During the Season of Lent many of us engage in a new or renewed spiritual practice. I have re-engaged with the spiritual practice of observing a weekly Sabbath ritual. I am using a devotional guide from the saltproject.org that explores scripture and poems. “Sabbath is a day for delight, for participating in God’s ongoing joy in creation. If we refrain from certain activities during the sabbath, we do so precisely in order to make room for this enjoyment.”I must confess that my natural tendency is to worry rather than stopping work to engage in delight, so Sabbath ritual is helping me to trust and enjoy rather than worry and work!
I discovered the connection between my lent Sabbath practice and one of the foundational values of Messy Church when I read Lucy Moore’s recent blog following a day of quiet. The Messy Church UK leadership team began this year to observe what they call ‘quiet days at a distance’. The goal for these days is to grow together as a team even though geographical distance keeps them apart. They begin the day with a teleconference call in which they read and reflect on a specific scripture before spending several hours in separate quiet reflection. They come back together via teleconference at the end of their reflection time to share with one another what has ‘bubbled up’. Their most recent quiet day of reflection focused on the story of the Prodigal Son which led to Lucy’s blog.
Lucy writes: The celebration in the story is for the father, not for the son – it’s the father’s contentment that leads to celebration: he isn’t even really listening to the son, he just wants to get on and celebrate. The image of the father running towards the son is a very striking one, not least because that would have been a most undignified thing for a man of his age and status to do. For people at Messy Church who may have little sense of self-worth, the idea of someone running towards them because he loves them and he wants to celebrate with them is a very powerful one. (Full blogpost here)
My friends, in the midst of a global epidemic that causes uncertainty, anxiety and fear, a spiritual practice of celebration may seem to be counter-cultural. Yes, follow the recommendations of your local health departments and wash your hands regularly however it is imperative that we share the God who celebrates with each other and with our Messy Church attenders.
Engage in celebration as you greet one another by using the sign language for ‘peace be with you’.
Engage in celebration when you engage in a nature walk looking for signs of new life.
Engage in celebration as a leadership team as you recall meaningful interactions during Messy Church.
Engage in celebration as you share the scripture in participatory ways
I celebrate that Messy Church USA is growing broader and deeper as both a network of churches and an organization of committed people who worship the God who celebrates. I would love to hear how your Messy Church is celebrating!
As a former communicable disease registered nurse with a local county health department, I certainly understand the anxiety regarding what is now an official global pandemic. Should we cancel this month’s Messy Church? How do we keep messy fingers clean if we decide to proceed with our Messy Church? There are many questions that many of you have been asking. Recommendations are changing quickly but this is the latest.
First, follow the guidelines of your specific denomination and local health departments regarding the decision to cancel or postpone your monthly Messy Church.
Second, find ways to connect with your Messy Church Community during this time of uncertainty.
Pick up your cell phone and call anyone you are worried about
Reach out via social media to stay connected with your Messy Church families
Pray for each other and especially the global Messy Church movement with special attention to those areas that are especially hit hard with this virus
Share your prayers with one another via social media
Last but not least, you are invited to join in a brainstorming conversation with other members of the Messy Church USA network. A Zoom call has been set up for Monday, March 16th, 2020 at 1 pm Pacific Daylight time. Here is the link that you can use to join in, https://zoom.us/j/5417603909
Do you ever check out when you’re at church? Like, you’ve heard the story so many times and you know how it ends so you just go through the motions of nodding your head in agreement when in reality you’re thinking about what you need to grab at the grocery store after? Well, if you don’t, I commend you. I, on the other hand, do this often. I know it’s not ideal, but sometimes I feel like I know the story so well that I couldn’t possibly get anything else out of it. Right? Nope. I began my typical mind wandering last weekend at Messy Church. We were studying Luke 5:17. If you aren’t familiar, this passage tells the story of a paralyzed man whose friends carry him on a stretcher to a house where Jesus is so he can be healed. When they arrive, the house is so crowded that the only way they can get their friend in to see Jesus is by creating a hole in the roof and lowering him down inside. Jesus indeed heals the man and for the faith he has shown toward our Lord, Jesus informs him his sins are forgiven. The story is a good one and great setup to talk about trusting in the Lord to not only alleviate our pain, but also the pain of loved ones we lift up in prayer. And that is exactly what we did. After the crafts (which were centered around healing and family) were over, we settled in for a celebration that included a very emotional prayer in which we all said aloud the names of loved ones who were in need of mending. While the first time I heard this story, it was absolutely a testament to the way God heals, this time around, something very different spoke to me.
