Methodist Vice-President speaks of God's transforming love

In her inaugural address as Vice-President of the MethodistConference, Deacon Eunice Attwood called on the Church to recognisethe transforming power of God's love.

Speaking at the annual Methodist Conference in Portsmouth, shesaid, "Tonight I want to remind you all here of a very simplemessage, aware that there is nothing new about this wisdom; themessage is old and it is ancient; it has been there from the verybeginning. God loves you, he thinks you're absolutely amazing. Theawesome God who created and sustains this universe thinks you'refantastic. God loves you."

But Eunice was clear that this love is as much as challenge as itis a gift. She added, "If the Church is to be a sign of God'skingdom, it must participate in the world that God loves. For theChurch does not have the monopoly on God. God is already at work inpeople's lives, in the world he created and sustains. In being sentinto the world we get to join in with what God is doing. In thedoing and engaging we meet God."

Eunice spoke of her own experience of poverty, and of her currentwork with vulnerable women in the sex industry. She encouraged theChurch's to take seriously its calling to serve communities in thespirit of God's love, saying, "I want to be part of a church thatthrows parties for prostitutes - a church that welcomes those whoseek asylum, a church that longs and yearns for justice, a churchthat 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 inHexham hospital, Northumberland. In fact it was more than surprise,it was stunned amazement, for two days earlier I thought my eyeshad closed for the final time. Lying in the hospital bed my eyesnow wide open I recalled the events I last remembered. I had been aterrible patient, denying I was ill, putting off going to thehospital, hoping the symptoms would disappear until it was almosttoo late. I arrived at the hospital and within minutes hadcollapsed completely and for a few moments before unconsciousnesscame was very aware of being actively resuscitated by mycolleagues. I remember tried to talk, to indicate that I wasalright but I couldn't speak. I tried to move but I couldn't. All Icould do was listen to their voices, shouting at each other'Eunice, our Eunice, is dying' I recall being very aware that I wasdying and prayed what I thought was my final prayer asking God tolook after my husband John, my two year old son Simon, family andfriends. I recall being very aware of an incredible sense of peaceflooding over me beyond anything I had ever experienced. I closedmy eyes believing I was experiencing the end of my life.

No one was more surprised than me when two days later aftersuccessful emergency surgery I opened my eyes, looked around thehospital room gazing at yet more familiar equipment attached to me.And just absorbing the reality of the moment, the recognition of anew beginning, actually another new beginning for this was thefourth time in my life I had almost died although this was thenearest I had ever come to succeeding. The moment was broken intoquickly when I noticed alarmingly that the blood transfusion goinginto my arm was not my blood group. I turned it off and shouted andall I could hear back was, 'Oh no, Sister Attwood has woken up andshe 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 cannotexplain why my life was given back but I opened my eyes that day toa renewed sense of God's love and purpose in my life. It felt asthough I been given the most incredible, awesome, amazing gift. AsI hugged John and Simon I could hardly believe it. That day markeda new beginning and a new chapter in my life.

I like new chapters. I love books, and I particularly like newchapters in books. It doesn't always make for popularity inbookshops when, at ten minutes before closing time, I havesometimes wandered in and stood reading the first few sentences,sometimes paragraphs, occasionally a whole chapter with the eyes ofthe assistant' piercing the back of my head and people disapprovingaround me as I stood in the front of the display completelyabsorbed in the book.

Indelibly ingrained on my mind are the first few sentences of somebooks 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 inpossession 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 oftwo Cities by Charles Dickens

'Dear God, I am fourteen years old. I am. I have always been a goodgirl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what ishappening to me.' The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

'Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four Privet Drive, were proud to saythey were perfectly normal thank you very much.' Harry Potter andthe Philosophers Stone by J.K Rowling

The most poignant and significant words for me however are not evena sentence they are the first four words of the BIBLE which simplysay, 'In the beginning God.' What an awesome start to a book.

