I recently attended what must be one of the most unusual, yet totally inspiring, church conferences that I have ever been to. Bolton, in Greater Manchester, may not be on everyone’s radar as the go-to place for spiritual enrichment, but Barry Woodward and his Proclaim Trust team managed to put on an amazing event which was so refreshingly different from the norm that one could not fail to be affected in some way.
What makes Fixed so different? With a gathering comprising mainly ex-addicts, those who care for addicts, and a good number of current addicts, these folks could really worship! I suspect that knowing exactly what they have been saved from brings out a greater degree of thankfulness than your average Sunday morning church crowd, but even allowing for this, the volume level seemed on a par with any of the local Premier League football grounds, including Old Trafford!
Story followed story of people whose lives had been transformed by encountering the love of Christ, often displayed through the love and dedication of Christians with a real heart for those struggling with addictions. At one point, there were no less than 13 people from the world of addiction on stage, all of whose stories are featured in the new book Fixed Lives. This book was launched on that day.
There were stories from around the country about some amazing work with addicts. Two of these were Ian Rothwell from the Turning Point church in Bournemouth and Joanne from Junction 42 in the North East. Ian and Joanne passionately shared their own experiences with projects in which they are involved to integrate addicts into local communities, giving them a real sense of worth and value.
Barry Woodward then incorporated elements of his own story in a talk that was entitled ‘Fingerprints’. His delivery was polished and would be the envy of many a comic. After Barry spoke, an appeal to others to find the salvation that he had found was met with an unprecedented response from over 70 people from the 500 attendees walking forward to give their lives to Christ.
Optional afternoon seminars were delivered by key individuals who work with people in the addiction community. John Edwards, Paul Lloyd, Gordon Cruden and Alison Fenning brought some excellent teaching. Moreover, Vicky Lloyd delivered a superb message which she called ‘Faultline’.
The day concluded with a roof-lifting workship celebration which was led by Mark Stevens and Anthony Farrell. More personal and inspiring stories were shared by Daz Armstrong, David Taylor-Lewis, Stuart Patterson and others. Then, Jay Fallon brought the final keynote to all those in attendance.
Overall, it was somewhat encouraging to know that even in the most hopeless of cases, there is always hope and there are still people around who care. Really care.