God wants us to show up and walk humbly with Him. Have faith. We don’t have to make it so difficult.
When I think about having faith, grandiose gestures always come to mind. Standing on my soap box preaching to passerby’s. Always suggesting prayer first to anyone showing signs of distress. Outwardly telling each person I meet how much I love Jesus so that it is absolutely clear I’m on the right track to heaven. God gives a love so big, so unbiased, so perfect, that He certainly deserves these big expressions. But, here’s the truth…I don’t do any of those things. In fact, I don’t do much in the way of preaching at all. I’ve always felt my relationship with God is very private so I don’t speak about it unless I’m writing or provoked. I’ve always admired those who speak freely about their religious relationships but it’s just not me. But guess what? God still loves me. It struck me big time when I heard the words from Luke 5:20. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” Really, I thought? He’s forgiven? That isn’t a grandiose gesture! We’d show that much trust on a typical trip to our general physician. But here’s the cool thing…to God, it is a grandiose gesture. In fact, it’s the only gesture God asks of us. God wants us to show up and walk humbly with Him. Have faith. We don’t have to make it so difficult. God is not looking for big performances with a side of showing off. He just wants us. So, the next time you start to wander in la la land or nod off a little, perk yourself up or you’ll miss it. Just because you’ve heard it before, doesn’t mean you’ve learned all you can.
“Do we have to call it Messy Church?” That is question I received eight years ago from the leadership team of the church I served as Pastor when I excitedly shared videos to introduce the concept of starting a Messy Church. I continue to receive that question today and I imagine that many of you in local leadership have also experienced resistance to the word, “Messy”.
Lucy Moore, the founder of Messy Church writes that the name was an invitation to “reach families that were on the ‘messy edges’ of church who weren’t ‘tidily’congregation already. It’s also a church for people whose lives may be messy – perhaps in the past the Church has too often appeared to be saying that we only welcome people whose lives are well-ordered.” (Lucy Moore, BBC Songs of Praise, 2013)
Here is my short elevator speech answer to the question, why call it Messy Church? “We all live messy lives, with messy relationships and in Messy Church we come in with all of our messiness and find a place of belonging through the unconditional love of God. Through creating together, celebrating together and eating together, we build a community centered around the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I recently read an article by theologian Shane Claiborne, from a variety of authors writing about the “The Future of Christianity”. Shane reflects on our messiness and his experience at a church he visited where the greeters wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words, “no perfect people allowed” rather than Sunday ‘dress up’ clothes.
The good news is that Jesus didn’t come for folks who have it all together, but for folks who are willing to admit they are falling apart (Mt 9:13) It’s not about how good we are, but how good God is. Hopefully, that can also give us some grace with a church full of messed-up people, and with ourselves.We are imperfect people, falling in love with a perfect God, and doing our best to become more like the One we worship. (Shane Claiborne. Loving the Church Back to Life. (Oneing: The Future of Christianity. Volume 7. No 2. Center for Action and Contemplation) p.66-67
I am grateful that despite resistance, a group of people inspired by the vision, took a risk and started a monthly Messy Church. Our Messy Church certainly was not perfect, we made many mistakes and learned as we went along. Yet we created a space each month, where people who had not attended church for many years or ever, found a place to belong to one another through games, crafts, stories, food, and fun. Along the way, we all encountered the transforming love of Christ who bonded us together.
I learned several months ago that the Messy Church I helped to lead into existence, is no longer meeting. I am saddened at that development, yet it is another reminder for me to trust God rather than my own plans and expectations. I know that many seeds of faith and love were planted during the five years of that particular Messy Church’s life span and that those seeds of love will sprout and grow.
