Dr Dave’s Messy Adventure

Published 9th July 2024 by dr dave gregory

How do you begin to encompass in a few words a trip lasting 4 weeks, across two vast counties and three time zones, as well at least three different climates. From the warmth of Western Australia, the mild early autumn of Melbourne and Auckland down to the spectacular wintery snow-capped mountains of South Island, New Zealand. Well, like all good stories, perhaps you should start of the beginning.

Well, not quite the beginning. That would be waiting for the flight at Heathrow airport. No, let’s begin one flight on. Travelling from Singapore down to Perth in Western Australia, where the Adventure was to begin with Greg Ross, one of the Australian Messy Church national leads.

“Do you get some sleep?” was the obvious and important question as I landed mid-afternoon after almost 24 hours of travel and a meal with local leaders in the early evening. “Yes, some”, I replied, “but then God showed up!” They say that mission is looking for what God is doing in your neighbourhood and joining in. That includes while sitting on a plane.

After a few hours’ sleep, the man sitting next to me started a conversation. Discovering that I was a minister travelling to work with Messy Church in Australia and New Zealand, he said “I’m reading a book – the ‘Spirit Led Life’ by Rick Warren”. At the end of a couple of hours conversation about how to discover God’s direction for your life, as we landed, he said, “I think God was in this.” “I missed my connection in Singapore so I’m not supposed to on this flight. I didn’t choose this seat. I think God was in our meeting.”

And I think God was in our Messy Adventure from start to finish. Beginning with the New Zealand and Australia National Messy Church teams who had been planning the trip for over a year. What a wonderfully, creative job they did too – Greg Ross and Sandy Brodine in Australia, together with Jocelyn and Alex Czerwonka, Claire Weyer, Angela Brown and Carrole Lewis in New Zealand. Arranging flights, liaising with local Messy Church leaders and teams, booking accommodation and cars.

They were a great team to travel with through the weeks. Supporting one another, laughing together; encouraging one another when things were tight or we were tired, especially after being up at 4am to catch early morning flights! Enjoying eating together. Praying together. Creatively weaving our teaching together as we went along so that it connected people. Greg and I singing random songs together in the back of the car as we travelled through New Zealand – I hope none of the recordings survive!

The DNA of Messy Church is hospitality, creativity and celebration, along with being intergenerational and Jesus-centred. This was our team DNA too, and we certainly found it in the Messy Churches we encountered along the way. For some leaders, this was the first time they had come together with other Messy Church folk since before the covid lockdown. Others, came for the first time to explore Messy Church. Teaching and demonstrating Messy Church Does Science and the new Messy Adventures landed well. As did Greg’s sessions on raising up singing and prayer in Messy Church, and outdoors in nature; wonderfully and creatively presented through children’s story books and using well his gift of song.

Exploring the small, small world of nature with phone microscopes proved a wow in every place, as did the rocket prayers for the Earth and rainbow makers. An “Astronaut Training Programme” series of experiments allowed people to explore imaginative ways they can connect people with Jesus through creative activities. We filmed short videos along the way, looking for glimpses of God in the world around us. In the background of one was the Kawarau George bridge, where bungy jumping was first invented. The team suggested I might explain gravity while doing a bungy jump! But that was too much of a Messy Adventure for me!!

Yet, as so often happens, the conversations between people are equally or perhaps more valuable as what is taught. Many people travelled long distances to be there – two or three hours along the mountain roads of South Island or the vast, flat landscape of around Perth. In Melbourne, one lady flew up from Tasmania where she had re-stared a Messy Church with two families after lockdown. Her heart for them was so special. Many came with questions. Others with stories of what God was doing through Messy Church. In Putāruru, in the middle of North Island, Messy Church is now larger than the Sunday congregation. Serving families in rural area, as well as gathering monthly there is Messy School supporting families in developing literacy skill. And Messy Kitchen, providing food parcels with those struggling with the cost of living. Church indeed!

One motivation for the trip in New Zealand was to encourage folk living around Napier on east coast Hawke’s Bay, who had suffered terrible flooding as cyclone Gabrielle swept across North Island in February 2023. Hearing stories of people rescued clinging to their roofs; of houses, even whole communities, being inundated and swept away. A sign of the changes in weather that so many people face due to climate change around the world. Feeling helpless and fearful before the power of nature, perhaps in the Pentecost weekend we shared with the Anglican Church in Taradale who hosted the Roadshow, they were able to begin to rediscover the wonder and beauty of the natural world around them and encounter the God whose Spirit is at work in all things to renew and sustain life.

And in both Australia and New Zealand, the God’s creativity and hospitality are to be found in the wonder of the natural world. In dolphins swimming the lagoon in Bunbury where Greg serves as minister. In the rewilded Maungatautari – Sanctuary Mountain – where invasive species have been removed, allowing native birds like the Fantail and New Zealand Robin (with a white breast) to surround us with their paise as we walked up a trail through the trees. And in the garden of the Suzanne Aubert Heritage Centre in Wellington, where taking time to listen to the sounds of creation around them, one lady spoke to me of being re-connected with the nature centred spirituality of her childhood in Samoa, something she felt was lost in moving to New Zealand.

A theme through out our travels was “Small Things Matter”, drawing from Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed from which the largest tree grows to provide a home for the birds of the air. Following the terrible floods around Napier, one family had planted a field full on Sunflowers to bring hope to their community. People were invited to take a seed and plant their own seed of hope. So, through our travels in New Zealand, we invited each Roadshow to make a sunflower with petals of hope – their hopes for Messy Church, for people, for creation. We carried them with us through the trip, gathering them all together at St Barnabas Anglican Church in Christchurch for our final Roadshow of the trip. A rolling of display of hope, growing as we journeyed on.

Accompanying our journeys too were the family of Messy Church Kiwi’s – Ollie and Oscar, along with Olivia, and Kili – gifts to Greg and myself when we took part in the New Zealand Messy Church Conferences in 2020 just before covid. And no Messy Adventure would be complete without a meal at the end. After the final roadshow in Christchurch, tired yet glad of a time together and with God, Angela and Gregory Brown cooked a wonderful meal for us. And joining us were two more companions on the Messy Church journey – Wetas! Giant members of the grasshopper family native to New Zealand, many types being endangered by mammals introduced by settlers. A reminder of the how we are re-shaping our world, taking away from the playful creativity of God. I’ve named mine “Bert”!

At the end of John’s gospel, he writes, “Jesus did many other … signs … which are not recorded in this book.” There are many other moments I could share with you from our Messy Adventure, signs of Jesus travelling with us. But I’ll end with one more story. We bid our farewells on Sunday morning at Christchurch airport.  With a few days free before the long flights home, I hired a car and headed to Lake Takapo among the mountains of South Island. Enjoying the dark skies, with wonderous displays of the Milky Way and stars. Walking up icy trails of the Hooker Valley up to the Hooker Glacier, with views to Mount Cook, hearing and seeing avalanches on the hills around me.

That night at the hostel I was staying in, in the kitchen I got into conversation with a couple from Finland. They asked why I was there and I explained I’d been working with Messy Church. The young woman smiled. “Have you heard of Messy Church” I asked. “Yes”, was here reply. “I’m Sade, the new Messy Church lead in Finland.” A strange meeting! A final sign of playful God being with us on our Messy Adventure from beginning to end.

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