Fruit trees and frameworks!

Published 21st September 2022 by wendy ferguson-smith

Aike, Jane and I took some time away from the computer in June to stop, come together in one place and spend some time thinking about how our team can support the Messy Church network and allow it to develop further. We met at a retreat house near Henley, which had an amazing walled garden full of beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables. As I was wandering around the grounds, I noticed the pear trees, initially because they looked to me as if they were holding their branches wide open in welcome. I wondered how the trees had grown to that shape and only then noticed the younger trees which were growing on a frame! The frame supported and guided the tree into a shape until the branches were strong enough to hold the shape independently.
This got me thinking about frameworks. Lots of you will be familiar with all sorts of frameworks: rules, customs, local practices and guidance, either written or verbal. Some frameworks are helpful as they allow us to do things safely. At their best, they encourage us to take a broader perspective rather than just seeing our own narrow viewpoint. At times, however, frameworks do none of these things and can restrict growth and cause damage. Looking at the fruit trees, I learnt (from Aike and Jane who are much more green-fingered!) that at a certain point, if a support band on a tree is not removed in time it can damage the tree, cutting into its bark and restricting its growth.
What then would a helpful framework for Messy Church look like? I think it starts with our values; creativity, hospitality, all age, Christ-centred and celebration. These provide the support that we all need in order to reach outwards from our local churches. The values in themselves, however, shouldn’t feel restrictive. Instead, they should encourage us to reach out beyond the existing boundaries, to explore and celebrate the faithfulness of Christ in creative and hospitable ways, with everyone who wants to journey with us.
If our values provide a helpful framework, then I suppose the next question becomes what is an unhelpful framework? What is restricting and harming new growth rather than supporting it? I think one of the things that can prove unhelpful is that ever-familiar sentence in church contexts, ‘Well, we’ve always done it this way…’ I’m sure, like me, you have often heard that particular phrase! As Messy Church has reached the grand old age of 18, it has a history; it has people who like to do things in a particular way. We, therefore, need to ask the question; when do we venture outside of our existing framework and allow ourselves to grow freely? You will have your own answers on what constitutes a helpful framework and what is cutting into the bark. I invite you to take some time with your Messy Church, to pray together and to discover what you could do differently, where you could grow wild and explore something different!
Sally O’Hare
BRF Messy Church coordinator

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