Messy Churches are springing up across the Christian landscape and you will most likely find someone near your church has a Messy Church option as part of the diversity of worship services they offer. A cursory glance at Messy Church, with its crafts, deceptive appearance of disorderliness and rambunctiousness might lead one to think that it is not ‘really’ church (a program perhaps), or maybe church ‘light’. One might be tempted to conclude that Messy Church is great for the ‘beginner’ Christian, but has little to offer the more ‘sophisticated’ Christian. In fact, there are opportunities for exploring faith that are uniquely provided at Messy Church.
At the celebration, he came forward with tears in his eyes and hung his ‘tears’ on the cross. Here was the Holy Spirit at work.
There is an openness, an inherent invitation to talk freely about life, faith, one’s spiritual journey and what it means to be a Christian in the secular world. This permission to explore begins at the craft tables. The camaraderie of creating together, helping each other creates community. When attention is both on making and discussing, it is easier to explore ideas, without all eyes fixed on you. There is a table leader who both helps with the craft and encourages conversation. The craft itself can tease out thoughts about one’s relationship with God and others that can open new ways of being. One Easter, one of the crafts was the tears of Christ. Each person was given 2 ‘tears’. On one they were to write the name of someone they had hurt/a broken relationship/an act that they regretted. They were to think on what they could do to mend this brokenness and then they were to write on the other tear, “I am forgiven’. The two tears were then tied together with a ribbon, to be hung on the cross during the celebration time of Messy Church. One young father came with his wife and children. The wife and children continued on, he stayed, deep in thought. Others came and went. Finally I said to him that this was between him and God and God knew what was in his heart and nothing need be written on that ‘tear’. At the celebration, he came forward with tears in his eyes and hung his ‘tears’ on the cross. Here was the Holy Spirit at work. ‘Church light’, I think not.
The celebration offers an opportunity to explore our Christian story in a variety of ways. People are invited to engage the stories. It is our Christmas tradition at our Messy Church to do the Christmas pageant at our December Messy Church. Everyone is invited to be part of the story. Costumes and props are provided. There are some simple speaking parts and a narrator tells the story. Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are played by the family with the newest baby. Every year, there is some new aspect of the nativity story that is inadvertently underscored. One year the ‘holy family’ had their two year old daughter, dressed as an angel, trailing along with them, helping to underscore the idea, that God was with them through that journey. One year it was the young Dad who made Joseph very real. As the story progressed, he must have been thinking about Joseph as a husband of a wife in labour and unable to find a place for them. When the ‘innkeeper’ denied them a room, the heart filled anguish in his voice as he replied, “But you don’t understand, my wife is in labour” stilled the room. I have experienced the nativity in deeper ways at Messy Church. ‘Church light’, I think not.
The question was posed by a child, but it was not a childish question. Eventually, the adults felt comfortable enough to ask, to seek, to explore.
During the celebration, we share the conversations that happened at the craft tables. During the presentation of the talk, people will ask questions. Initially, this began with the children. During the Good Shepherd theme, one of the children asked why God thought she was a sheep. Suddenly there was a stillness as everyone was focused on the answer. The question was posed by a child, but it was not a childish question. Eventually, the adults felt comfortable enough to ask, to seek, to explore.
Messy Church offers a chance for all to participate in prayer in many innovative ways. Prayer is not simply a long list of intercessions, led by one but a chance to engage God. Relationship with God, through prayer, is explored together in an informal way, helping people to experience the imminence of God. One Messy Church, each person was encouraged to write on a piece of paper something that they identified within themselves that kept them from being the person God and they wanted to be. The paper was folded into paper airplanes and the airplanes were then thrown. Each person was instructed to pick up a plane (not their own), unfold it and read it to themselves. The leader said, “God, we hold to you the prayer of your child. We ask your help.” On the count of three, everyone shouted out what was written on their plane. Each had enthusiastically prayed for an unknown other. ‘Church light,’ I think not.
The meal offers an opportunity for further discussion and community building. Much of Jesus’ ministry was at table and Messy Church continues that tradition of Christians sharing a meal together. New friendships happen, play dates are set, children’s clothes are passed on, potential golf games are discussed. The Christian family having gathered together to celebrate God, continue that community out into the world.
The opportunity for members of the Church to develop as disciples is a huge part of Messy Church. People who felt they could never ‘witness’ to their faith, can begin to understand that they have much to offer and that their faith journey can inform the faith journey of others. The spiritual growth of the team is as powerful as that of the participants.
Messy Church is a living, breathing, dynamic expression of God working in the hearts and minds of God’s people, engaging every sense, every part of their being. ‘Church light’, I think not.