Race across the world to Messy Church USA Conference

Published 23rd April 2024 by Aike Kennett-Brown

Part of my Messy Church Ministry Lead role is to encourage the international Messy Church community. We host an online learning group for country leads, all organised and delivered from the comfort of my spare bedroom, so when I was invited to lead an in-person workshop on ‘Intergenerational Discipleship’ at Messy Church USA ‘Celebrate the Mess’ conference, I leapt at the opportunity.

With my husband in tow, the pair of us set out on our ‘Race across the world’ from London to Chicago.

Stage 1: We arrived at Stanstead airport ahead of our scheduled departure, amused to find an ‘Escape Lounge’. Knowing that our USA colleagues have devised an ‘Escape Room’ as evening entertainment at the conference, I wondered if this was similar, but with sofas?

Stage 2: In just 2.5 hours we touched down at Reykjavik airport, Iceland. The clear skies enabled us to view a land of ice and fire. Snow-capped mountains and glaciers on the horizon, and a burning lava field with flashes of red-hot lava and plumes of smoke visible on the outskirts of now abandoned Grindavik fishing village. As I breathed in the crisp clean air, as we descended the steps from the plane, I was struck by the awesomeness of God’s creation in this elemental lunar-like landscape. My thoughts and prayers turned to Hildur Björk Hörpudóttir, our Messy Church coordinator in Iceland, who ministers to this region. As we waited for our connecting flight, an airport ad reminded me of bucket lists and prompted me to pray for Mary Judkins and Julie Swann from Cornwall, preparing for their conference workshop ‘from Buckets to Bibles’. I wondered if this dynamic duo would arrive in Chicago before me?

Stage 3: I have often prayed for those moments when super busy, that God would miraculously stretch the boundaries of time. Today was the day it happened – flying through five time zones, we landed in Hamilton, Canada and made it to Niagara Falls for sunset. It was the longest day ever! As darkness finally arrived, the Falls were lit in rainbow lights, reminding me of God’s promises. Returning to the Falls the next morning, the thunderous flow and spray of water reminded me of God’s power and might. As I received a soaking, I prayed for Carol Fletcher, our Messy Church co-ordinator in Canada – may she be equipped by the power of the Holy Spirit as she looks to build a new national team in this next season.

Stage 4: Race across the world to Messy Church USA conference continued on foot, as we dragged our suitcase across the Rainbow bridge and into USA. Prayers were said for Johannah Myers, Roberta and Lynn Egli, Rhonda Bower, the planning and delivery team for Messy Church USA conference. With four days in hand, no race across the world would be complete without a homestay. We headed for St. Hope, Ohio and spent the next 2 nights at Boyd’s Old Vetinary Practice, thankful of Cheryl’s thoughtful hospitality.

We awoke the next morning to the sound of hooves and watched a horse-drawn buggy spin by, driven by a woman dressed in 19th century clothing, complete with white bonnet and sunglasses. 3 more buggies quickly followed, with whole families on board in similar clothing. Having driven through a fierce lightning storm the night before, we wondered if we’d accidentally travelled back in time, ‘Back-to-the-Future’ style. However, our host explained we were in Amish territory. Curious to discover more about this Christian community, we visited ‘Behalt’ heritage centre, containing a 10 ft x 265 ft oil on canvas painting illustrating the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist beginnings in Zurich Switzerland to present day. We learnt about the Christian martyrs who broke from the Catholic church, disagreeing with infant baptism, wanting a spirit-filled expression of faith. If you’ve ever felt misunderstood in your Messy ministry from church leadership, let’s be grateful that we’re not back in the 17th century, where a break in church tradition resulted in either being drowned or burnt at the stake!

We had a fascinating day visiting an Amish farm, hearing about their traditions, their tight knit communities and fortnightly church gatherings in barns or houses that culminates in a community meal, how faith is passed on within the family and how older people are cared for by the community. No need for Messy Church, Parenting for Faith or Anna Chaplaincy! They selectively adopt new technologies that will preserve their community culture and not harm their way of life. Living off-grid, their carbon footprint is minimal, however, it’s not about care for creation, but preservation of community life. For example, cars are not used as this would mean that individuals would travel too far and take them away from their local community. I admit, there was lots I admired about this distinctive Christian lifestyle. However, this historically persecuted group have chosen to live out their Christian faith in isolation from the surrounding culture and do not seek for others to join them. This made me question, do I live a distinctively Christian lifestyle, or do I just blend in with culture or only hang out with other Christians?

Stage 5: Whilst I discovered a different way to travel in Amish country, horse-drawn travel was not going to get me to Chicago on time, race across the world to the Messy Church USA conference continued by car. After a 6-hour road trip from the rolling green farmland of Holmes County, Ohio, we arrived in downtown Chicago as a storm broke. The windy city lived up to its name! We prayed that the Holy Spirit would blow through the USA conference, inspiring and equipping all who attend. With just a few hours left until check-in at the hotel, I wondered who would arrive first?

Stage 6: Finally made it to the Renaissance hotel, North Shore Chicago and was greeted with hugs from Roberta Egli, Johannah Myers and other members of the Messy Church USA board, Chris Barnett (Messy Church Australia) and team Mary and Julie. Everyone was a winner on this occasion, as we were all treated to deep-filled Chicago pizza at Barnaby’s across the street. It was the perfect ending to our race across the world and for the conference team to relax after all the setting up. Originally planned for 2020, this conference was much anticipated, and we were all excited to welcome folk from across the USA the following morning.

I wonder…?

What are you racing towards?

What are you excited about in the life of your Messy Church?

Aike Kennett-Brown

BRF ministries Messy Church Ministry Lead

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