This is where I want to begin for my story has from the verybeginning of my life, and in all its subsequent beginnings andendings, been woven into the story of God.

My Mum tells me that on the night I was born on 12th November whenI first opened my eyes to the world it was in the early hours ofthe morning and was snowing. The midwife had struggled to get tothe house but I had arrived safely. Born into a Christian family Iwas taken to church seven times a week from being a tiny baby. Igrew up with powerful sermons and stories which have shaped mylife. My experience of the love of God has been a story ofjourneying through joy, pain, and many challenges. The dominanttext of childhood was found in John 3 v16, 'For God so loved theworld that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes inhim shall not perish but have eternal life.' The emphasis alwaysseemed to be on the word, 'Perish.'

Being in church as a young child I can still recall my Uncle Billsinging the words of John 3 v16 very powerfully with his deep basstrembling voice. The image of God I drew from church was austere,ready and waiting to punish you, demanding always that you adheredto a very specific set of rules.

My childhood was spent in Spennymoor, Co. Durham. Our house had afront room which was only for visitors and a back room where thefamily actually lived. We sat around a table, myself and my olderbrother and sister, beneath a green plaque with large goldlettering which proclaimed boldly, 'Christ is the head of thishouse. The unseen guest at every meal. The silent listener to everyconversation.' Any nonsense at the meal table, my father simplystopped, pointed to the plaque and any mischief from his threeyoung children was quickly silenced.

In church and at home I grew up with the message God LovesYou.......IF.

At church I sensed a very specific narrative of, 'God LovesYou...if.' If you don't chew gum, if you don't smoke, if you don'tdrink, if you don't play with toys on a Sunday, if you read books(which except for the bible must only be about missionaries inAfrica), if you behave properly (I was never any good at proper),if you attend Sunday worship and if you wear a hat! The hat-wearingin our church was not really edifying to the Lord. The hats werehuge, because the ladies created internal competition. I felt therewas a subtle message that God loved you if you attended churchonce, more if you went twice, even more if you attended the biblestudy and so much more if you attended the prayer meeting and ifyou attended seven times a week you were almost as good as thePastor (who incidentally had to attend).

I can even recall hearing that God loved other churches a littlebit but not quite as much as ours. One of my early memories is ofthe Pastor of the church discovering that some of us youngteenagers were going to the Salvation Army for tambourine lessons.He called us into his office and told us we were to stop going - wewere not to go to another church even for tambourine lessons.

My dear father was dedicated to this church. He was also the localPark-Keeper and had a bellowing voice which he used veryeffectively to shout at children misbehaving in the park. He couldspot you misbehaving from half a mile away. He was also our SundaySchool Superintendent and loved telling us bible stories usingflannel graphs - giant fuzzy felt pictures which as the storyunfolded gradually made up a picture. My father's favourite storywas Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his very young and onlyson on a fire as an offering to God. I have a vivid memory of myolder brother and sister, both of whom had learning difficulties,turning to me and saying, 'We had better behave or Dad might dothat to us! God might tell Dad to put us on the fire', a perfectlylogical response. I remember turning to my brother and sister andsaying, 'I don't believe God would do that, in fact I'm certain Godwould not do that, God loves you and me.'

That feeling of God's unconditional love has been a powerful partof my story, woven into my life from a very early age that God'slove went beyond the narrative I as a child heard and experienced.I was convinced that God's love was unconditional and that I wasacceptable to him despite messages proclaimed to thecontrary.

Tonight I want to remind you all here of a very simple message,aware that there is nothing new about this wisdom; the message isold and it is ancient; it has been there from the very beginning.God loves you, he thinks you're absolutely amazing. The awesome Godwho created and sustains this universe thinks you're fantastic. Godloves you."

