Yes, I have been onlineally silent for a week or so, but in real life haven’t stopped talking for the last week as it was our long-awaited International Forum at the BRF office in Abingdon. It was of course great fun and a huge privilege to spend time with four dynamic people from Canada and Australia and to discover those little things that add colour to a previously email-only relationship, an Aussie addiction to CocoPops being but one.
If you’re interested in Messy Church beyond your own parish or district, do read on and ponder perhaps how you would answer the question of ‘how do we help grow Messy Churches sustainably in a different country?’
International Forum Report
Gosh. What a week. The kind of week we’ll look back on and see as a significant first step in the way BRF works together with other countries, and, I think, as a necessary step that we had to take before anything else could happen in the way we’d all like it to in the future.
We welcomed four guests – Chris Barnett from Melbourne, Australia, Elizabeth Northcott from Vancouver in Western Canada, Thomas Brauer from Edmonton, Canada (and roughly midway across), and Nancy Rowe from just outside Toronto, thus pretty much to the east of Canada. Nancy and Elizabeth are Messy Church leaders in their own churches and Nancy has already worked with a colleague to put on several training events about Messy Church in Ontario; Thomas has a Fresh Expressions brief in the Diocese of Edmonton and Chris is the Children and Families Ministry Coordinator for the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania. So each of them brought a very different outlook and diverse experiences to the conversation.
We wanted the five days we had together to be a conversation, not a list of ‘what BRF wants you to sell’ as one of them had feared, so we didn’t stop talking and thinking for the whole week. The first two days were to introduce the very different situations and stories we brought to the table and to open up thinking on four broad areas:
1) Principles for sustaining international network
2) Strategies for growth within a country
3) Practical ideas for harnessing the international network
We had Wednesday as a mulling and musing day as we all went to General Synod in London to host a Messy Church lunch. And on Thursday and Friday we tried to pin down our thinking and planning for the future. More than anything we wanted to make lasting relationships that will withstand the pressures both of being so far apart and of the inevitable fact that we will need to pass on the baton at some stage to younger folk, and to give them all a genuine understanding of what BRF is – both the staff and the trustees who joined us for tea on the Thursday – and an appreciation that they are now a very important part of us. Worship in forms as varied as Godly Play, meditation on icons and Cathedral Sung Evensong surrounded all we did.
It’s impossible to note down the entire discussion that was as messy as Messy Church itself, but here are some of the main ‘practical’ outcomes:
A Memorandum of Understanding: none of us want a contract, franchise or legal agreement as each country, we hope, will work in an individual way in step with the Spirit of God and with the spirit of place. The MoU gives a sense of ‘mutual understanding’ rather than ‘obligations’.
The delegates will take back the draft MoU to their own countries and use it as a basis for going forward, and we will test it out to see if it is effective in practice and revise accordingly.
An official Messy Church ‘BRF endorsed’ presence in each country: we don’t want to cramp anyone’s style if they want to share their own view of Messy Church, but we do want people to know what BRF endorses officially, so finding ways (with the people we are confident in and with today’s technology) of establishing an endorsed presence, ‘planting a flag’, if you like, feels a positive way forward. We want to stay ‘organic, not organised’ (Chris’s neat summary). So we need to make sure the overseas Regional Coordinators are firmly linked into Jane’s support system, and we must consider websites or web pages linked to the BRF Messy Church site, Intranet solutions and Facebook, always remembering that the received wisdom is that ‘messy challenges need messy solutions’.
Twinning: is an obvious way forward and is going to start informally between the four MCs represented at the forum to be able to share stories and ideas and good practice more widely further down the line.
Resources: our individual Messy Churches are very much enriched by having input from different contexts and BRF wants to encourage ideas and needs to be shared from overseas with BRF’s Messy Church team so that they can be shared effectively in turn further afield. As the Messy publishing list is established with Olivia’s guidance and expertise, we will happily listen to ideas and perceived needs from our widespread networks. (Olivia Warburton is one of BRF’s commissioning editors and looks after Messy Church resources.)
Funding: It is obvious that indigenously produced DVDs would be ideal, rather than everyone exclusively using the UK version, though this version is ideal for the immediate future and can be run on computers without a problem. (To remaster the UK DVD for Canada / N. America NTSC would cost 1250 pound sterling for 250 copies. We have a contact happy to make a Canadian version but who would appreciate travelling expenses.)
And in an ideal world, when the time is right, we would have a fulltime Messy Church National Coordinator in each country to support the network in the same way that Jane and Lucy do in the UK.
These ideas require serious funding and it is far better that the funding sources should be found from the individual country than coming from BRF or the UK, which smacks of colonialism and dependency (and in any case, we need all we can get to encourage Messy Church in the UK). So we will all work on funding possibilities, trying to keep Australian financial resources to benefit Australians, Canadian ones to benefit Canadians and so on. BRF will do what it can to support bids for funding, provide budgets and documentation, advocacy and reassurance of ongoing support through its infrastructure as far as this permits.
In terms of non-practical outcomes, the guests definitely grew in understanding and excitement about Messy Church and BRF. The BRF team grew in confidence and excitement about the people God has brought to Messy Church as champions and the potential for working across continents to enrich the whole network. We all now feel we have firm friendships and trust across the three countries to build on in the future and useful experience if / when we talk similarly with other countries.
Nancy wrote: ‘I had such a great time. I had the chance to give lots of thought not only to MC international, but to my own MC and have come back brim full of ideas for ours, some of which I have already begun to implement.’
Chris said at the end in affirmation of BRF’s staff and trustees: ‘I have never experienced hospitality, like I have this week, ever before in my life.’