A Reflection by Roberta J. Egli
“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!
See you in the Windy City!
Peace and love,