We’re indebted to our wise Messy friend Alison Thurlow for her thoughts about creating community in Messy Church. Alison writes:
Having been asked for my thoughts on building a strong Messy Church community, I am struggling a bit to define what it is that makes our Messy Church in Yate a strong community. I know it has a lot to do with having a strong Messy Church team, and I think I can also identify three principles that help to answer this question:
people above programmes
Looking now at each of these three areas in a little more detail, let’s start with longevity.
It seems to me that people often want quick results, but building a community takes time. We have almost completed our fifth year of running Messy Church at St Nix in Yate and it is in this past year that I feel we have really started to become a strong community. It takes a long time for people to trust you, especially people who have been broken and hurt by past experiences. I think you have to stick with people through thick and thin – when they do things that please you, but also when they do things that disappoint you – and be prepared to be in it for the long haul.
Moving on to time, I am very fortunate to have Iain as my vicar – a humble and gracious man who has allowed me to focus most of my time and energy on Messy Church. As part of a relatively small church, there are umpteen jobs that need doing, and I could help with several of these, but instead I have been permitted to channel most of my time into the running of Messy Church. Having designated time to think, read, pray, dream, talk to people, organise and instigate is a privilege and this investment of time does, I’m sure, contribute to the building of our strong Messy Church community. I should perhaps also add that 18 months ago I gave up my paid employment in order to be able to devote the maximum amount of time to Messy Church.
People above programmes
If I could just choose one of the three points, it would definitely be people above programmes. Important as a well-run, varied, all age, Christ-centred, hospitable Messy Church session is, it is even more important, I feel, that each individual who comes through the doors of St Nix feels valued as an individual. So many people have such low self-esteem and come to us so battered by life’s rich experiences, that what they mostly seem to need, at least initially, is for someone to take an interest in them, to listen to them, to make them feel valuable. We try to make sure that St Nix is a safe and secure place for people to come and within each of our Messy Church sessions we try to make space for listening and chatting. As we as team members have tried to model this approach, it has been so encouraging to see some of our more long-standing guests imitating this when new people arrive: this I do regard as a sign of community. The one event that has moved our sense of community up a notch is, I think, our annual weekend away – we are now planning our third! This is an exhausting but exhilarating time that enables us to spend 48 hours with people who we normally only see for 2 hours once a month, but it is also a time when new friendships are formed, old ones are deepened and people really learn to look out and care for each other.
Finally, none of the above would be much good if we didn’t actively seek to keep Christ at the centre of all we are doing here in Yate. Whether through prayer, short and active bible studies at our all-age team meetings or by individuals encouraging each other we seek to regularly remind each other to keep Jesus central to all we do.