What is Messy Church

Messy Church Is Not A Club By Lucy Moore

Messy Church is a fresh expression of church for families, based around sacred values of chilling, creating, celebrating and chomping. It began at a local church and has been talked about around the country, to the point where the team goes to lead a training session at a church and is told all about, ‘this wonderful project we’ve just started. It’s called Messy Church, have you heard of it?’

The journey we are on seems to be into uncharted territory. This is surprising, given that the elements of Messy Church have nothing really new about them: youth groups have always seen the need to veg out together; children’s leaders have always done craft activities with their groups; Alpha courses have made eating together mainstream and Christians have always managed to gather together to praise God and celebrate his story. The elements are not rocket science.

The difference is, perhaps, first, that this is a church, not a club: this gives Messy Church a dignity and aspiration that a club doesn’t have. Second, from the start, Messy Church has advocated an approach that welcomes the whole family: we never insist that children are separated from their mum, dad or grandparent in worship. The whole experience is for the whole family. That this should be so revolutionary to so many churches is frightening.

It has challenged us to think about the use of traditional Sunday children’s groups: how do people worship and learn best? By being split up or by modelling the faith to each other? By leaving their family or by sharing an experience with their family that can be talked about later at home? The experience is for the whole family Our Messy Church journey is not a one-way experience of traditional church feeding and supporting the fresh expression; it is a two-way process with the newer congregation challenging the traditional preconceptions of what church has to be.

Perhaps, without realising it, the traditional church has taken away the authority of the family to bring up the children in the Christian faith: the church has said, ‘Come to church, send your children to Junior Church and we will teach them what they need to know. We, the church, are the experts and you, the parents, are not capable.’

Messy Church seeks to reverse this process and empower parents and grandparents to walk the discipleship journey alongside their children. After all, God placed Jesus into a family.

I find myself often pondering why there are no discipleship courses from the UK designed for the whole family to do together?

It is the once-a-month ceiling on many Messy Churches that has made us think about home discipleship. We can’t manage to hold it more than once a month, but how can we be growing disciples if two hours is all we give them once a month?

The answer has to be not to add on more meetings, for which people have no time, but to equip people to meet God, talk about God, pray to him and celebrate him in their own homes: again, revolutionary stuff! (But... isn’t it obvious? How frightening that we should have strayed so far away from these habits and now have to rediscover what it means to ‘do faith at home’.)

Another area with which we’re grappling is that of planning worship that helps these particular people encounter God and does not hinder them from meeting him. The starkest example of this was when we held our first Messy Church Eucharist. We realised that, if we are a church, we need to celebrate the sacraments.

But the Anglican Common Worship Eucharistic liturgies, though much loved by traditional churchgoers, are patently unfit for purpose for people who aren’t ‘churchy’. The whole sacrament needed to be taken back to grass roots and to be rewritten with these people in mind.

Why would we suddenly call Jesus ‘Christ’? We always call him Jesus. Why would we use subjunctives? We always use everyday English. Why would we suddenly burst into acclamations from a totally different part of the story? We always try to make things clear and straightforward. Why should the mystery of the simple bread and wine meal be lost in a stream of words? To us, actions and visuals speak as loudly as words. With prayer, trepidation and frustration we developed a Eucharist that turned out to be the most moving celebration we have ever had at Messy Church, and the one that provoked most response.

Messy Church is a tool God is using to give new life and hope to many. We wonder if it is going to be a platform for a new way of being disciples where the home is as much a temple of the Holy Spirit as the gathered church.

Lucy has published Messy Church (Barnabas, 2006) Messy Church 2 will be published by Barnabas late 2008

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