This could have been a difficult day for Methodist Conference to get into top gear, depending on your allegiance.
After all, Wales had lost to the All Blacks at rugby for the second week running; tensions were high at the World Cup with less than 24 hours before England faced Germany once more in a knockout match ... and Daleks, Cybermen and every evil in the cosmos had conspired to seal Dr Who inside the Pandorica..........
Meanwhile, as the sun blazed down outside, we put on our finery and headed inside.
Is that an act of pure madness or something about the conviction that what we have to do together is part of becoming life-long world-changing disciples?
Certainly, as we sat inside Portsmouth’s Guildhall, there was no getting away from challenges to be somewhere else. Neither Alison Tomlin or Eunice Attwood, this year’s President and Vice-President, would let us get away with being obsessed with navel-gazing ... or even naval-gazing as we're in this seafaring city.
We did what we always do: combining our business with worship - and by the way we have learned to do our worship so much better over recent Conferences - but we were challenged by both Alison and Eunice to be part of a Church that "throws parties for prostitutes” and listens to those no one else wants to listen to.
While Alison wanted us to pay attention Eunice urged us to open our eyes to God’s transforming love.
To pay attention, said Alison, was not just understanding about God at the centre but recognising that “God is usually at the edge, on the periphery - out there with those who have been discarded and neglected, who are distressed and distraught”.
It’s about “paying attention to those with whom we profoundly disagree - even our enemy” she said.
Alison, who spoke without notes, reminded us how easy it is to be so busy in the Church doing good things for God.
“But it’s more than inside the Church,” she said. “If we pay attention to God we won’t stay inside the church. If we pay attention to God we will have to do the things God challenges us to do: to go out among the people that need to hear the message that God loves them; who have no voice; who have had doors shut in their faces; that others reject and despise. Isn’t that an echo of what they did to Jesus?”
The transforming love of God was the recurring theme for Eunice, who told us about working with Street Pastors, being with healing teams on the streets, sitting with sex workers and of her own journey from a childhood in Sepnnymoor, County Durham.
It was all shaped by her conviction that the transforming love of Christ was what made God’s people a transforming presence in the world.
She said: “God thinks you are amazing ... we should be jumping up and down at that but we often find it so difficult, we’re not always so convinced about it.
“I believe we need to hear these words afresh ... those amazing words. God’s love is not caused by anything we can do or say: God’s character and nature is love.”
And, in a word for those who were tweeting from the Conference hall, and listening online, she added: “I believe if God had a Facebook page his status would permanently say ‘I love you’. If God was on Twitter his tweet would say ‘I love You’ and he would say it until we believed it.”
After a day like today we clearly have to get out of our box - mind you, what happened with the Pandorica?
So what were today vuvuzela moments - the bits that shouted loudest and would not be ignored?
Two I think.
- Stella Bristow’s astonishing design for the Conference stage:
- hearing Snow Patrol’s Open Your Eyes played at Conference and watching from the gallery as various former Presidents, Vice-Presidents and other long-standing Conference members decided what to make of it!