Only three words, 'God Loves You.' Words that are so easy to sayand yet much of our lives are spent trying to earn and to proveGod's love for us. Even people who attend church seem to lackconfidence in proclaiming the love of God. Why? I believe it isbecause they are not certain it is true. The study several yearsago that produced the book, 'Time to talk of God' revealed thatmany Methodist people are good at talking but lack confidence intalking 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 ofall our beginnings caught up as we are in this incredible, amazingstory. God's love that is present - not because of anything we havedone or are capable of doing. For God's love is not caused byanything we can do or say. God's character and nature islove.

I believe, if God had a Facebook page I believe his status wouldpermanently say, 'I love you.' If God could write on your wall itwould 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 thousandsof times.

1 John 4 v7 -12 (selected)
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and onlySon into the world that we might live through him. This is love:not that we loved God, but that he loved us.... Dear friends, sinceGod so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has everseen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his loveis made complete in us.

It seems that despite all of God's efforts described with hispeople in the Old Testament and despite what God has done for us inChrist described in the New Testament, we his people still at timesdon't really believe it.

We need to hear the words again, God loves us, but knowledge aboutGod is not the same as knowing God - there is a difference which isrooted in our relationship with God. God's transforming love musttransform us and then we ourselves can become a transformingpresence in the world.

As an Intensive Care Nurse many years ago I was involved in there-location of the Intensive Care Unit from the old crumblingVictorian hospital to a brand new purpose built state of the arthospital. Our department was going to be one of the first to moveinto the new hospital. We had been hearing about how wonderful thenew hospital was and particularly of the fantastic new fullyequipped Intensive Care Unit, how it would transform our work. Iwas asked if I would like to go on a visit and see what I thoughtof the new unit prior to us moving in. The hospital managers wouldaccompany me with the architect and some of the builders. They werevery excited and saying, 'Sister Attwood, what do you think?' Ireplied, 'Well it's beautiful but where is the oxygen?' One of theworkmen exclaimed, 'Oxygen, Sister Attwood? What for every bed?''Yes,' I replied. 'Every bed has a ventilator and every ventilatorneeds oxygen.' And he said, 'There's no oxygen here, Sister', and Isaid, 'It's really, really important. We tend to find that ourpatients do not do well without oxygen in the ventilators.' And hesaid to the rest of his team, 'This is going to take longer than Ithought'. There was silence as everyone realised a crucialingredient of this newly transformed Intensive Care Unit wasmissing - oxygen. In the same way that oxygen only transforms thehuman body by being breathed in - so the power of the spirit mustbe breathed into our lives, the life of our church, the life of ourcommunities.

I believe it is the spirit of God that brings an awareness of thelove of God. The oxygen of our faith that transforms our story, cantransform our lives, our church - and our society.

In 2 Cor 3 v 18 we read, 'And we, who with unveiled faces allreflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likenesswith ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is theSpirit.'

Have you ever really wanted change? Desperately wanted things to bedifferent? Supporting Newcastle United, I know a lot aboutdesperation and looking optimistically for change.

In January 2008 Newcastle proclaimed that the answer to its allprayers had come, an event that would transform Newcastle United,local papers proclaimed. 'St James' Park is preparing for a secondcoming after Newcastle this afternoon announced that Kevin Keeganis to become the club's new manager. In an official statement thatwas as short as it was sensational, the club announced: "Geordiemessiah to return". Everybody thought he'd be the answer toeveryone's prayers.

The crowds gathered outside St James' Park, local TV and radiostations buzzed with excitement. Newcastle United fans have alwayshoped for transformation but sadly the messiah in the form of KevinKeegan failed to deliver leaving only eight months after hisarrival. Something in human nature yearns and longs fortransformation to occur.

My father had a saying, 'You know Pet, God loves you just as youare but too much to leave you that way.' God wants us all not justto know about him, but to know of him, to experience him.

The story of God's love for us in Christ describes transforminglove that God loved us so much he sent his son. The story of Jesus'birth, death and resurrection speak of God's transforming love forus.

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 everyonewill know that you are my disciples, if you love oneanother."

