Ashes, Hearts and the Messy Wilderness: A Lenten Reflection

Ashes, Hearts and the Messy Wilderness: A Lenten Reflection

February 14, 2018  by Roberta J. Egli


On this Ash Wednesday, which happens to fall Valentine’s Day, I am sitting alone at my temporary desk warmed by the fire as I watch the snow lightly fall outside. In a few hours, I will travel back over the cascade mountains to my home in Eugene to celebrate this day of love with my husband and also have ashes placed on my head by my pastor. However, this morning I am reminded by the ashes in the fireplace that for the first time in 12 years, I will not be placing ashes on the foreheads of parishioners in my role as pastor of a local church. In July 2017, I left my role as pastor to take on the volunteer role of Messy Church USA Team Leader.

I am grateful for all that I have learned over these past six months and especially for all the wonderful people I have met either through either a zoom teleconference or in person at the Getting Messy in the USA conference last October in California or in Starting a Messy Church training from Washington to Colorado.

As I think of this Messy journey these past six months on this first day of Lent, I am reminded of how the wilderness journeys were a vital identity forming experience for both the Israelites as they wandered for 40 years in the desert after crossing the Red Sea and the 40 days of solitude that Jesus embarked on prior to beginning his public ministry.

Over the past six months, as an organization and as Messy Church USA Network, we have wandered in the wilderness a bit. I do not think we will spend 40 years here but I have realized that wandering is part of our messy journey. As a board, we made plans for our launch, implemented our plan and then realized quite quickly that we needed to adapt our plans. We have great web developers who have worked hard to set up a beautiful website but we are changing and growing and needing to make adaptions.

Cross at Nativity Lutheran Church Labyrinth, Bend, Oregon 

I know that leading a local Messy Church can also be a time of wilderness. I have heard about plans made for a meal for 80 people and 160 people show up requiring a run to the store for more spaghetti sauce. I have also heard about planning for 50 people and only 20 show up. I have experienced it myself as a Messy Church leader. I have learned that the lower number at Messy Church led to some deep conversations and relationship building.

I encourage you to embrace the wilderness in your Messy Church journeys. The Israelites depended upon a fire and a cloud to lead them through the wilderness. Jesus drew upon scripture and his identify as God’s beloved son in the wilderness. In our messy journey of growing as an organization and a Network of Messy Churches in the USA, we rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of Messy Church BRF and the experience of Messy Church Canada, prayer, listening to one another in our leadership team meetings and also listening closely to you.

I am also learning that I need to trust the wandering in the wilderness and that wisdom comes from waiting on the Spirit. We are forming our identity as Messy Church USA and it is not a linear process. As a Board of Directors, six of us will be in the same room together this weekend for the very first time. Please pray for us as we make plans while trusting that the Spirit is with us in the wandering and in the journey itself. May you all have a blessed and messy Lent, awake to the leading of the Spirit in your life and in the life of your Messy Church.

Blessings on your Messy Journey, 

Roberta J. Egli