When we gather in October in Chicago, we will have opportunities to share highlights and challenges from our local Messy Churches. There is not ‘one’ way to lead a Messy Church! We will CELEBRATE the MESS! We will CELEBRATE the 175 churches as of today that have joined the Messy Church USA Network. We will CELEBRATE both the fantastic successes and the failures from which we have learned. We will CELEBRATE that many people in the USA and the world, are finding Messy Church to be a hope-filled expression of church that gathers all ages together to wonder and CELEBRATE the wondrous and messy life we have been given. Make plans to join the celebration! God’s grace is in the midst of our messiness…Thanks be to God!
My son hates reading. Well, I take that back… My son hates reading anything that school requires him to read. The words are too big, the content is too boring, and he can’t ever remember what he’s just read. We try to stay calm, reassure him, and explain that not only will practicing reading everyday make him a stronger reader, but being a mindful reader (making efforts to focus on what you’re reading while you’re reading) will make homework smoother and more enjoyable. Twenty minutes a day for at home reading is the requirement. In and 8-year old’s eyes, 20 minutes a day is an eternity. Some days we spent double that trying to coax him into it. I knew if he could just start practicing, every day, like he was supposed to, the routine would be set and our battles would get easier. They say it takes 66 days to form a habit and although I couldn’t imagine having this fight 66 more times, I dug my heels in and committed to routine.
To my surprise, it only took a few weeks. He stopped sounding words out and became more confident with calling them out on the first try. His choppy accounts of literature became beautiful sentences gliding out of his self-assured mouth. The coaxing time got less and less and soon he was reading 6 chapters in one sitting. He wasn’t perfect but the improvement was astounding! It confirmed, to me, that practice makes progress. I grew up hearing the phrase “practice makes perfect” but after a discussion with my friend, Roberta, I will now forever say “progress” instead of “perfect.” Because, in all reality, there is only one who we can call “perfect” so striving for perfectionism is, in actuality, setting ourselves up for disappointment. So, when a few days ago I watched him begin the third book in a series, I sat thinking how practice really does make progress, when it dawned on me. I could stand to take a dose of my own advice. Not all of my daily habits were where they were supposed to be either. I could use a little practice myself.
Our latest Messy Church was all about praying. Praying is something I’ve always done, since childhood, but have been slacking on the last couple years. I always used the evening time to talk with God. During the day, I would, and still do, say little prayers here and there, but right before I went to sleep was the time I devoted to big concerns, big “thank you’s” and asking for peace. However, since we’ve had kids, my husband and I take turns each night laying with a son and saying prayers. I love to listen to their little thoughts and what they decide to chat with Him about. The only problem is I’ve been passing off their prayer time as my own. I’ve mentally started checking that prayer box off for the day because I participated with them, right? Wrong. While it’s important for us to encourage and teach our children to pray, it’s also equally important for us to establish, feed, and nurture our own personal relationships with God. He deserves more than what I was giving Him.
Here’s where my own advice comes in. I need practice. I need routine. I need 20 uninterrupted minutes a day with my savior. I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be at night before I go to sleep. I remember my father in law telling me he uses his 4-mile daily walk to chat with the Lord. It got me thinking, although I’m busy running errands, driving kids, cooking, cleaning and whatever else us mom’s do, I also have little pockets of time throughout the day where I can scroll quickly through Facebook, Instagram, or ask Google burning questions. If I traded out just one of those social media check-ins a day, I could legitimately reignite my passion for prayer. I’m not perfect so I know it won’t happen overnight, but it will become habit, again, if I put the effort in. So, that’s it. Practice makes progress. I’m determined to direct that progress straight towards my relationship with God and to make those glorious conversations part of my routine once again.
Is the person in the picture above going to make it into 2020 or fall short? How are you doing with the start of a new year? Are you already feeling behind? (Yes, I realize that the picture is probably altered but it still causes some anxiety!)
At the start of every turn of the calendar, my husband and I go out for breakfast to reflect on the previous year and look ahead to what is coming in the new. In our busy lives, for many of us, days and months and even an entire year can flow by so quickly that we don’t take notice. Taking moments to pause, slow down and reflect not only at the end of the year but throughout the year provides opportunity to give thanks for what is going well, and consciously changing perspectives when needed.