Tertullian, in his 2nd century defence of Christians, remarks howChristian love attracted pagan notice: "What marks us in the eyesof our enemies is our loving kindness, 'Only look,' they say, 'lookhow they love one another'."

How can we know transforming love? By being disciples, followingthe example of Jesus. Living to follow, learning to love. We arefollowers of Jesus not volunteers for Jesus. We're not doing God afavour, we're not helping him out - he's got it sorted - we'rejoining in with the story of God as it continues to unfold in theworld.

God's transforming love is spoken of in the Old Testament andoffered to us as an example in the birth, death and resurrection ofJesus. It has often been said Jesus did not come and write a book -he formed a community of people to experience the love ofGod.

I am very aware that I have discovered this transforming love ofGod through my own personal experience and people who were tryingto be his followers.

The church I grew up in and family life provided me with a story ofGod's Love being conditional on all manner of things - but duringmy young life, thankfully, there were also many narratives which Iexperienced as transforming love.

My own inner voice rejected completely the idea of a God who wouldask my Father to put me, my brother or sister onto a fire and burnus. The same voice that, when we were banned from tambourinelessons at the Salvation Army, felt this wasn't right. How couldthe lovely people who had been so kind to us, in their smartuniforms at the Salvation Army who had been so kind to us not beloved and valued by God? Early childhood was not easy, my brotherand sister both had learning difficulties and my father had severeepilepsy. We didn't have a lot of money. My father received hiswages on a Thursday which often meant by Tuesday there was verylittle to eat as we had run out of money, but my personalexperience was of a love that would not let me go, the God who soloved and loved me. To this day some of the most significant wordsfor me are found in the hymn, 'O Love that wilt not let me go'especially in the second verse, 'O Joy that seekest me throughpain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow throughthe rain, And feel the promise is not vain, That morn shalltearless be.'

As a family there were many times when it didn't just rain, itseemed to pour down as torrential rain but I have seen manyrainbows, experienced many signs of hope. I have clung onto thishope in God throughout all of my life.

Curiously the tiny little place that is Spennymoor has its own coatof arms and Latin motto -'Spe Nemo Ruet" "With hope, no one shallfail." I can still recall being told at junior school that this iswhat we should live by. Over fifteen years ago when I first readWalter Bruggeman's inspiring book, 'The Prophetic Imagination' Iheard an echo of Spennymoor's motto again as he described the lifetransforming hope offered in God. 'This hope is radical andsubversive for it limits the grandiose pretensions of the presentdaring to announce that the present to which we have all madecommitments is now called into question.'

I firmly believe God is at work in the Methodist Church bringing alife transforming prophetic message of hope to a society that needsto 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 thatthere many people who feel that they are without hope doubtingtheir experience can ever be different. The singer Lily Allenwrites in her song, The Fear, 'I don't know what's right or what'sreal anymore cos I'm being taken over by the fear.' Into thisnarrative of anxiety and despair we as a people of faith need toremind people of God's story of hope, love andtransformation.

One of my earliest memories of experiencing transformational lovecame at the age of ten. My mother sadly had a mental breakdown andwas taken away from the family home. I recall the quietness in ourhouse as lots of adults coming and going. I remember my fathersitting in the corner of the front room kept only for visitors withhis head in his hands, in despair. I can still recall the anxiousfaces of my brother and sister looking at me and I did what manychildren in that situation have done before me and after me - Itook charge! I did a bit of fettling - sorting things out. At tenyears of age I became the carer of our family, organising meals andgiving tasks to my brother and sister.

