When the boots don’t fit…

Published 18th September 2023 by Aike Kennett-Brown

This Summer our family set out on a mission to walk a section of the Cornish coastline.  It’s part of a grander plan to walk the entire coastal path, which we started back in 2009.  In preparation for this 45-mile stretch, I decided that I’d treat myself to some new leather walking boots.  I was fed up with hearing my fellow walking companions boast about how comfortable and waterproof their boots were, and so with a significant milestone birthday in the Spring, I requested a pair.

I unwrapped the gift with relish – these boots were a thing of beauty, and I was instantly convinced that they would solve my soggy feet issues.  That day my husband and I set off on a 6-mile walk to christen the boots in bluebell woods.  What a mistake!  I hadn’t realised that new leather boots need ‘breaking-in’ and quickly realised that an expensive price tag did not necessarily equate to immediate comfort.  After 3 agonising miles, my feet were covered in blisters and I had to take refuge in a National Trust café, abandoning the rest of the walk.

I was determined to learn from my mistake and spent the next 3 months wearing the leather boots on my daily dog walks, so that I would be ‘boot ready’ for our summer hike.  Over time the boots became more flexible, and I could wear them for a whole hour without my left foot going numb.  This felt like a result for my exceptionally wide, flat feet.

Day 1 of the adventure arrived and to ease our bodies into the experience, we were due to cover a modest 6 miles from St. Ives to Zennor Head.  My Cornwall Coast Path book warned me that ‘Although this is the toughest 6 miles of the coast path it is also the most stunning.’  Fuelled by a Cornish pasty and with pre-emptive blister plasters in place, we set out.

The path hugs the contours of the coastline and sent our group in single file on an endless series of ups and downs, traversing boggy fields with boardwalks, and scrambling over boulders.  The book was true to its’ description, and we caught sight of seals in the turquoise waters, and were surrounded by bee orchids, purple heathers, and yellow gorse.

However, my boots did not meet my expectations! During the first mile, feeling that I’d conquered the boot situation with careful preparation, I was busy composing in my head a blog around perseverance based around the Bible verses:

‘…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope…’ Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

However, by the third mile, my feet were screaming at me, bringing out my worst character traits.  I certainly was not filled with ‘hope’ that I would complete the walk!

This made me ponder on what happens when things don’t work out the way you expect.  This can happen when running a Messy Church.  You’ve seen other churches run a successful Messy Church and taken their advice, you may have invested in equipment, training and done everything possible to prepare for the big day, and yet it does not work out how you’d imagined.  Does this mean we have failed at Messy Church?

My family eventually noticed that I was lagging behind the group and needed help.  After a problem-solving discussion, I ended up changing boots with my daughter, who has slightly smaller feet than me.  The relief was immediate, and I was able to continue.  My daughter was gracious enough to wear the boots that in her words, ‘felt like bricks’ for the remaining 3 miles, without significant discomfort, and I had provided our family with a teamwork opportunity!  I did manage to complete the full 45-mile hike, but ended up switching to my old comfortable boots, even though they leaked.

I wonder, is there an aspect of Messy Church where you are struggling?  Or perhaps you feel on the verge of giving up?  Who can you ask locally for help?  Is there someone who might literally ‘step into your boots’ and walk alongside you?

Remember that you are also part of a wider supportive network.  You might like to try out a ‘Re-imagining your Messy Church masterclass’ for a group problem solving discussion, or maybe get in touch with our ‘Alongsiders’ team for some 1:1 support.  Our prayer team would love to pray for your situation, remembering that God sends the Holy Spirit to be our helper.

Aike Kennett-Brown
BRF ministries Messy Church Ministry Lead

Useful links:
Check out our new season of masterclasses: https://www.messychurch.org.uk/messy-masterclasses
How to guide’s on key issues facing Messy Church teams: https://www.messychurch.org.uk/resource/how-to-guides
Contact our support teams: https://www.messychurch.org.uk/messy-church-teams
Contact the Messy Church Team: https://www.messychurch.org.uk/contact-us, particularly if you are interested in a second-hand pair of women’s leather hiking boots size 5!

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