Messy Cathedrals: hints, tips and stories

Published 9th July 2014 by lucy moore

Messy Cathedrals
While a few cathedrals are running a monthly Messy Church, some see their role as hosting a big one off annual or biannual celebratory event in the cathedral.We asked for advice about funding and food from brave people running big one-off Messy Cathedral events in case anyone else is planning a large ‘festival’ Messy Cathedral gathering.
We didn’t charge for ours, the Cathedral kindly hosted for free so we just did the usual beg and borrow for craft materials! We did encourage donations to the Cathedral though. We invited families to bring a picnic and had a time of eating together at the end. People did hang around for it too! Our Cathedral coffee shop offered a lunchbox meal deal for people to order in advance and collect on the day.Hope this helps.
Martyn Payne from ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
The St Paul’s Education team funded some craft materials; participating Messy Churches leading an activity kindly donated their time, team and materials for free; the Diocese paid for the special biscuits .. No proper food sadly; and my time was donated via BRF. The Cathedral made no charge for the event
(before the event in June 2014) Our Messy Cathedral event is being funded via the Diocesan Children’s committee budget – it is a one-off event. In terms of the meal: We don’t know how many people are coming, and the kitchen facilities are poor, so it is to be hot dogs followed by fruit/yoghourt etc.Hope this helps
I sold it to the powers that be as a wonderfully exciting joint venture with the Cathedral (it was their 50th birthday so they needed a proper party) and got £1,000 from the diocese , I scrimped on everything else during the year so I had another 1,000 from my budget , the Cathedral chipped in for a few things, they had asked me to do it after all which also meant they couldn’t charge me for using the place. The mother’s Union heard I was struggling for money so they chipped in for the birthday cake. Several Messy churches from around the diocese came to man some of the crafts and those that could afford to supplied all the stuff, like the church who still had loads of glass paint pens from a holiday club which they were prepared to bring. Plus I am incredibly mean (or I like to say a good steward) so was very careful about my choice of activities and used the incredible gifts of many people in the Diocese rather than buying in help wherever possible. I was determined not to charge but we did ask people to book in on the grounds we were going to be providing tea.
We closed the booking at 600 ‘cos that was the maximum I reckoned I could provide tea for. As ours was in October I had worked out how to eat in the Cathedral by clearing the chairs at the back so everyone could sit on the floor and chose food carefully) but God was good and two days before it happened I suddenly realized that the weather was going to be good enough to eat outside which was fab. The “meal” was very simple, a roll – ham, cheese, marmite or jam, made and delivered to us on the morning , then these were added to the brown paper lunch bags (with handles) which we had made up the day before with a carton of juice (not blackcurrant as the floor is vey pale)) a packet of crisps, a box of raisins a paper serviette and a paper plate (‘cos we is very civilized down here in surrey!). They didn’t take that long to compile. Once people had started eating we cut the big birthday cake and many more from Tesco’s and took the slices around on platters. We encouraged people to put all the rubbish back into their lunch bags which we collected and yes sad looser that I am I sorted the crisp bags and clingfilm (from the rolls) so we could recycle the rest – I wanted to have recycling bins set up but never quite got around to it. It was actually relatively straightforward, people collected their bags of food after the worship/ celebration Jam or ham on one side of the Cathedral, cheese or marmite on the other (probably would go for less than 25% marmite next time). I bought lots of really cheap ikea fleece blankets for people to sit on but in fact they ended up more like tablecloths and people sat around the edge, I had advertised that “a picnic tea will be provided” so several groups brought their own blankets anyway.
Hope this helps a bit
Ps Hmmm, thinking about it for next Pentecost again in conjunction with Cathedral (depending on building works) but this time instead of being a show case for Messy Church I would sell it to the churches as a chance for Messy congregations to come together as so many members don’t realize there are other similar congregations.
Anne Offler and Sharon Pritchard at DURHAM Cathedral
It started with Lucy really – at Messy roundtable, a meeting of Regional Co Ordinators attended by Sharon and Anne. Lucy was giving us news and latest developments and mentioned Messy Cathedral. I could just feel Sharon’s ears prick up and hear the cogs turning and sure enough, very soon after we got back to Durham the email arrived and Messy Cathedral, Durham was born.
Sharon knew just who to speak to and she did. Then we waited to hear if Messy Cathedral would be included in the diary and when.
‘It’s all go for Easter!’ the email came through and the meetings began, only four weeks to go but we knew we had just enough time if we pulled out all the stops. Sharon sorted the logistics and organized the Cathedral – I think I just took a deep breath!
First stop – publicity. Sharon’s contacts and design bank came in handy so the fliers were ordered and confettied as far and wide and thickly as we could manage. If you put out your hand you got a flier, an empty bag – not for long!
Next stop – programme ably aided and abetted by Lucy’s manuscript for her Messy Cathedral we tweaked and sifted it through the agreed terms with the Cathedral staff – no food, water, sticky glue, glitter, sand, liquid of any description, playdoh etc etc. Can Messy Cathedral be messy without these? – oh yes it can!Anne’s forte – fill in the gaps on the programme – we only need 8 – 10 activities for 5 session, and 2 or 3 prayer stations.