My mum had been gone for several months and we were taken veryinfrequently to see her, the feeling being that it was better notto see her in the old Victorian Psychiatric Hospital, an austereplace that had been a workhouse. We had adjusted to a strange kindof normal in the way that life in any crisis has to eventually, forthe house still had to be cleaned, shopping purchased, mealscooked. We had developed our own routine. Dad would get up earlyand light the coal fire, I would come down and organise my brotherand sister into sorting out breakfast before we all set off forschool. I remember one day going to the front door to get the milkin from the step as usual. To my surprise alongside the two pintsof milk, there was also huge casserole dish with a tiny note on thelid, 'With love from the Methodist Church.' I picked it upcarefully and took it into the kitchen and I remember just lookingat it, mesmerised by it. Oh the absolute joy for now I didn't haveto sort out the evening meal before school. Actually there wasenough for two meals there. To this day I don't know who in thechurch brought the casserole although I suspect it was theMethodist Minister's wife and to this day I am grateful for thatsmall act of kindness which had a huge impact on my life. Thechurch we belonged to prayed for us which, was lovely, but what wereally needed was a casserole, practical support -love not just inword but found in action. Love that could breathe life into us,love that could be experienced and not just spoken of, lovingaction that could transform the situation we were in. That day, acasserole transformed my world.

Mum eventually returned to the family home and as many a psychologybook has described, a child who takes early responsibility in afamily often goes a bit wild! The church I attended prayed for myrebellious spirit! My teachers, being very aware of our familysituation, were incredibly kind and patient with me and a realtestimony to the importance of teachers and their ability to make adifference in a young child's life. During my early teenage yearsmy attitude and behaviour were a disaster. I worked my way throughmy church's 'no list' with some degree of satisfaction and thenadded another list of my own invention. I stopped going to churchpreferring to smoke and drink in the back lanes with friends.

Around the age of fourteen my cousin started to tell me about agroup of young people from the Methodist Church who she went toschool with and who had invited her to some of their groups andbest of all - here comes the most predictable thing for youngteenagers, although she said they were a bit weird they had somevery 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 onlyround the corner from where I lived and I could meet my friendsafterwards. I was taken into this huge church building inSpennymoor entering a large musty hall with bright orange chairsand notice boards covered in yellow and green. Some of the youngpeople were even wearing yellow and green clothing, a hideouscombination I thought and further proof to my young mind of theirweirdness. We all sat around chatting, eating pop and crisps andall seemed pretty normal until someone announced it was time forthe bible study! My instant reaction was how strange and where istheir Pastor? I asked the person beside me where he was, 'Oh,' theysaid, 'We haven't got one; we've got a minister and he sometimescomes along but we usually look at the bible ourselves'. I couldn'tbelieve it - how extraordinary, looking at the bible themselves?Praying together without anyone telling them to do it? What wasthis all about?

They talked and I sat back and listened, they spoke about how muchthey loved God and what a difference loving God made to theirlives, how they related to their families (some of which didn't goto church) and friends at school. I didn't go and meet my friendsthat night I just sat in the Methodist Church hall until the endand left when they had finished, knowing I would go back, feelingthat these young people didn't just know about God - they knewGod.

It was so clear to me that these young people were different. Theirlives had been changed by the transforming love of God. I was leftdisturbed, challenged and humbled and I wanted to be likethem.

Subsequently at the age of 14, in Newcastle City hall, I discovereda personal faith in God that was transformational, taking someonewho was rapidly becoming a wild child to be a daughter of theliving God. I made a new start. I believe in the transforming loveof God because it has changed my life and I have seen it change thelives of many other people. I believe it is this transforming loveby the power of the spirit that can transform our Church, thepeople called Methodists. I believe in new life. I believe inresurrection. I believe in transformation. I believe Methodismneeds to be re-ignited by the love of God in the power of theSpirit to be the renewal movement we were called to be.

I believe and see many signs that God is renewing us, re-shapingus, calling us ever on to respond to his transformationallove.

John Wesley experienced transformation when his heart was strangelywarmed. The Methodist Church was born as a renewal movement, amovement of change. The opposite of the word transformation isstagnation, preservation, predisposition to sameness, ultimatelydeath. I don't believe change will come from changing theconnexional team around, new policies, new projects and new plansas good and well intentioned as they are. I believe that we needthe power of the spirit to open our hearts and our minds, unlocksome doors and windows and breathe the fresh air of the Spirit ofthe living God into us. An experience like that described on theday of Pentecost in

Acts 2, ' When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together inone place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind camefrom heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and cameto rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the HolySpirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabledthem.'