My new project planner has a section at the end of each week and month to draw or write a reflection on how my time was spent in meeting the goals I have set. I have been using it since September and have found that engaging in this simple practice has helped me to give thanks for what has been accomplished and then re-prioritize for the coming week or month. This practice has reminded me of our check in time for our monthly Messy Church planning team I was involved with several years ago. Prior to talking about what was coming up we would spend a few moments reflecting on our previous Messy Church and take turns answering three simple questions: 1) what went well? 2) What could have gone better? and 3) How can we hold one another in prayer?
The year ahead can feel like a gift waiting to be unwrapped, month by month, like layer after layer of bright wrapping paper being torn off a pass-the-parcel prize.
Lucy Moore, founder of the Messy Church global movement, in her reflection on the turn of the calendar year and the months ahead, challenged us to view our monthly Messy Church as an unwrapped gift. “There’s a rhythm to meeting monthly as a church. The year ahead can feel like a gift waiting to be unwrapped, month by month, like layer after layer of bright wrapping paper being torn off a pass-the-parcel prize. Or like a soup bubbling away with ingredients added one by one, subtly altering the flavour and texture until you look back after twelve months…” Read More Here
So, my friends, as you start this new year, I would love to engage in a conversation with you regarding your local Messy Church. What is going well? What could be have gone better? How can I hold you and your team in prayer? Drop me a note or contact your Regional Coordinator.
For today, I pray this prayer that has been central in my morning routine of awakening to God’s presence.
New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all your creation, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen
(The Worshipbook: Services and Hymns, (The Westminster Press 1970m 1972)
May you experience God’s light and love holding you and leading you into 2020. Happy 2020 my friends.
Grace and peace, Roberta firstname.lastname@example.org
Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with five different adults, of all age groups, and listening to incredible testimonies of their journey through Messy Church. The fact that they were open enough to put their own private feelings out there for the world to read filled me with such gratitude. I love seeing how Messy Church impacts the life of others and, with them telling their stories, others can now hear it as well! And, although they were all captivating interviews, it did leave me wondering what the youth of our congregation would have to say about their own experiences with Messy Church. So, this month, I decided to sit down with four different kids, between the ages of 4 and 11 and ask them all the same questions. I was met with some of the sweetest, funniest, most blunt answers I’ve ever received in an interview! It was a riot! I love the innocent, unfiltered, unbiased answers we get when we talk about God with kids.We can learn a lot from their blind faith. So, without further ado, please enjoy some words about Messy Church out of the mouths of babes.
Name: Jax Age: 4 Number of years attending Messy Church: 2
Lindsey (LG): What do you remember about your first Messy Church? Jax (J): I don’t know anything about that.
LG: That’s okay. What has been your favorite Messy Church? J: The water slide one.
LG: Really? How come? J: Because I liked going down the slide and next time I’m going to do flips, stand up, and slide on my knees.
LG: Wow, that sounds fun! How about you tell me your favorite meal at Messy Church? J: I would like it if they had bread and I could put butter on it!
LG: I would love that too. Do you remember any stories you’ve learned at Messy Church? J: Ms. Leyla says that sometimes you see Jesus laying in that little thing He likes.
LG: Do you mean the manger? J: What’s a manger?
LG: That little bed He had when he was born. J: Oh, yeah. But, He’s dead, you know?
LG: I do know that but He’s alive in our hearts, right? J: Yes, and so is God!
LG: That’s right! How about your favorite Messy Church song? J: Welcome Everybody!
LG: That’s a good one! If there was one thing you could change about Messy Church what would it be? J: Sing a new song at Messy Church for prayer.
LG: Why a new song? J: I just do.
LG: Well, maybe we can work on that. Thanks for the interview! J: Okay.
Name: Kellan Age: 7 Number of years attending Messy Church: 2
Lindsey (LG): What do you remember about your first Messy Church? Kellan (K): At first I was super scared but then I remember it was super fun!
LG: What has been your favorite Messy Church? K: Christmas.
LG: Why, what did you do? K: Played lots of games, went inside the church, and Ms. Marty said some stuff about the Bible. Messy Church is super fun and amazing!
