Alas, despite bobbing up and down like a rare ornithological specimen, I wasn’t called upon to contribute to the debate on the ‘Setting God’s People Free’ report about lay people in the CofE. So here is what I would have said. You’ll have to imagine the riotous laughter, standing ovation, thrown roses and subsequent calls of ‘Encore!’ that would no doubt have met it.
I work for an organisation that was set up in 1922 by a vicar who wanted his congregation to—and I quote—‘get a move on spiritually’ and I stand in that 95-year-old tradition of ordained and lay people working together as partners in the gospel.
I welcome this report wholeheartedly. It’s a report that encourages the CofE to ‘get behind what’s working’ and in some small way, Messy Church is an example of something that is already working and setting lay people free in over 3500 churches worldwide to share the good news of Jesus with families and others. Synod, we have this treasure in jars of playdough: let’s ‘get behind’ it. We are the body of Christ—admittedly, one with slightly grubby hands—and it is a body which works best when everyone, lay and ordained, is freed to use their gifts together in God’s service.
I asked on Facebook for examples of Messy Churches where this happens and you can see the list of inspirational responses. Words and phrases that came up included: ‘we’re all equal’, ‘wonderful team’, ‘we do it together’, ‘encouraging’, ‘empowering’, ‘a white-knuckle ride’. My favourite story is of the Messy Church* that started because a 12-year-old (presumably not ordained) stood up at Church Council and told them that they could do it.
500,000 people every month enjoying God’s word in colourfully diverse community demonstrate that Messy Church ‘is working’.
The report rightly calls for whole life discipleship lived out not just on Sundays in church buildings, but every day of the week in the places where we live, work and play. This year BRF is launching some serious pilots for encouraging Messy discipleship, including (and I think Martin Luther would be well chuffed in this anniversary year of the Reformation) being church at home. We are working with CPAS to put on ‘Growing Messy Leaders Days’—the most recent one had around 130 people at it. The report calls for ‘liturgy that underscores the role of lay people’—the Liturgical Commission is in the throes of working on appropriate guidelines for Messy Church Communions… I could go on. This ‘is working’.
We can all get behind this move of God’s Spirit: every one of us can pray for our nearest Messy Church; we can all take an interest in it and ask how it’s going and encourage those lay and ordained who are working so hard; and we can all change the culture to make the dread question ‘When are they going to start coming to real church?’ a thing of the past.
And that 12-year-old who challenged her church council to start a Messy Church? She is now 22, a Children and Families Worker in Nottingham and running a Messy Church herself. On her behalf and on behalf of those many many lay and ordained leaders freed to serve God and other people, I welcome this report with open arms.
*A Methodist Church, but I wasn’t going to mention that…