Then came the shopping list – a memorable session with both of us scrutinizing the activities and writing as list. I think we are both good shoppers so it came quite easy that bit!
Funding was no picnic as Messy Cathedral did not really fit the criteria for some sources of funding. We went ahead and are retrospectively twisting arms so we’ll hastily move on.
We ordered Messy Church cards to give out at Messy Cathedral with the intention of signposting people back to a Messy Church near them. The information was – log on to the website, put in your postcode and find your nearest Messy Church. It also prompted a few Messy Churches to register so they could be found.Well, I think that’s the prep all done – programme – check, equipment – check, Pat testing certificates – check, safeguarding – check, registration – check, musicians – check, activity team – check, puppets – check, picnic area – check, car parking – check, sleep – what’s that?
Messy Cathedral was sited in the North Transept of Durham cathedral. The tables were arranged for us and left all week and we had access from 9.10am after morning prayers to begin at 10am and end at 12 noon. The session followed a typical Messy Church pattern, about 60 – 70 minutes activity followed by Celebration then out to the cloisters for a picnic – bring your own on this occasion.
Monday, Day 1, Jesus Stories.
We gathered quietly in the Cloisters, me and Sharon, Alan and Josh, Hazel and Tracey surrounded by bags and boxes, a plastic tree and an inflated paddling pool and waited for the signal that Morning Prayer had finished. We were off – down the aisle to the tables ready and waiting in the North Transept. Just a short time later the area was transformed into – Messy Cathedral! The tables with their activity cards, leaders and equipment, the leaders with ID badges and smiles, Sharon and Tracey ready to register, prayers offered, staff primed, doors open – we were ready. With just a few minutes to go the queue started to form, eager families wanting to come and join us, and come they did! Ninety people gathered that morning to worship! Each table had one of Jesus’ stories as its focus with the session aim to engage with the stories through a variety of activities. We made birds for the mustard tree, badges for the lost sheep, purses for the lost coin, mosaic tiles as a reminder of the buried treasure, and who could forget the donkey balloon racing engaging with the Good Samaritan! Having no access to sand or water did not deter us from building our house on the sand – we just used partly inflated lilos and jenga bricks – worked a treat!Laughter rang around the Cathedral and continued as Sharon and I led a few rousing rounds of Allelu, allelu, allelu, alleluia we’ll praise the Lord and then Bill led us in a story-telling session about the Prodigal Son.
Our shared meal was held in the cloisters where we shared our Messy Grace, unwrapped our picnic and tucked in. Postcards were distributed thanking families for joining us and giving the website address to encourage everyone to look up their local Messy Church and pop along to continue the fun and fellowship.On Tuesday, Day 2 we looked at Jesus’ friends with activities showing the different kinds of people Jesus had as his friends. We made keyrings for Peter, Alan spent the morning boat building – a reminder of the fishermen, it was a money box for Zacchaeus, writing and drawing using scratch art for the secret friend Nicodemus and guess what symbolized Lazarus? Being wrapped in loo roll – great fun!!
It was great to share the message that it was not and still isn’t always easy following Jesus. We coloured and cut shoes out to stick on the road and we made ‘Me Sticks’ to show that we are all different but we are all Jesus friends.
We taught a new song today using the iPod – ‘God can do anything, anything at all’. It was a great hit with the seventy nine worshippers as was the story of Zacchaeus retold by Phil. Messy Grace and Cloister picnic ended our second day and we prepared for day three.
Day three was Jesus Miracles, followed by Day four Jesus and Prayer and Day five Jesus and Easter. These days, like the previous two, followed the same pattern, a race down the aisle as soon as the last ‘Amen’ of Morning Prayer was uttered to set up the area – everything had to be cleared away each night. Then with everything in place, helpers briefed, tables set and prayers prayed we began. We had eight activities and two prayer stations each day, song and story with a puppet show on Friday followed by a picnic in the Cloisters. Andrew led our singing on the guitar on these days with Fiona leading the singing of the Lord’s Prayer to Pop goes the weasel – honest!
We were blessed beyond what we could have imagined during our week. The Cathedral staff – vergers, listeners and others told us frequently how much they were enjoying seeing the families worshipping and having fun in the Cathedral. The visitors to the Cathedral were amused or maybe that was bemused at the things that were happening. I suppose it’s not every day you see people hooking ducks out of an inflated paddling pool filled with balls – no water rule remember!
We survived the Cathedral and the Cathedral survived Messy Church, although the morning the verger switched the Messy Church microphone through the whole Cathedral speaker system was a close call! During the week we were given the Chapter House to store our resources. I am not sure the vergers were quite aware of the extent of the resources that Sharon and I possessed and that they would grow and expand into most of the area as the week went on.
Families came from across the Diocese and District and beyond to explore Messy Cathedral and for some this was their first experience of Messy Church. Some churches considering Messy Church came to Messy Cathedral to see what it looked like. We had enquirers to full church teams. We had four hundred and fifty people join us at Messy Cathedral through the week from seventy nine to one hundred and twenty three people on each day. We drew helpers from the Diocese and District, a whole army working with us to talk about Jesus and build relationships as well as set up and clear away each day. Was it hard work – certainly, were we tired – unbelievably, was it worthwhile – undeniably, did we have fun – mega loads, would we do it again – bring it on!!
