to kneel on the ground in front of the Monument and pray quietly and gently. As I knelt on the ground I was overwhelmed by the feeling that God finally had me where he wanted me and the church to be - kneeling before the people of the city. One of the Big Issue sellers who I know well, called me over and with a very serious look on his face said, 'At last you're here, we need you Christians here, Eunice. Why doesn't the church come here every day? It's no good staying in your lovely buildings'. And I heard that call from the streets of the city, a cry, an invitation and a challenge to the Christian church to engage, to pray for people where they are and not wait for them to find us.
Secondly the story of Street Pastors in Newcastle. When John Wesley came to Newcastle in 1742 he spoke these now famous words, 'I was surprised so much drunkenness, cursing and swearing even from the mouths of little children) do I never remember to have seen and heard before in so small a compass of time. Surely this place is ripe for him who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' If you were to come and stand alongside me as a Street Pastor on any Friday or Saturday evening between 10pm-4am in the Bigg Market of Newcastle you would see a very similar scene to that described by Wesley so many years ago.
Street Pastors, the national initiative and response of the church to engage with the night-time economy, began in Newcastle on 12th Dec 2008. The very first night within minutes I was kneeling down on the pavement cleaning up a young girl, a junior doctor so drunk she couldn't tell us her name. It took us two hours before we could discover her telephone number and get her home safely. The impact of this work is I believe far reaching as the Church proclaims God's love.
Thirdly one of the most precious projects to me is the Girls Are Proud (GAP Project) a project of the Cyrenians in Newcastle upon Tyne working with vulnerable women in the sex industry. Christmas 2008 was the first time they asked if I would lead a Carol Service for them. We sat together on a round purple carpet in Brunswick's worship space and they movingly told me the Christmas story, blending the figures of two nativity sets together - one set was carved from olive wood, the other a knitted one which had been knitted by several different people so the figures were all different sizes and completely disproportionate to one another. As we knelt in the worship space one of the girls took the tiny knitted baby Jesus in her hands and shared her pain, hopes and dreams. The baby figure was passed around the group and each one shared her story, painful heart-wrenching stories of neglect, abuse, violence - of young lives shattered before they had hardly begun.
In the message translation Matthew 5 says 13"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
I want to be part of a church that is fully immersed in the story of God A church that celebrates its rich story of contact with 750,000 people, 250,000 members, 10,000 local preachers, 2,000 ministers, several hundred lay employees and 5,700 properties.
I want to be part of a church that is prayer-filled -
A church that is resourced and sustained by the Bible,
A church that can offer hope even in a credit crunch,
A church that can live well with difference and diversity.
I want to be part of a church that welcomes the wealthy, those who have power and influence -
A church that knows how to party and celebrate life,
A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly of resurrection,
A church that doesn't pretend to have all the answers but encourages all the questions.
I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes -
A church that welcomes those who seek asylum,
A church that longs and yearns for justice,
A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.
I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation -
A church where all who are lost can be found,
A church where people can discover friendship,
A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.
I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely and confidently in the transforming love of God -
A church that engages faith in its communities,
A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.
A church where the story of God's love is at the centre.
I want to be part of a church that offers outrageous grace, reckless generosity, transforming love and engaging faith.
This is God's story Transforming Love: Engaging Faith.
My prayer is that by the power of the Spirit of God at work amongst us, it will increasingly be our story.