We’ve been noticing a number of ‘extras’ added on to Messy Churches. Most of the time we’d roundly applaud the imagination, energy and dedication that goes into organising yet another opportunity in the month to help people encounter Jesus. But just occasionally we writhe a little in angst about whether the development is actually Messy Church or has gone back down a more traditional route.
If a new group happens at the same time as the Messy Church, for example, but is a Messy Extra ‘for children aged eight and above’, is either the ‘Extra’ or, indeed, the original group now really a Messy Church? One of the stated values of Messy Church is that of being ‘all-age’, so would it be a contradiction in terms to call something for a segregated age group Messy Church? My personal feeling (Lucy writing here) is that yes, it would be.
Being age-segregated is fine in schools where there is an educational curriculum. But a church has a spiritual ‘curriculum’, which has nothing to do with age or intelligence. A child can be far more ‘advanced’ than an adult, spiritually speaking. Someone with SEND could have a more vibrant spiritual life than someone with a PhD. One of the joys we’re discovering in Messy Church is the joy of worshipping and learning together. Why on earth would we want to split up when it’s so glorious to be together? How does a single parent share the experience of church with both his five-year-old and his ten-year-old if they are at different ‘events’? How is that giving them space to grow together – having quality time as a family, an opportunity the church can offer them so easily? What are we learning when we split different groups off? That we can’t stand being with each other, even in church?
We do, I admit, become rabid about this in the BRF team. Emails fly from London to Liverpool to Hampshire with an ever-increasing number of exclamation marks and capital letters. The most frequently used word is ‘Aaaaaargh’. But it’s because we feel sometimes as if we’re the little Dutch boy holding back the relentless tide of tradition that just wants to sweep away the fragile yet beautiful building God is creating in the cross-generational family which is Messy Church. Come and stick your thumb in the tidal defences with us! We need all the help we can get!