Celebrate the Mess! Messy Church Conference USA

Published 25th April 2024 by Aike Kennett-Brown

God welcomes all, strangers and friends,

God’s love is strong, and it never ends!

This was the opening song at Messy Church USA Conference, sung A Capela as call and echo.

Between 18-20 April, from across the USA, Australia and UK, 110 folk gathered, some as strangers, others as friends, to ‘Celebrate the Mess’ in Chicago, USA. Some were brand new to Messy Church, others seasoned veterans, but everyone ‘found their people’.

As we journey through the part of the Church calendar that recounts what happens post-resurrection, over the conference days, like those first disciples, we considered what happens now, where do we go from here? What will we value? As we ‘dwelt in the word’ and explored this theme through a Messy Church session, we considered the confusion of the disciples, who went back to what they were familiar with and didn’t notice it was Jesus walking alongside them on the road to Emmaus, until he broke bread with them.  We thought about how we offer hospitality, noticing that although Jesus provided breakfast on the beach, he still invited the disciples to bring some fish, a host that gave room for others to bring their offering. We were reminded that however messy this in between season turns out to be – Jesus shows up in our mess!

Keynote Dr. Doug Powe helped us consider appreciative enquiry – the art of listening to the community, noticing where the Holy Spirit is already at work and joining in. He reminded us that it’s a constant cycle, and to re-evaluate, even when a project is going well, and listen again. This was fleshed out with stories from Rev. Luke Edwards incarnational ministry, which transferred from pub gatherings to a playground when he became a Dad, resulting in a ‘Who Let the Dad’s Out’ ministry, addressing the crises in male friendship. We were challenged to think about the people God is calling us to reach through Messy Church. Are we focussing on what’s convenient for us, or listening to the preferences of those with whom we want to connect? Are we being Church with them, or doing Church to them?

To help us put theory into practice, over the conference there were 17 different workshop titles to choose from. Aike led a session on Intergenerational Discipleship – how Messy Church can be a place where at least 2 generations can grow as disciples together, when we include more than one generation in our planning, preparation, presentation, participation and feedback.

On the final morning our very own Mary Judkins and Julie Swann shared examples from their Messy Church stories in their workshop, ‘Buckets to Bibles’. Mary and Julie write:

It was a privilege to share with and learn from others who came with a wide variety of rich experiences. We were particularly inspired by Jim White’s vibrant storytelling techniques, bringing scripture to life in very relevant ways for our Messy Church families, and it was upliftng to share in the enthusiasm of those who were longing to begin their Messy Church ministry, desiring to use their gifts and talents alongside others in their churches. Delivering a workshop in a different country/culture can be challenging, but we were delighted to discover that the 5 values of Messy Church, not least being Christ-centred, are paramount, irrespective of where or when Messy Church takes place. 

A conference highlight for Aike was the A Capela singing led by Rev. Breen Sipes and Charles Murphy from ‘Music that Makes Community’. Aike writes:

We learnt to sing as a group, using either call and echo or call and response techniques, without the use of printed words, accompanied by simple percussion beats. I have often spoken about how inclusive this way of singing is for those who do not read, or where English is a second language. It was wonderful to experience the power of this simple form of sung worship, and encounter holy moments together.

All too quickly, our time together drew to a close. Our final celebration was a time of commissioning and sending out in the power of the Holy Spirit, as we took part in a Messy Church Pentecost session.

We might have arrived as strangers, but we departed as friends singing:

You’ve got to put on foot in front of the other, and leave with love

Aike Kennett-Brown

Mary Judkins and Julie Swann

You won’t have to travel as far as Chicago for the next UK Messy Church Conference. The team are already planning workshops and speakers around our ‘All Together’ theme, exploring how we welcome people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Save the date: 20-22 June 2025 at High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon.

More details coming soon!

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