LG: I agree! What’s your favorite meal at Messy Church? K: Spaghetti because I like spaghetti!
LG: Me too! Do you remember any stories you’ve learned at Messy Church? K: About that little guy.
LG: Zaccheus? K: Yes!
LG: What do you remember about him? K: He took people’s money and then Jesus came so he gave them their money back.
LG: That’s right! Have you learned anything new about God or praying at Messy Church? K: Yes, I learned that if you’re praying and you are driving a car, Don’t close your eyes to pray because you’ll crash!
LG: That’s a good takeaway! What’s your favorite Messy Church song? K: Welcome everybody.
LG: Great one! If there was one thing you could change about Messy Church, what would it be? K: The time.
LG: Why is that? K: So we could go to Messy Church sooner!
Name: Zazie Age: 10 Number of Years Attending Messy Church: 6 years
Lindsey (LG): What do you remember about your first Messy Church? Zazie (Z): I came here because we got invited by my friend and I was really shy at that point because I didn’t know anyone except the friend who invited me. The first craft I remember is making a wooden Jesus with a cross.
LG: I remember that craft, too! What has been your favorite Messy Church? Z: My favorite Messy Church was the Messy Pets. I got a little metal medallion to hang off his cage.
LG: Who is he? Z: Skyler, my pet rabbit.
LG: Very cool! How about your favorite meal at Messy Church? Z: The one where we had it catered by the steakhouse. It was an 11 out of 10! It was an amazing meal and I had my mom bring me to that same restaurant the next night!
LG: You’re right, it was a great meal! Do you remember any stories you’ve learned at Messy Church? Z: The one with the crown of thorns. I remember that Marty had the crown of thorns in her hand. It obviously wasn’t the real crown of thorns but I remember her having it. There were people who came and acted the story out which is my favorite.
LG: I agree. Sometimes it’s easier to understand the story when someone acts it out. Z: Yes!
LG: Have you learned anything new about God or praying at Messy Church? Z: I write down what I’m thankful for, which I started at Messy Church. I do it all of the time. I even show it in my artwork.
LG: Wow! That’s really cool. Do you have a favorite Messy Church song? Z: “Da Da Da Dum” song! I even sing it in the shower!
LG: Ha! That’s awesome! I also like our Messy Grace song. If there was one thing you could change about Messy Church, what would it be? Z: Maybe take away those gates and open it up again.
LG: Why is that? Z: Because there’s something special about being in the sanctuary so I can’t wait to go back in!
*Note: Community United Methodist Church is getting a huge remodel. For the time being, we are unable to have our celebration portion of Messy Church in the sanctuary. The construction is guarded by gates and this is what Zazie is referring to.
Name: Zachary Age: 11 Number of Years Attending Messy Church: 7 years
Lindsey (LG): What do you remember about your first Messy Church? Zachary (Z): They all kind of blend together but I remember liking the sensory tables with all of the beads.
LG: Yes! The sensory tables are fun. What has been your favorite Messy Church? Z: I like the pets Messy Church. That’s really fun!
LG: Why is it your favorite? Z: I’m not sure. Probably because you get to bring stuff.
LG: What kind of stuff? Z: Like pets.
LG: Which pets have you brought? Z: We brought the bunny, we’ve brought the chickens, our lizard, and also our dog, Jewel.
LG: Wow! That’s lots of pets! How about your favorite meal at Messy Church? Z: I like when they did the meat chili with the ground beef. That was really good!
LG: Do you remember any stories you’ve learned at Messy Church? Z: The one I remember the most is the smart dude that built his house on the rock and the not so smart dude that built it on the sand. Then the earthquakes came and the not so smart dude’s house fell down.
LG: I love the wise and foolish builders, also. Have you learned anything new about God or praying at Messy Church? Z: Hmm…Well I learned how to pray there!
LG: You did? Z: Yes. I didn’t really know how to before.
LG: That’s awesome! What’s your favorite Messy Church song? Z: The “Da Da Da Dum” song!
LG: Our Messy Grace song? Z: Yep!
