Australia gets messy
Australian Christians are learning how to introduce Jesus through hospitality, friendship, stories and worship.
Lucy Moore wants to provide an acceptable vocabulary with which to articulate things of faith for families in a modern world.
She founded Messy Church, a church for adults and children to enjoy together, seven years ago in an Anglican church in Portsmouth, England.
Seeking a way of “being church” that appealed to the whole family, the church listened to the needs of the local people.
What began as an attempt to be church for families who might want to meet Jesus and bring up their children as Christians but couldn’t cope with traditional Sunday morning church services has become a core ministry of England’s Bible Reading Fellowship.
With an emphasis on fun, craft and food, there are now nearly 600 Messy Churches running in 12 countries.
Lucy Moore, a professional actor and storyteller, has published Messy Church, Messy Church 2, Messy Readings, Messy Crafts, The Gospels Unplugged, The Lord’s Prayer Unplugged and Topsy Turvy Christmas.
Messy Church is primarily for people who don’t belong to another form of church.
Ms Moore describes it as an all-age church where everyone is valued equally.
It usually meets once a month and includes some creative time to explore a biblical theme through getting messy; a celebration time which might involve story, prayer, song and games; and a meal together.
Messy Church is about hospitality, creativity and celebration. It models and promotes good ways of growing as a family: a nuclear family, an extended family, a global family and local church family.
Ms Moore says discipleship in the Messy Church context is:
- About relationships — helping people to meet Jesus and get to know him more. “As Christians we do not have the automatic right to be heard, we need to earn it.”
- A journey — a gradual and ongoing process.
- Lifelong — discipleship doesn’t stop when you’re 11. “The presence of believing adults of all stages of life in this Messy community is a silent witness to the fact that Christianity lasts and is relevant throughout every stage of life.”
Messy Church is also inclusive, modelled and oblique; walking alongside rather than standing in front of someone; showing rather than explaining.
Its emphasis on family is both the model and means of mission.
“Institutionally,” says Ms Moore, “we need to value work among children and families, not see it as second-best to adult work, or else we risk not attracting our mission-minded leaders or thinkers to enrich, challenge and develop what is happening in Messy Church.”
She told Insights that Messy Church was not better or worse than traditional Sunday school; it was doing something completely different.
“The main difference is that Sunday school takes children away from the main worshipping congregation into age-segregated groups, whereas Messy Church encourages all ages to stay together, worship together and learn alongside each other.”
Difference and inclusion is important.
“People learn and worship and experience things in different ways, so having a wide range of activities and approaches in church is vital.
“And inclusion is very important, as church should be for people of all abilities and disabilities, and should value all sorts of people, not just those who can behave in a certain way or conform to norms that are set by culture and tradition rather than gospel values.”
Churches don’t always get their ministry with children right.
“Sometimes churches see children as inadequate adults who make a noise and disrupt ‘proper’ worship rather than seeing them as a gift from God, a model for discipleship, (just as elderly people are, or people with disabilities or people with gifts and talents).
“Churches sometimes try to impose models of behaviour on children that children don’t understand as these norms are so out of kilter with what they experience in family life, school and culture outside church.
“There’s a big difference between the attitude that says ‘children should be seen and not heard’ and the attitude which says that children are a blessing and we can learn from them and with them.”
But Messy church isn’t just about children.
“Our culture in theUKis so segregated that, as soon as you have children at an event, the temptation is to see it as a children-only event. But, at its best, Messy Church is a church for people through all stages of life, just as the wider Church is.
“It might mean adapting as it develops but that’s a good thing!”
Even small congregations with few resources can get Messy, especially if they’re realistic about their limitations and take on board that they’re going to have to look in unlikely places for leaders to help them.
“Enthusiasm, a fiery imagination and determination will get a small team a very long way. And resources will come!
“Messy Church isn’t actually expensive; it’s much more important to have a team than a huge budget. But I would always encourage a small church to consider palling up with another local church and running a Messy Church together for maximum mission potential.”
Messy Churches can be as diverse as the local community.
Ms Moore says, “We don’t have many people from different racial backgrounds in our suburb and ourMessyChurchreflects this. But gender-wise, disability-wise and age-wise, Messy Churches are accessible and relevant and attracting all sorts of people.”
The root of liturgy, says Ms Moore, is “the work of the people” and each Messy Church depends on its people to shape it, “so in a way it’s very liturgical”.
“It has a set shape that people can rely on with its own rituals that grow locally.
“I’d say the liturgies that are growing up are more about actions than words. We’re working on appropriate liturgies for sacramental occasions like Holy Communion and baptism, and Messy Church has just been mentioned at the Church of England’s General Synod in conjunction with this area within the Anglican Church in theUK.
“Liturgy can be a powerful servant but equally a tyrannical master: I hope we don’t ever end up chained by any liturgy that prevents the Holy Spirit from moving freely.”
There are instances of Messy Churches in most of the main Christian denominations: Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed Church, Salvation Army, free churches, Catholic, Pentecostal, the Uniting Church and more.
“People from most denominations can see that, with a love of God and a love for families, Messy Church is something anyone can do, giving it the colour and flavour of their own denomination if they feel it appropriate.”
Ms Moore has noted statistics that found British children to be among the most miserable in the world.
She lists factors contributing to what Sue Palmer has called a “toxic childhood”: pressure on family time, coping with family break-up, pressure to achieve, conditional love, over-reliance on technology for entertainment, segregation of generations leading to lack of respect between age groups, the search for a family “story” or identity in a rapidly-changing and mobile society, lack of space to be still or to rush around chaotically in.
“But seeing families enjoying themselves together when you give them half an excuse, getting messy, eating, creating, exploring their spirituality, worshipping, just enjoying being together — all this gives me a lot of hope.”
The Uniting Church has hosted Messy events with Lucy Moore in Melbourne and Adelaide. Sydneyevents take place August 14-20.
On August 14, Kaos Church is hosting an open Messy Church event, 4–6 pm at the Chapel, Centre for Ministry.
A residential Messy ministry in-service with Lucy Moore and Duncan Macleod will be held August 15-19 at the Centre for Ministry,North Parramatta.
There will be a Messy Master Class, August 15, 7.30-9.30 pm, where Lucy Moore will talk about the history and evolution of Messy Church and share insights for Messy church leaders.
For details contact www.elm.org.au, 8838 8910.