Stumbling after a star

Published 18th December 2023 by Sally O'Hare

In October I was lucky enough to take a group of the older young people from my Messy Church to 3Generate the Methodist Church’s, children and youth forum. If you’re not familiar with the event, it takes place annually and for the last few years has been held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. The event uses several halls at the NEC including 3 which are filled with tents for young people and their group leaders to sleep in.

When planning for the event I and my fellow leaders wanted to make our little group of tents distinctive so that they would be easily found, particularly for young people stumbling back from the toilet in the middle of the night! We planned to add fairy lights and bunting to our tents, but then one of our group leaders had the brilliant idea of tying helium balloons to 2 of our tents. These were visible from right across the hall, they were particularly fantastic because they were star shaped; so we could tell our group to ‘just follow the star if you get lost!’

I have Keratoconus which means that whilst my eyesight is functional when I have corrective contact lenses in, it is less than optimal without! On the way back to my tent first thing in the morning with all the rows of tents looking very similar I found myself squinting at the celling desperately endeavouring to spot the star. Stumbling but still following a star… it’s stuck with me as a moment. I wonder if that was the Magi’s experience? Was their star clearly visible or were they at times stumbling on a dark and dusty road?

Sometimes I think this can be our experience as Messy Churches, the way can be clear and obvious but sometimes we can feel like we are stumbling in the dark. My Messy Church has never been a particularly large one and whilst this has been a source of joy, allowing us to build deep and meaningful relationships, it can occasionally be very dispiriting. Mainly when another event has prevented several people from attending and we have done all the work only for a very few people to show up! On those occasions I have wondered if this is the wrong star to be following, if we’ve missed a turn along the way. But I come back to Jesus’ words ‘When two or three are gathered in my name…’. I hang onto this and to the fact that while I often feel we have to constantly justify our existence as a Messy Church, tidy Churches are often not questioned even when their numbers are lower!

I also think back to the Magi. When things got confusing, they stopped and asked for help. Granted they ended up at Herod’s Palace; not the safest place for them to be, but they did find the answers they sought even though not quite in the way they expected. Like all Church communities Messy Churches inevitably develop and grow and change in unexpected ways. As we stumble together along the road there are lots of places we can stop and ask for help. One place is our Messy Church Masterclasses offering a chance to learn and reflect from those across the Messy Church network. Another is our new series of ‘How To’ videos packed with helpful ideas to help develop and sustain your Messy Church. We’re also hosting another Messtival in March, it’ll be a chance to explore in smaller groups in workshop sessions as well as to share in worship together. Lastly don’t forget about our Support Teams a group of volunteers who are there to offer experience, advice, walk alongside your Messy Church and to pray for you. Contact them here.

Sally O’Hare

BRF ministries Messy Church Coordinator

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