Every once in a while, I come across a scent that immediately takes me back to my high school gym. Remember that smell? A little bit of cleaner, a little bit of basketball leather, a little bit of sweat. Not a terrible smell, just an irrefutable “oh, yep! That’s a gym” smell. Decorated with vibrant flows of orange and gray, home to the Greyhounds, that gym held memories of nothing but fun for me. Pep rallies, talent shows, exciting basketball games, and school dances. Oh, those high school dances! We’d prepare for weeks decorating, selling tickets, hyping the event, and perfecting our style, all in order to walk in and stand around the outside perimeter while popular songs played to an empty dance floor. Heaven forbid one of the popular kids actually saw you dance and had an unflattering thought float your way. So, when the awkward standing, whispering, and group trips to the girl’s bathroom had run their course, the DJ would announce last song of the night. It was an all-out scramble to hit the dance floor and enjoy at least some part of the work we’d endured. And, suddenly, it would hit me. THIS IS SO MUCH FUN! Dancing wildly, laughing, and letting the music fill my soul, how on Earth was I not out here sooner? At night’s end, I would vow to have this much fun from the beginning of the night, every dance, from here on out. And, when the next one came, with the same amount of work and glamorous preparation, I’d comfortably settle in to my spot on the sidelines.
A recent realization at our own Messy Church sent school dance feelings flooding back. Much like our old high school soiree, we spend weeks preparing and hyping our event, while others showed increasing excitement in attending our Messy affair. However, as the families flooded in, we noticed an expanding number of parents standing off to the side and, instead of joining in, they watched as their children boisterously threw themselves into Messy Church. This was a problem. Messy Church means church for all ages and we had roughly half of our attendees sitting on the sidelines, missing the fun. Just like the dance, we had lost them before the first song started. Also eerily similar was the way everyone jumped in at dinnertime. Most adults sat, smiling adoringly, through crafts and celebration, yet, when we headed in for dinner, we heard roars of laughter and easily flowing conversation. It was as if dinnertime was the DJ calling last dance and everyone scurried to enjoy themselves once they realized it was almost over. There lied our hurdle. How were we, as a Messy team, going to break the ice early, and get them to enjoy the entire Messy dance, instead of just the last call?
“ How were we, as a Messy team, going to break the ice early, and get them to enjoy the entire Messy dance, instead of just the last call?”
The suggestion of using a parachute while praying was brought up at one of our Messy planning meetings. The idea is to have both hands of every individual in attendance of Messy Church grasping a parachute. People take turns calling out something they are thankful for and, in response, the parachute is lifted high overhead while our members call out, “for this, God, we thank you!” The prayer would take place just after check-in and before we went in for crafts in order to be an early ice-breaker. In preparation for our first time, every member of our planning team went in with an emergency “thankful phrase” in the event that things went awkwardly silent. The first time, we used every single one. The second month went the same. Not ones to give up, we went for it again the following month. This time, in between our team members sharing thanksgiving, the most glorious sound interfered. A tiny thanks from a toe-headed, bright blue eyed 6 year old boy named Matthew who quietly said “for my friends and family” to which we all gleefully threw our handfuls of parachute up in the air to yell, “for this, God, we thank you!” From there, we stuck with that parachute prayer as the new normal for our Messy start.
The fact that we were able to problem solve and find a solution does not mean we’ve perfected our shindig in any way. It’s called Messy Church for a reason. Our events, our lives, are just that… Messy. We were lucky in finding an activity to bring some of our members out of their comfort zone and into the party sooner. There will surely be more hurdles we’ll cross in the future and more brainstorming to repair them but this was a huge breakthrough for us! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be any sort of example here. The only reason I do these exercises is because I’m on the planning team. It’s my job. If I weren’t, I would, without a doubt, be the parent smiling and taking it all in from a distance to avoid possible judgmental embarrassment. I, often out of fear, stand in the shadows. However, in the end, it brought about some clarity to my own frequently self-conscious mind. There is no judgment when I walk through our Messy doors. The most popular kid at our gatherings is God and he’d never negatively judge us for acting foolish or getting messy in the process of having fun. Certainly not when we’re engrossed in the learning of His word. He lovingly and carefully places opportunities in our path, even if they scare us. We have to be aware of those opportunities. Life is short. Throw out the worries of others and get on the dance floor from the start. If we spend our lives standing on the sidelines, we could miss the most important dance of all…our dance with God.
Lindsey Goodyear attends Messy Church at Community UMC in Huntington Beach, CA. After attending Messy Church with her husband and two sons, she joined the leadership team for her Messy Church. We are delighted that she has agreed to be a regular blogger for Messy Church USA. Click here to contact her.