Getting involved with Messy Church
Reuben Addis introduces Messy Church:
I helped to set up my first Messy Church in August 2008. At that point there was a real buzz about what was then called ‘emerging church’ but there were relatively few projects in Scotland. When we started there were only two Scottish Messy Churches registered on the Messy Church website.
Then from around 2010 a lot of new projects started, and I became the Regional Co-ordinator for Messy Church in Scotland (a responsibility I now share with two others). There are now 60 Scottish Messy Churches on the website, and I estimate the same number who have not registered. A significant proportion of Episcopal churches have tried Messy Church, but there are also Messy Churches based in other denominations, as well as several ecumenical ones.
For some time there has been a lot of interest amongst the churches which are part of the Porvoo Communion in finding new ways of being church. This is not just a pragmatic attempt to fill the gaps left by over-stretched rural priests, or a way of drawing people back into our traditional services; but a positive excitement about finding new ways of connecting with a culture that is increasingly viewed as post-Christian. Much of the academic work on this was started by Roman Catholic theologians developing models of an ‘encultured church’. It has been developed further by a range of writers, not least John and Olive Drane at St Andrews University.
Messy Church is part of this movement and sits alongside other new ways of doing church. Innovative forms of worship are important to this movement (e.g. monthly Youth Church, meditation group, Taizé or Iona worship). Interest has recently been further fanned by the acceptance at the 2012 Synod of the ‘Truly Called Two’ report, which states this is a “Kairos moment”, when we have been called to fresh ways of looking outward; ways that are still informed by and value our episcopal heritage. So what is this recipe for church? Messy Church is a way of introducing new families to church through activity-based church service.
It is an all age church (not just a children’s service) and includes a welcome, a time for activities, a Bible-based celebration, and a meal together. Messy Church has perhaps proved so popular because it is a very flexible model (and with a kitchen and some creativity it’s fairly straightforward to do). About half of Scottish Messy Churches are in rural settings but it has also worked well in towns and cities (including urban priority areas).
As many of our Messy Churches approach their second birthday (and perhaps come to the end of the second Messy Church book) what are the likely challenges ahead? After two years some of our volunteers have moved on or got tired, and some of the replacements have been from local churches. Ecumenism seems a natural feature of emerging church (and is certainly something that I have noticed elsewhere). I also think that family outreach naturally tends to become focused towards the younger children, with a majority of women participants and an assumption that people are coming from a Christian background – and that you have to work hard at maintaining relationships with families as their children get older. All of these factors mean that periodic reviews are really useful. They not only help us notice and address these changes in the Church but are also a good way of helping new team members to start to think strategically about what they are doing. As time has passed As time has passed the boldness of calling what we do ‘church’ has sunk in.
As I get to know families I’m particularly challenged as to whether what we do is enough to help them develop or sustain a vibrant faith. We perhaps lack the challenge of living in a real Christian community. If we are to disciple people do we need to meet more than once a month? We have lots of Bible teaching but no sacraments, which again is a real challenge to a model that is largely lay led. For more information about Messy Church please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.