A Blogpost from Lindsey Goodyear
One of the greatest gifts we receive from Messy Church is the gift of community. But, what absolutely enables that gift is the dedication, commitment, and love that the Messy Church team puts into each affair. When Messy Church was established at Community United Methodist Church in Huntington Beach (CUMCHB) the church was being led by Rev. Ginny Wheeler. Ginny was there from the beginning and was a strong supporter of our Messy adventure. When she decided to retire, earlier this Summer, it left me wondering if the support of this venture, that we previously had, would remain as strong with our next holy leader. Well, I didn’t have to wonder long. Enter, the fantastically enthusiastic…Pastor George Hooper!
Lindsey: Before coming to CUMC, which church were you leading?
George: I was serving as the lead pastor at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Arcadia. Like CUMCHB, CGS has an outstanding Children’s Center with a wonderful reputation in the community, and a history of powerful ministries with children. We had not started Messy Church, but I was privileged to engage the children and their parents in chapel time during the week.
Lindsey: Had you ever heard of Messy Church before coming here?
George: I had. I believe that we hosted an event in Arcadia where some who were involved with Messy Church made a presentation. When the Associate Pastor (the Rev. Lydia Sohn, now pastor at St Mark UMC in San Diego) started an afternoon experience, Messy Church was one of the styles we considered.
Lindsey: Having been established for almost 6 years now, we can be kind of a tight knit team. Any nerves entering in the first Messy gathering?
George: When I had my initial meeting with representatives of the CUMCHB congregation, one of the first questions was “Will you support Messy Church?” I asked, “Well, what does support look like to you?”
They shared that there was a strong leadership team, but what they needed was continued encouragement, prayer, and participation. They explained that Pastor Ginny was like a cheerleader who was also worked well behind the scenes to make sure that Messy Church was given priority and funding through the existing congregation. I thought, and said, “That I can do!” To have an existing gathering which is well-organized and led is a gift to a new pastor. So I was excited to attend that first evening — which was the Summer Picnic. I brought my kids, introduced myself, and joined the circle. Keep in mind that I had been on staff and on site for two weeks; this was a time to just be, and to play! I loved it! So, yes, I was a little nervous, because it was a new thing. I got over that as soon as I sat down and started playing Giant Jenga.
Lindsey: You have two pretty amazing kids. What were their feelings about Messy Church?
George: They love to play, to create, to learn, and to have fun. They feel like this was made for them. “Is it Messy Church yet?” is a question I am already getting.
Lindsey: In Sunday church, you lead us, at Messy Church, you’re led by others. Was the shift a little hard to navigate?
George: Messy Church is the way church is supposed to be. I like to say that I am the pastor, the people of the congregation are the ministers. My job, along with the church staff, is to train, equip, and support the people in ministry. One of my proudest achievements in Arcadia was to help create a culture in which people in the church could say “I would like to try this” (for example a Conversational English Class) and my job was to arrange the resources they needed to do that. In John 14:12 Jesus says “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the work that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” Jesus knew that even He was limited and wanted to bring others — everyone — into ministry and leadership.
On Sunday mornings (and in other events in the course of the week) I participate in leadership to prepare people to live out their faith in their daily life. At Messy Church I get to be led by others. I particularly enjoy getting to see what the youngest among us create: it allows me to see through new eyes!
The way it is shaping up, it looks like I will do a little hosting, and then fall back to observe, learn, and be led. I also love the fact that if someone has a question or an issue they want to reflect upon, we can sit down together and just talk. That’s another way I get led at Messy Church.
Lindsey: What are the benefits you see families getting from MC that may differ from what they’re getting at traditional Sunday church?
George: Getting to worship as a family unit. Allowing younger folks to guide older folks. Being able to learn through doing. Being self-directed in learning — going to what interests me in this moment. Don’t get me wrong: My kids like Sunday morning, too. They enjoy more formal worship and especially Sunday School. Messy Church adds another way of existing as family. The greatest benefit is having all of these options!
Lindsey: In between getting to know our members, were you able to participate in any of the activities?
George: I was all over the games in July! As much as I wanted to, I didn’t climb the water slide in August (there’s always next year!) I went through and looked at all of the hands-on learning stations, but I was having more fun watching what others were making than actually doing so myself. And yes, I did get drawn into some wonderful conversations — I think that counts as activities though, too. I am blown away by the creativity and imagination of the Messy Church team. You all put in a great deal of time and energy!
Lindsey: Is there a moment/craft/song that really struck you or sticks out in any way?
George: The prayer parachute. I am not sure if that what you called it, but lifting needs and joys, and then inviting the smaller people to run underneath as the parachute came back down was an incredibly powerful image of being literally “covered in prayer”.
Lindsey: What do see or hope for when thinking about the future of Messy Church at CUMC?
George: We all have hopes for success that are measured in numbers. I love that I hear families saying they attend because “it is the closest thing we have to church.” For them Messy Church is family, a community in which they learn and grow together, without all of that “churchiness.” They are asking that this community pledge to support them as they raise their child in the love of Jesus. I hope for more of that. I hope that the ideals and practices of Messy Church become contagious throughout the congregation. Mostly, I look forward to seeing what God is doing next!