I believe in the power of the spirit to transform life. I believein the unconditional love of God. I have had many experiences oftransformation within the Methodist Church.

Rob Frost Missions where as very young people Rob encouraged us, asthat dear man encouraged many other people, to do things neither myhusband John, myself or anyone else thought we were capableof.

When we as a family coped with terminal cancer, the love of theMethodist people was overwhelming, it was life-affirming andlife-giving.

At the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, which is an incredible placeto work, where a commitment to learning in an environment ofhonouring and acceptance is deeply, deeply energising andtransformational.

Participating in the community that is the Methodist Diaconal Orderin Area group and at Convocation where we share stories, laughter,and joy together in an atmosphere of honesty and grace-filledacceptance.

In the last nine years at Brunswick Methodist Church workingalongside lay and ordained people who everyday are learning anddemonstrating to me what it means to model God's love andgenerosity.

God's transforming love must transform us and then we ourselves canbecome a transforming presence in the world.

We as God's people are also messengers of God's love in Christdescribed beautifully in 2 Cor 3 v2-3, 'You yourselves are ourletter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. Youshow 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 ontablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.'

My concern is that this transforming love of God must go alongsideengaging faith for the two are inseparable. I wonder sometimes ifwe spend so much time IN church that we don't have time to BEchurch. Our life is out of balance as the people of God if we donot engage our faith. The gospel is incomplete unless we balancethe gathering of God's people for worship together and the sendingof God's people out into the world to engage their faith in theworld.

John 3 v 16 said. 'God so loved the world.......that he sent hisson'. It does not say, 'God so loved the church that he sent hisson.' Motivation of God for the story of his Jesus' engagement withus was and is, 'love for the world.' The whole of creation beyondand including human kind. In Rev. Dr. Roger Walton's book, TheReflective Disciple we read, 'The overarching story of the Bible isabout God reaching out in love! God's attitude towards the world isone of profound and unfathomable care and concern, whichcontinually issues in action.'

If the church is to be a sign of God's kingdom it must participatein the world that God loves. For the church does not have themonopoly on God. God is already at work in people's lives, in theworld he created and sustains. In being sent into the world we getto join in with what God is doing. In the doing and engaging wemeet God.

One of my favourite examples of Jesus engaging people is found inthe story of the woman at the well in John ch. 4. It is thewonderful 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 ofday! In Jesus speaking to a Samaritan Woman he is breaking theJewish codes of the day, in a place he shouldn't be, talking withsomeone he shouldn't be talking to.

This story is typical of how the gospel writers choose to describeJesus engaging with people, not in the Temple or Synagogue butoutside of them with people - ordinary people doing ordinarythings; in this instance collecting water. Except of course thathere at the hottest time of the day Jesus is at the well without abucket asking the Samaritan woman for a drink. Jesus takes theinitiative with a very simple request, 'Will you give me a drink.'He begins a conversation, an interaction that enables her to slowlyunderstand who he is. At first she sees a thirsty man, then aJewish man, and then she wonders is he a Prophet greater thanJacob? The ultimate moment of revelation comes when she says at theend of the encounter, John 4 v28 'Then, leaving her water jar, thewoman went back to the town and said to the people, "Come, see aman who told me everything I ever did. Could this be theChrist?"

Ann Morisy in her recent book 'Bothered and Bewildered' describesthis encounter as a story of a conversation where, through smallactions, hope is enacted and revealed.

Here is an example of engagement. The encounter is intentional andinvitational although the conclusion is slightly ambiguous in termsof the Samaritan woman. Did Jesus or the Samaritan woman ever get adrink from the well? Did she come to faith? The biblical textdoesn't actually tell us - we are left to wonder. What we do knowis that she found her voice and her wonderings led to the faith ofothers. We read that Jesus stayed with them for two days and theirresponse was this.

