Transforming Love: Engaging Faith
by Eunice Attwood
Being born and brought up in a Christian family as I was (and research would suggest many of you reading this article probably were) was for me literally life saving. As a young child growing up was a challenging experience. My brother and sister both had learning difficulties and my parents struggled to bring up three children on a very low income. My overwhelming memory of childhood in terms of my faith journey is of being very aware of God’s love no matter what the circumstances were. I recall living with a feeling that the God who created the universe loved me with a ‘love that would not let me go’ no matter how much I wriggled and tried to run away. I have always felt held, not tightly but gently and firmly by God’s love.
As a young child this enabled me to cope on the days when my father, who suffered badly from epilepsy, had yet another grand-mal fit leaving him unable to function for several days and when my mother had a breakdown and was taken away from the family home for many months. My family and I were held by the love of God through the Methodist people who cooked meals, visited and offered lifts to the hospital.
This powerful message was at times held despite the church rather than because of it. At the church I attended, the message often seemed to be God loves you....IF.
If you don’t chew gum, if you don’t smoke, if you don’t drink, if 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, if you attend Sunday worship and if you wear a hat! 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).
In many ways it is understandable, for despite what many of us say about the unconditional love of God we often struggle to believe it, developing in adulthood quite specific (often subconscious) limits and restrictions on who we believe deserves God’s love. I wonder if we do this because we struggle to believe that God’s love for us is really unconditional. We behave towards others with the limited imagination we also extend to ourselves; it is perhaps part of what it means to be human and therefore limited in many ways. This is why I believe that to truly know yourself loved by God is a gift of faith and a life long journey of realising the height, breadth and depth of God’s love for you. Undeserved and unmerited it is a sign and gift of God’s grace which should change us hence my theme of ‘transforming love’. It is my belief that being increasingly aware of God’s love for you and the world for which he sent his son will change your life - a transformation that will have life-changing consequences in every dimension of our lives. For me this describes the journey of discipleship, an on-going, life-affirming, life-giving relationship with God who in Christ showed us by his life what it really meant to be fully human.
John Wesley experienced transformation when his heart was strangely warmed. Methodism was born as a renewal movement, as a movement of change. The opposite of the word transformation is stagnation, preservation, predisposition to sameness, death. I believe in the transforming love of God that can change us, change our church and change our communities. 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 because I have experienced it in my life and in the life of the Methodist Church of which I am proud to be a part.
God’s transforming love touches our lives transforming us, amazingly enabling us to join in with God’s work in the world as we ourselves become (potentially) 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.’
I believe the transforming love of God produces 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 says. ‘God so loved the world.......that he sent his one and only Son’ - it does not say, ‘God so loved the church that he sent his one and only 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.
For me at present, engaging my faith means working as part of a team ministry in Brunswick Methodist Church, Newcastle upon Tyne. As a Deacon my work focuses on those beyond the walls of the church and reflecting on new and fresh ways of being church in the city centre. We have recently opened the Brunswick Friendship Club (BFG) every Thursday tea-time with free coffee and cupcakes for the many people who feel lonely and isolated in the city. My work includes working alongside several of our Projects : SCARPA Project- with children under sixteen who run away from home, KUMASI- unaccompanied Asylum Seekers, Girls Are Proud (GAP) - working with women caught up in sex work, Street Pastors-working amongst the nightclub culture and Healing on the Streets-prayer offered in the city centre every Saturday afternoon.
It is my passionate belief that 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.
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. 14-16"Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
We have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit to be agents of transformation to bring out the God-flavours and God-colours of the earth. Engaging faith is both a product of and purpose of the love that has transformed us. I believe there are many signs that the people called Methodists are experiencing a move of the spirit. My prayer for us is that we might allow God’s love to transform us, engage us, equip us, empower us and enable us to be the people God longs for us to be.
I long for Methodism to recapture its birth story of a renewal movement raised up to spread scriptural holiness. My desire and prayer is echoed in these words, which I read at the end of my address to the Portsmouth Methodist Conference earlier this year.
I want to be part of a church that is fully immersed in the story of God,
A church that fully participates and works in partnership with the Worldwide Methodist family,
A church that explores and nurtures the faith of young and old,
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 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 where the story of God’s love is at the centre,
A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.
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.
Eunice Atwood is Vice-President of Conference 2010-11
METConnexion Autumn 2010 pp22-23