Messy Cathedrals

Published 5th October 2011 by lucy moore

Season of mess and mellow stickiness… It must be the season for Messy Cathedrals. Norwich Cathedral hosted a vast Messy Cathedral last week (please see below for organiser Liz Dawes’ write up) and it was a huge privilege for me to be invited to be part of the Messy Cathedral at Guildford Cathedral on Sunday. The cathedral is dedicated to the Holy Spirit and the event was part of their 50th birthday celebrations, so you can imagine what theme was chosen.
Alison Hendy, the Diocesan Children’s Adviser, had done a fantastic job organising the day with her enthusiastic team and when I arrived, the cathedral was already set up with large clear notices explaining each activity, tables all ready and notices explaining the programme up on the walls. The teas were bagged up in the Education Centre and I realised that 550 bags of picnic are a formidable sight. One of the Regional Coordinators, Andrew Cowie, was also involved and sharing his long experience of Messy Church in his home diocese.
As families arrived, they were given a question card to ask of another family, then invited to swap cards and find someone else to ask the new question. This took up the potentially awkward arrival period and led us nicely into the introduction from the precentor and Alison and on into the crafts. However large a Messy Church, what matters in it doesn’t change: the individual encounter with people young and old over the craft is what counts more than ‘wow, what a huge event’. I was leading a prayer flag craft, so there was lots of scope with something so simple to meet plenty of families and exchange thoughts on prayer. There were flame streamers, balloon modelling ‘flame hats’, glass-painting, drumming, movement with flags and much more that I didn’t have the chance to see.
After a lively celebration, we enjoyed a picnic of biblical proportions: 587 people of all ages eating together out on a hillside in the sunshine – maybe not quite a miracle on the same scale as the original feeding of the 5000, but that same Holy Spirit was amply present at both events.
What does such a large-scale event achieve? A sense of big-time celebration, of identity, of affirmation of what goes on on a smaller scale in individual churches, all of them belonging to something bigger. It models good practice, shares ideas, gives the curious the impetus to try it out in their own context and gives hardworking Messy Church leaders the chance to be on the receiving end. And for the Cathedral itself, it gives the opportunity to show its support for the Messy mission and ministry of churches in the diocese and the opportunity to welcome young and old into its space to help them know they too belong to this great family of the Holy Spirit.
And in Norwich, Liz writes:
We wanted to make it the biggest Messy Church this year and it certainly lived up to its expectations, as around 400 people from across the Diocese took part in the event at Norwich Cathedral on a beautifully warm autumn day…
In true Messy Church style, the first part of the day was spent learning about God’s creation and the theme of harvest by completing craft activities. The families who came along had the opportunity to decorate fish from the ocean, make their own sheep and create a bracelet out of shells, just to name a few! There was also time to explore the prayer spaces which had been set up in the cathedral chapels, the NCRC bookstall with Messy Church resources, and for young children to play in the cloisters with the team from the Diocesan Play Van.
Our fantastic catering team from Holy Trinity in Norwich had put together 400 picnic bags which we eagerly enjoyed in the sunshine of the cloisters while the Messy Cathedral Band set up in the nave. By 1.15 people were making their way through for the worship part of the day. After some lively action songs we enjoyed an ‘Open the Book’ presentation from Irene Nickerson and a large group of young volunteers from the congregation, and then Kevin Baldwin from CROWNS trust continued the worship and wowed us with the ‘Folding Bandana’ trick (the bandana turned out to be a banana which proved that you should always follow the instructions, even if you get things a bit wrong sometimes!) Needless to say, the banana vanished into thin air leaving us all astonished and wondering how he did it.
Bishop Alan ended the proceedings beautifully in his full cloak and mitre, by leading us in a gaelic blessing, complete with actions.
It was great to see Messy Church congregations from across the Diocese meet together to learn about the theme of harvest and to worship God together! It was also a good opportunity for churches looking into starting Messy Church to gain lots of ideas of where to begin…
A huge thank you goes to all those volunteers who turned up on the day prepared to don an apron and get up to their elbows in paint, glitter and glue; and to those who manned the doors, made the picnics or played in the band. We could not have done it without you.

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