Is it just me or do you find that your involvement with Messy Church is beginning to have more of an impact than you could ever imagine?
I suppose more than most I’ve had the opportunity of being part of lots of Messy Churches up and down the country in my role within the BRF Messy Church team, and maybe this is why I am feeling the impact more, but I don’t think I’m alone. Certainly Jane and Lucy in our team feel the same.
What am I talking about? Well, being part of Messy Church has increasingly made it hard for me to be comfortable in many traditional Sunday morning services. I do still attend them at my local church of course. There’s no doubt that the church has lots on offer for all sorts of tastes and styles of worship, but the special mix that Messy Church offers me nowadays seems to be available nowhere else.
Passive or active?
For starters, in most traditional church services the congregation is fairly passive, if not completely so in some contexts. We come to receive from God through the hymns, prayers, sermon and the tried-and-tested words of a liturgy, and of course God does speak to us this way. All that very much emphasises a style of worship in which things are done to us rather than with us, though. In contrast, Messy Church is far from passive! It is active, indeed interactive, from the start. We are not just meeting with God in private but with each other, and God is at work in each one of us in a busy but safe space. This is something I love about Messy worship – and by that I mean the whole experience of Messy Church from the welcome at the door to the final farewells after the meal. God calls us to love him and one of the best ways of doing that is by loving each other, and this is happening big time in Messy Church as we talk together and hear about each other’s lives and discover what God is doing among us.
Many of our traditional worship patterns are built around nurturing a faith that is personal and indeed to a large extent private. It always amuses me that we talk about ‘having Communion’ and ‘sharing fellowship’ as being important elements of how we grow in faith, but when it comes to the service itself, there seems to be little opportunity for this. This has been relegated to another time and space, which, I think, turns the time for worship into something that it was never meant to be. Messy Church, however, is definitely all about people, as indeed church should be. The depth of conversation that can be experienced when you spend up to two hours in the company of families and their children is so much richer than the snatched conversations after the service over coffee and biscuits among those who have stayed. I would also suggest that far more can be learnt about our faith from the activity times at the tables and from the mealtime conversations than the sermon, however beautifully crafted and theologically rich it may be, can ever offer us – a sermon which is usually shared with a silent congregation, who may or may not be listening.
Of course there is a time for silent, personal and private prayer. Whether that time should happen when we are all sitting on chairs or along a pew in a church service is debatable. Surely when we come together, this is a moment for shared celebration and learning more about God from each other, which is the other side to quiet prayer and reflection that enrich our lives in our quiet times at home. Messy Church is definitely not a moment of a private faith. Indeed, it is all very public, which is another aspect in which I rejoice. The fact that there are Christians in the mix along with those who would not yet nail their colours to a mast of commitment, or even say they ever consider God and faith at all, is surely an exciting arena in which to worship. It means that I am not lulled into a comfortable language of faith with those ‘in the know’ but must sharpen my faith by talking with those who don’t yet know the stories that are precious to us or understand the words that mean so much. I’m glad that there are always new people at our Messy Church and that we are not a cosy congregation in that sense. Our doors are always open to new people and those new people bring with them their own stories and their own experiences of God or questions about God, which we need to hear.
So perhaps you can now see what I mean. Messy Church as church with its creative, interactive public and interpersonal experience of faith has spoiled me in so many ways. It has made me feel less at ease in more traditional Sunday services or even for that matter in the sort of worship where everyone is ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’ (from the hymn ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’ by Charles Wesley, 1747) during a time of extended singing, which interestingly can also be very isolating for some.
Finally, of course what makes Messy Church particularly special for me is the fact that there are children there. For me this changes everything. I’m convinced that we cannot grow in our Christian faith without the presence of children in the midst to remind us what adult discipleship and entering the kingdom of God is all about. Rather than making it more difficult for me to go deeper into things of God, the presence of children makes my Christian discipleship truly possible.
Messy Church isn’t just another way of being church for me – increasingly it has become a model of how church should be. I recognise that this may not be true for everyone but I am just passing on the effect Messy Church has had on my Christian life. I wonder what you think.