Despite being a member of the Methodist Diaconal order, one ofthings I have never been good at is engaging with feet! As anIntensive Care Nurse I had a reputation for double-gloving wheneverI washed a patient's feet. For a long time I was never very keen onwhat seemed like our obsession with foot washing and the bowl andtowel 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. Inrecent years this image of John 13 has spoken to me and beenredeemed for me in a variety of ways, hence the delightful giftfrom my District of an Olive wood carving of the John 13story.

I have found myself deeply challenged by our engagement in thewonderful City that is Newcastle upon Tyne.

Firstly, the story of Healing on the Streets in Newcastle. It beganin Newcastle during October 2008 when the evangelical churches ofthe city were brought together to hear of this ministry in otherplaces. It involves placing eight chairs in front of Grey'sMonument at the heart of the city, a few hundred yards fromBrunswick Methodist Church, and inviting people to sit on them andbe prayed for. The training felt uncomfortable seeming to focus onthe spectacular and unusual, but something kept me there. We wentonto the streets of the city and the first thing we were invited todo as a group of Christian people was to kneel on the ground infront of the Monument and pray quietly and gently. As I knelt onthe ground I was overwhelmed by the feeling that God finally had mewhere he wanted me and the church to be - kneeling before thepeople 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, 'Atlast you're here, we need you Christians here, Eunice. Why doesn'tthe church come here every day? It's no good staying in your lovelybuildings'. And I heard that call from the streets of the city, acry, an invitation and a challenge to the Christian church toengage, to pray for people where they are and not wait for them tofind us.

Secondly the story of Street Pastors in Newcastle. When John Wesleycame to Newcastle in 1742 he spoke these now famous words, 'I wassurprised so much drunkenness, cursing and swearing even from themouths of little children) do I never remember to have seen andheard before in so small a compass of time. Surely this place isripe for him who came not to call the righteous, but sinners torepentance.' If you were to come and stand alongside me as a StreetPastor on any Friday or Saturday evening between 10pm-4am in theBigg Market of Newcastle you would see a very similar scene to thatdescribed by Wesley so many years ago.

Street Pastors, the national initiative and response of the churchto engage with the night-time economy, began in Newcastle on 12thDec 2008. The very first night within minutes I was kneeling downon the pavement cleaning up a young girl, a junior doctor so drunkshe couldn't tell us her name. It took us two hours before we coulddiscover her telephone number and get her home safely. The impactof this work is I believe far reaching as the Church proclaimsGod's love.

Thirdly one of the most precious projects to me is the Girls AreProud (GAP Project) a project of the Cyrenians in Newcastle uponTyne working with vulnerable women in the sex industry. Christmas2008 was the first time they asked if I would lead a Carol Servicefor them. We sat together on a round purple carpet in Brunswick'sworship space and they movingly told me the Christmas story,blending the figures of two nativity sets together - one set wascarved from olive wood, the other a knitted one which had beenknitted by several different people so the figures were alldifferent sizes and completely disproportionate to one another. Aswe knelt in the worship space one of the girls took the tinyknitted baby Jesus in her hands and shared her pain, hopes anddreams. The baby figure was passed around the group and each oneshared her story, painful heart-wrenching stories of neglect,abuse, violence - of young lives shattered before they had hardlybegun.

In the message translation Matthew 5 says 13"Let me tell you whyyou are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out theGod-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how willpeople taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end upin the garbage.

I want to be part of a church that is fully immersed in the storyof God A church that celebrates its rich story of contact with750,000 people, 250,000 members, 10,000 local preachers, 2,000ministers, several hundred lay employees and 5,700properties.

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 whohave power and influence -
A church that knows how to party and celebrate life,
A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly ofresurrection,
A church that doesn't pretend to have all the answers butencourages 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 listento.

I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation notpreservation -
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 thegood news.

I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely andconfidently 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 amongstus, it will increasingly be our story.