A reflection on our most recent Messy Church – the November session from Get Messy! on ‘Peace and comfort’.
I have to admit, it was a toughie! First of all, I messed up the team planning date in a frantically busy October and ended up having to plan the session on my own: never the ideal situation. Then, over the three weeks leading up to the actual Messy Church, one by one, leaders had to drop out for an amazingly rich variety of reasons. We didn’t quite have people claiming to have bought two yoke of oxen, but illness, other church services, family stresses, work commitments, family demands, more illness and then still more illness kicked in until our normally muscular team was down to a skeleton staff. Trusting in God’s strength in our weakness was suddenly more than just a theory. Leaving the kitchen to a competent teenager and a roped-in archdeacon, we got to work welcoming old friends and new ones.
I do understand the Messy Church leaders who refuse to cover anything except ‘stories’ from the Bible. But I feel strongly myself that if we want to call ourselves ‘church’, we need to take the whole Bible seriously and explore the harder, more mysterious themes as well as the more obvious ones. Sometimes this involves Jesus’ words that aren’t in a convenient story, like the promise that he would leave his Holy Spirit with his followers. It doesn’t come from a neat story, but is still a valuable idea to explore, especially near All Souls. We ignore the non-story parts of the Bible at our peril; we just need to work harder at them.
And sharing this theme wasn’t as easy as ‘telling a story’. Each team member needed to make the imaginative leap from their activity to why they were doing it. After all, what has the Holy Spirit got to do with chocolate krispie cakes or dissolving different substances in water? We were in the realm of abstract ideas, not ‘We’re making these cakes because Jesus gave each of his followers a chocolate krispie cake to remember him by’. Making the abstract concrete, or ‘incarnation’, is a good tried-and-tested theological route, however, and the kaleidoscope of different ways of thinking about the Holy Spirit made a mysterious sense.
My activity was praying with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar, a prayer activity that engaged old and young alike, the top-of-the-class older children and the people with additional needs. We marvelled at the miraculous-looking change wrought by the chemical reaction and thought about the way prayer too changes things, even if we don’t understand completely why or how.
In the Celebration, Jon had chosen ‘Be still…’ as one of the songs. Some sang, some listened. In the verse ‘Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around’, I had the strange sensation that the glory of the Lord was shining, not in some unearthly way but in the very presence in church of the tired parents, the children with special needs, the teenagers huddled over the laptop, the relaxed watchfulness of the grandparents, the weary dedication of the team who had worked triply hard, the sheer togetherness of such an unlikely bunch of people. A holy moment of peace and comfort.