The Bishop of Durham, Rt Rev Paul Butler, and the Deputy Chair of the Darlington District, Rev Shaun Swithinbank have both commented on the event.
This is part of Bishop Paul’s press release after Messy Cathedral:
The Bishop of Durham has praised the impact of the Messy Church movement in connecting children and their families with the church.
The Right Revd Paul Butler Bishop of Durham is a big supporter of the idea and wrote the introduction to Messy Church Theology, the first title to encapsulate the academic theology of Messy Church published in 2013 by BRF.
The Bishop, who is Chair of the Churches National Safeguarding Committee, and the lead amongst the Bishops on children and young people said: “Messy Church is brilliant. I have been a great fan from the very outset. It’s terrific.
“The message I want to get across is that this is the church for many people. This is not preparing people to come to church properly. It really is church for those who gather and when it’s run really well we are seeing people coming to faith in Christ. I love Messy Church.
“Messy Church is aimed at Children and Families, indeed all ages together.”
This is what Shaun wrote after visiting Messy Cathedral:
I walked into Durham Cathedral in the first week of the Easter holidays to find Messy Church in full swing with visitors from all over the area getting involved in creative ways of exploring the stories of Jesus. Young and old were joining in the activities and the worship songs. The atmosphere moved us, and inspired us from wonderfully joyous times of sharing to reverently prayerful moments as people listened, asked questions and worshipped in this magnificent setting. Messy Church is proving amazingly popular in many other places, and is already taking place across many of our Methodist and Anglican churches, but was brought to Durham Cathedral for the first time by the two regional co-ordinators Anne Offler, Children and Young People’s Development Worker in the Durham & Deerness Valley Methodist Churches, and Sharon Pritchard, Children’s Ministry Adviser for the Diocese of Durham. The aims are to involve all ages in worshipping, having fun and learning together. The event was a huge success with over 450 people attending through the week and people went away afterwards with a spring in their step, a smile on their faces and, for some, a renewed vision of their Christian journey. Well done to all involved and our many thanks to the amazing team of organisers and helpers.
Shelley Porter at TRURO CATHEDRAL
We have done 2 Messy Cathedrals – Advent Angels and Lent Lanterns.
We informally asked for bookings but in essence not many did and just turned up on the day!
We did not charge but put donation baskets out at the exits at the end of the events. It did not cover the costs though, but our Cathedral does not charge for the use of!
It was funded by our limited budgets – neither of the events cost more than £800 – which included food and some travelling costs of some of my helpers and planning team. I asked all the Messy churches in the area to lead a craft table (15 in total) some of which organised their own activity and others asked me to tell them what to do! Resources were very much on a shoestring but were all appropriate for the theme!
Food was based on a Biblical theme – What they would have eaten in Bible times! Participants were asked to get into about groups of 8-10 people and gather around the provided platters of hummus, pitta bread, tomatoes, cucumber, dried apricots, bananas, satsumas, feta cheese cubes etc supplied, water or fruit juice cartons were passed around, and finally homemade honey biscuits (made by a willing volunteer the week before) were passed around as people had finished their savoury. We drew the line at locusts…!
It wasn’t a cooked meal as we couldn’t cook in the cathedral but they were happy for us to eat in a designated area using cushions and chairs. We are lucky to have a co-op next door to supplement where necessary – people were counted at the door and the food prep team just made sure there was plenty. The basics had been bought in advance and the team just made sure enough platters were made up. We had about 250 at the first one and about 150 at the second.Hope that helps!
Julia Chamberlin at ELY CATHEDRAL
I am probably the last to reply as we had our second Messy Cathedral on Saturday! It has been really interesting to read what everyone has to say.
I have attached some of the key publicity for advertise, book and programme for the day to make some sense of what we did. Charges:
We charged £5 per adult and £2.50 for 3s and over. As I have a small budget now with which to fund a year’s work.
The Cathedral do not charge us – or I don’t expect them too so the main costs are resources for the activities and the picnic which was quoted as £3 per adult and £2 per child. Hence we subsided the under 3s.
The quality was little on the budget side but included:

Budget crisps & choc bar
A piece of fruit
1 roll with cheese, ham or jam. This helps with vegetarians and lactose. We then provided alternatives for those needing gluten free.

The times of year when you can offer this in Ely are restricted to warm months- ha ha! So May – September. And with early summer and hols being busy enough I think in hindsight September is my preferred month to host it.
The easiest meal to offer is a picnic and we used a huge light airy space which we decorated with gazebos, rugs, cushions and lights. We also offered a book stall with all the Messy resources you can think of and an information desk.
It is worth offering tasters of other things within Messy – eg Godly Play, Open the Book and Prayer Spaces in Schools to enrich the variety.
The theme of our last one was Harvest and this one the Lord’s Prayer and we used Maketon to accompany each time we prayed it together.
Any questions or ideas for the Lord’s Prayer do get in touch – we had a team of 67 from across the diocese to help and one keen Bishop to launch it all!

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