LG: Great choice! Is there anything you would change about Messy Church? Z: Yeah, I wish the time you get to do stuff was a little longer. Like, all the crafts and stuff.
May the stories you tell, the people you meet, the ways you fill your days during this season bring you closer to Bethlehem. May your heart be full of kindness and compassion, may you say thank you and I’m sorry often. May you find the courage to be brave like Mary, to say yes to God wherever God is calling you, remembering that on your journey, there will be darkness and there will be light, but that God is always with you. Amen
~Aaron Jenkyn, Epiphany Messy Church, Newport, NH
Little did I expect that this Advent reflection would still be on my computer three weeks later. The plan was to send it out at the beginning of Advent but December has not gone according to my plan. The goals for December was to confirm Messy Church trainings for 2020, intensively plan the web registration for the Celebrate the Mess conference in October 2020 and to clean up my files that have been out of control since September.
However, life happened and much of my time these past several weeks have been spent waiting. Waiting in an emergency room with my husband for five hours for him to be seen for a worsening toe infection. Waiting to get results of an MRI to see if the infection was included the bone. Waiting for a ‘real room’ in the hospital rather than the no-window dreary observation room. Waiting for the advice of medical specialists for treatment. Waiting for the surgeon to walk through the recovery room doors to give me the results of his surgery. Waiting for the order that Lynn could go home. One thing I have learned is that I am not very good at waiting!
Waiting is difficult. Advent is a season of waiting. Was there some hidden Advent message in all of the waiting these past weeks?
Lynn is at home now and recovering well. Life is beginning to resemble our normal daily rhythm. I now have the time and energy to reflect a bit on what I have learned through waiting this Advent.
God is with us as we wait. The Spirit of God is as close as our breath. When I became anxious and impatient as I waited, I remembered to take a deep breath in and out. Simply focusing and praying with my breath helped to center me and remind me that God was present in all of the waiting. As the Advent blessing from quoted above, “…on your journey, there will be darkness and there will be light, but that God is always with you.”
Waiting creates community. We had been sent to the Emergency Room by Lynn’s physician so we thought we would receive care soon after arriving. However, we waited for five hours and created community with all of the patients and families who were waiting. I heard stories and connected with a diverse group of people. We became the waiting community who kept inviting others to join in through sharing their stories as they awaited care. Telling our stories is how community is formed. I wonder how we share stories in our Messy Churches as we form community.
Waiting brings unexpected gifts. I was reminded of all of the many new friends Messy Church has brought into my life through all the global Facebook messages we received. Knowing that friends all over the world were praying for us brought us joy as we waited. We were forced to slow down from our busy lives for several weeks. This new pace has brought a new appreciation of the true gifts of Christmas.
I invite you to take a moment to pause in your busy day as you prepare for Christmas. Breath in God’s love…Breathe out your request.
Pause and once again slowly read the Advent Blessing from Aaron Jenkyn.
May the stories you tell, the people you meet, the ways you fill your days during this season bring you closer to Bethlehem.
May your heart be full of kindness and compassion, may you say thank you and I’m sorry often.
May you find the courage to be brave like Mary, to say yes to God wherever God is calling you, remembering that on your journey, there will be darkness and there will be light, but that God is always with you.
May you experience God’s presence in unexpected places today.
Messy Church not only changes the lives of those who find their way to attend, the lives of the many volunteers are also changed. In the last five years Messy Church has given David a whole new lease of live and an unexpected chance to use and develop his gifts. Listen to his story and then donate to support the global movement of Messy Church.
As you gather to give thanks over this holiday weekend, please support the global movement of Messy Church. Messy Church USA will give 50% of any donations received on our website directly to Bible Reading Fellowship, the home for the global Messy Church movement. Donate Here
Thank you for making a differene in the lives of people all over the world by supporting Messy Church! Happy Thanksgiving from Messy Church USA!
Messy Church USA is a newly formed nonprofit 501c3 corporation. Messy Church USA has been formed to provide an organizational structure to support the health, growth and sustainability of local Messy Churches in the USA. In addition, Messy Church USA will assist individual Messy Churches to become an integrated part of the larger national and global network of Messy Churches. Read more.