A first Messy Church
The words “messy” and “church” are words that are not usually encouraged to go together (although in reality, we all know that they do in many circumstances!). So when I first heard about Messy Church a number of years ago, I must be honest with you, I was slightly dubious. I totally thought that children should be free enough to make a mess, but then this mess should be cleared up as early as possible or preferably the mess should be physically contained within a wipeable area. And glitter…. Don’t even get me started!
So when my church, St George and All Saints Tufnell Park, decided that they wanted to do Messy Church, I wasn’t sure how it would work for us as a church nor for me as a member of the team. But week one was quickly upon us and yes, it did involve glitter! We opened our doors for the first time to our local community in the form of Messy Church one relatively sunny Saturday in the Autumn.
All of us on the Messy Church team had never experienced a Messy Church before and so our feelings were a mixture of uncertainty, excitement, slight confusion, along with questions like: Would anyone turn up? If they do come, will the children have fun? Did we do enough publicity? Do we have enough food?
But it happened! The first family arrived and the children ran towards the nearest table to start their Messy Church experience. Then more people came! People we didn’t recognise and people who we had met regularly at our toddler group. It was amazing to see the church filled with children and not only that, but they were children who walked here, children from our parish.
The nerves soon dissipated as both team and visitors alike became more comfortable in the space. Children were enjoying doing their craft activities and the team were happy to interact with them as they did so. Parents and carers were encouraging their children to get stuck in and they too appeared relaxed being there.
The activities were fantastic because they catered to a wide range of ages of children. The older children were taking part in a competition to see who could jump the furthest (like a kangaroo) and adults even wanted to join in (yes, my husband was one of the culprits!). The younger children were concentrating on the craft tables, sticking and colouring their flower pots.
It was great to see the different people on the team with me. We had the people who loved hospitality in the kitchen, preparing drinks and getting food ready; the people who had the methodical brains on the craft table; the active people on the more physically demanding games and then the people who are good at talking to just about anyone who were making our Messy Church guests feel welcome.
When it was time for story-time and singing, people gathered and listened and participated with enthusiasm. Whilst this was happening, the team were clearing up and laying the tables for food. Ending our time together with food and fellowship felt significant and to me, it felt like it was really representative of a community.
So that was it, my first ever Messy Church experience and how wrong to think that it was about making the church as messy as possible! Using the Messy Church format enabled us to open our church to families in the area and it not only provided the children with fun things to do, but also gave them glimpses of God through the story, the hospitality and the generosity that was present.
Many more Messy Churches on and I am pleased to be a part of my church’s Messy Church team and I look forward to being introduced to new families each time, as well as welcoming the families that I know well!
For those who are interested in starting Messy Church, the Diocese offers consultation, support, and a £250 start-up grant if needed. Contact Jess Rodewald to find out more.
If you want to see a Messy Church in action, then come and attend Messy Cathedral at St Paul’s Cathedral!
Jess Rodewald is Children’s Ministry Adviser for the Diocese of London.