‘Kyrie Eleison, down the road that I must travel’ was one of my favourite songs to sing as a teenager. I’m talking Mr Mister’s version that made it to number eleven in the charts in March 1986. I knew the words had some religious meaning, but it was before the days when you could look things up on the internet. I came from a ‘low church’ background, so had never heard it in a church service.
Fast forward to October 2022 and I find myself in Tewksbury Abbey attending a concert by Cheltenham Bach Choir and Göttingen Stadtkantorei, supporting my cousin who had come from Germany to sing in the joint choir. I discover in the break between rehearsal and concert that Jason, a church leader from a Messy Church in Cheltenham, is also singing tonight.
The lights dim and this ancient place of worship start reverberating with Ola Gjeilo’s ‘Sunrise Mass’. My spine starts to tingle and, in my head, I picture the most amazing sunrise. I have a particular one in mind. I love to watch the sunrise when I go on retreat. I’ve had many God encounters at such moments and as I listen to this piece, I connect with those memories.
Without the translation in the programme, I couldn’t understand a word as it’s all in Latin, until I recognise the familiar words, ‘Kyrie Eleison’ which I now know means ‘Lord, have mercy’.
It’s a wondrous evening on a number of levels. I was caught up by the music and joy of listening to such a large choir of 120 singers, after a pandemic that silenced singing from our churches for so long. My soul connected and I wanted to participate in the moment, and so leaned over to my teenage daughter and whispered the word ‘beautiful’. I instantly received a glare from the woman sitting on the other side of me… who gave out THE GLARE to anyone around us who coughed, clapped or twitched at the wrong moment.
Out of fear of being shamed by the glare again, I remained in silence but developed a code of pointing to words in the programme to keep my daughter engaged. I mused on the irony of listening to a declaration of faith that I wanted to join in with (despite not knowing the Latin), yet had to remain a passive listener. It made me wonder what it would be like if this was my weekly church experience… encountering God in the spine-tingling music, but unable to express or respond? I also wondered if my level of engagement would have dropped more quickly without the translation. As I glanced around the packed Cathedral, I wondered who else was experiencing God, or were they just enjoying the music and not taking in the deeper meaning?
My mind turned to Messy Church. I wondered how many people come for just the activities or the meal and slightly miss the point of the Bible story and celebration. Or perhaps for those on the edge of church, are the team speaking a different language, ‘Christianese’, and we need to provide a better translation of what’s going on? Or perhaps we have such a great team of volunteers, we end up doing Messy Church to our guests and we don’t allow space for them to respond, contribute and create meaning for themselves?
Maybe at the start of this New Year, take a moment to reflect with your team and ask the questions:
Where do you notice God at work in your Messy Church? (What have been the spine-tingling moments in the past year?)
What are the barriers to participation? (language, location, time, SEND-friendly)
In this era of fewer volunteers, how can we include participants as a team on the day and create a culture where everyone expects to muck in?
And may our loving God bless you in the year ahead, as you travel down the Messy Church road – Kyrie Eleison!
BRF Messy Church ministry lead