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Messy Church: How it all Began

From The Pompey Chimes, the newspaper of Portsmouth’s Anglican diocese.

Lucy Moore who, with her team at St Wilfred's Cowplain, began Messy ChurchIT started with a group of worshippers at St Wilfrid’s, Cowplain having a bright idea. Now it’s a worldwide phenomenon.

Messy Church is the name given to a network of congregations, each of which meets for families to try art and craft with a spiritual theme, eat together and engage in a simple act of celebration.

There are now 360 Messy Churches across the UK and further afield – the concept has also been launched in Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Ireland. Anglican chaplains in Portugal and Spain are also keen on the idea.

Little did Lucy Moore (pictured left) and her team at St Wilfrid’s realise how big it would become when they dreamt up the first Messy Church six years ago.

“There were a group of us concerned about the needs of children in the church, and we got together to talk about the best way forward,” she said. “We felt that holiday clubs tended to address children in isolation, so we wanted something that would take the whole family on a journey, where adults could investigate faith with their children.

“After a lot of listening to God and to people around us, our core team came up with the idea of Messy Church. It should involve a welcome, some craft, a chance to celebrate and a meal. It would be on a Thursday, after school, once a month. Our Sunday congregation generously gave their time to help, and we have around 30 volunteers involved now, aged from teenagers to someone who is 90 years old.”

In a typical Messy Church setting, ten or so creative volunteers each come up with a different art or craft idea, all linked by a common theme such as Easter, one of Jesus’ parables or the Holy Spirit. Children and their parents go from table to table, making paintings, models, collages and sculptures – and usually creating a lot of mess!

Many Messy Churches provide a hot meal, but s o m e offer snacks and drinks. It’s considered a vital part of the event, where relationships are built. And the celebration aspect, which may include songs and prayers, often involves using the congregation’s creations from earlier.

Lucy has now collated some of those ideas into two books - Messy Church and Messy Church 2 - which are published by the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF). Messy Church aprons, tumblers, postcards and other branded merchandise was created. And 18 months ago, Lucy, who was already part of BRF’s team working in churches and schools, became a full-time Messy Church team leader. She helps train people who want to launch or improve their Messy Churches, organises ‘’Messy Fiestas’ when Messy Churches come together, and equips regional co-ordinators across the UK to enthuse about the idea.

“I already had a job with BRF in which I went around the country doing training for church leaders as well as schools work,” said Lucy. “I realised I was getting more and more invitations to talk about Messy Church, so it was a great relief when BRF got funding for me to go full-time and start to develop a network of regional co-ordinators.”

Her role has taken her to the Shetland Islands, Denmark and Ireland, and last month she led a day-long session, where stories and skills were shared at the Christian Resources Exhibition in Esher. And one of the regional co-ordinators has even taken the concept to rural Zimbabwe, where 300 people took part in an inaugural Messy Church.

“Once people have seen Messy Church in action, they realise that it’s not just a children’s club, but somewhere where they can be themselves and listen to other people on their Christian journey,” she said. “It can take time for people to realise that it’s for families, not just children. It’s also good when Messy Church is seen as a separate congregation in its own right, not something that channels people into the Sunday congregation. “It’s influenced the rest of our church in the sense that it’s taught us about the joy of eating together, of all ages working together and hospitality. We’ve learnt that church shouldn’t be about what we want, but about helping those outside our churches to come closer to God.

“It’s also taught us about how we can try to give things to God and he gives us buckets and buckets back! We started this for ourselves and it’s become something happening around the world, and in Anglican, Methodist, Salvation Army, Baptist and URC churches.

“None of it is rocket science, but it gives churches permission and the confidence to try something that they can see has worked in other places.” St James Church in Emsworth launched their own Messy Church only six months after St Wilfrid’s. It also happens in Petersfield, Newport, Wootton Bridge, Wroxall, Swanmore, Arreton, Stubbington, Titchfield and Crookhorn.

“It really thrills me to visit Messy Churches in other places and to think: ‘These people wouldn’t be part of a church if it wasn’t for the risk that our church took six years ago’. “If it wasn’t for St Wilfrid’s being prepared to to say ‘Let’s give this a go’, those people wouldn’t be in church today as a family finding out about God. That’s incredibly exciting, and I think the St Wilfrid’s congregation are proud that it originated here.”

This article is taken from the June edition of Pompey Chimes. Click to see the whole article which is a PDF file that will open in a new window.

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