Congratulations to Saint James United Methodist
We are so happy to share the story of Saint Janes United Methodist Church in Kingston, NY. Their team leader for their Messy Church is Rebecca Liebowitz, the Children and Youth Director at Saint James. Rebecca has been involved with Messy Church USA for quite some time. She hosted a pre-pandemic Get Started training, shared their pandemic Messy Church ideas at a 2021 Messy Church USA town hall and currently serves as an ambassador. Thank you, Rebecca and all the good people of Saint James, for sharing your Messy Church story!
How did you hear about Messy Church?
Our Pastor, Robert Milsom, attended a Messy Church training while at a conference in California and later visited some Messy Churches in the United Kingdom. He shared the idea with us! At the time we were doing something similar but not exactly the same: having a monthly Waffle Church (a family-friendly worship service built around brunch, with radical hospitality, arts and crafts, and an informal set-up, but it was not structured the same way as Messy Church).
Messy Church is often the highlight of my month. It’s a great delight to share God through crafts, songs, Bible Stories, and meals. We range from little children to individuals in their 90’s.”– Kathy, volunteer
Why did you decide to start Messy Church in your community?
We knew that some of the most meaningful experiences our families were having at church involved hands-on, play-based or community-service-based learning and worship. We wanted to try to offer this to even more people from the community.
When did you start your Messy Church?
Our first event was a Messy Church Easter in April of 2019. After that, we took off a month to plan and to meet as a Messy Church team, and then began having events most months until the pandemic. During the pandemic we tried several Zoom-based events, but the attendance was very low, so we either held outdoor events or put our Messy Church “on pause” until our local COVID numbers improved. We are back to meeting in-person now and it has been wonderful!
Messy Folk answer the question: “What do I like best about Messy Church”
- “I like the variety of crafts! And meeting new people and getting to hang out with old friends” – Andrew, 5th grade
- “I love the songs and it’s so much fun! I even made new friends.” – Leia, kindergarten
- “I like to play with Easter eggs (at our preschool and sensory toy area) and I like the parade with instruments” – Joshua, 1st grade
- “The people were really nice, the games were fun, and the dinner was great!” – Hudson, 4th grade
- “They had a lot of stuff to do and I especially like all the crafts” – Michaela, 7th grade
- “I like the homestyle food – good food and good people” – Rob, a dad
- “I like the stories and doing the arts and crafts. “ – Luke, 2nd grade
- “It’s great to see the kids participate loudly in worship activities, in craft activities that provide an experiential spiritual experience, and to enjoy working on mission projects. Seeing children’s development of all these areas is so essential for them, and for us adults” – Barbara, volunteer
- “I like being able to take my preschooler somewhere for worship where her energy is expected and welcomed!” – Jordan, mom
- “A chance for intergenerational fun for all, even for someone without kids and a great chance to do amazing things for the community and be in fellowship.” – Brian, volunteer
- “A great chance to meet new people and share fellowship, fun, music, activities, crafts and a meal!” – Linda, volunteer
- “We Love messy church…the music..learning about the Bible and God…Everyone welcomes you with open arms ….feeling like we are a part of a Big family …all the fun crafts and yummy food” – Stacey, mom
- “Even being in my 60’s, I love using the colors and crafts with the children. Their aliveness and joy is what it’s all about.” – Kathy, volunteer
Favorite Messy Church Activities
Rainbow bread– A great Activity for Messy Communion
Supplies Needed: You will need bread (regular and gluten-free) and two sets of edible “paint” in the colors of the rainbow (a regular set and a food-allergy-friendly set of colors). For our regular edible “paint” we mixed food coloring with vanilla instant pudding packs, creating 6 small bowls of different-colored edible paint. For our food-allergy-friendly “paint” we mixed 1 Tbsp sugar, a squirt of gel food coloring, and about 1 Tbsp hot water. This created a thick, syrupy, edible “paint” in all of the colors of the rainbow. You will also need brand-new clean paint brushes, so kids can safely paint their bread and then eat it.
Children can paint a rainbow or other design on their bread, while the table leader shares that when we have communion, we remember our favorite stories about Jesus and what he did for us, and that He is close to us when we eat special communion bread (adapt your language to fit what your denomination feels is most important and age appropriate to share with children who are new to communion).
This was one of my son’s favorite activities at Messy Church!
Cereal Box Dominoes
We found that cereal box dominoes work well at a Messy Church that’s about a story with multiple stages (or places, people, or events) that you can represent in artwork. To explain this more clearly: We collected both new (full) cereal boxes to donate to our food pantry and empty boxes, both of which could be used in our chain of “dominoes.” Our event’s theme was the story of Joseph (as in Joseph and the coat of many colors, Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph in prison, Joseph interpreting dreams, Joseph reunited with his family, etc).
Messy Church attendees built different “stations” representing key portions of the story: Joseph and his special coat (on a poster), Joseph in a “well” built from cardboard boxes, Joseph in jail (another cardboard box creation), a pyramid, a decorated coat rack from which children hung dream catchers and symbols about the dreams Joseph interpreted, and a table with a sign about love for our families and popsicle stick photo frames the kids made (to hold a family photo).
Our cereal box pathway wove past each “stage” in the story, so we got to talk about the story in a number of ways prior to the celebration. When we had the celebration time, I used a homemade Godly Play kit to tell the story of Joseph. The key portions of the Godly Play script were represented in our dominoes set-up. This was so much fun! We did this almost 3 years ago. I would definitely love to try it again (perhaps with another story that lends itself to being represented in stages).
Christmas Carol Ornaments
- Wood craft squares (we bought ours on Amazon, and used 4”x4” size)
- Photocopies of sheet music for Christmas Carols (copied onto slightly yellow cardstock, so they look aged)
- Thin ribbon to hang the ornaments
- Silhouettes of Bethlehem scenes (optional)
- Foam brushes
- You will need to experiment and size your Christmas Carol photocopies so that they will fit well on your wood squares (eg, you want a line or two of the carol to the recognizable by someone looking at the ornament) Once you have done this and photocopied your materials, Messy Church guests can trace a wood square on the back of two Christmas Carols (to cover both sides of the wood), and cut out the carol music to fit the size of their square.
- Before they attach the carol to their square, they should affix a ribbon for hanging it (i.e. use some glue AND tape to secure the ribbon to the square.
- Then use ModPodge to glue the carol sheet music to the square, and if they wish to, they can add a black and white silhouette on top of the music (like a silhouette of Bethlehem or an angel, or any other artwork you want to offer).
- Apply a thin layer of ModPodge to the outside of the carol and silhouette, to cover it
- Provide a place for them to hang their ornament and let it dry
What worked well in getting the support of your ‘Sunday’ church when you started Messy Church?
Before we held our first Messy Church event, our pastor asked me to make a PowerPoint presentation during both of our regular worship services, sharing what Messy Church is all about. It was important to us that the congregation understand what we would be doing! We also hosted a training with Messy Church USA for our church and others in our region, so that those who wanted to know more had the opportunity to learn from more experienced leaders. When we got started, we began to invite many members of the congregation to either volunteer or to attend as guests (sharing that it is so helpful when senior citizens attend just to do the crafts as guests and to be friendly to all who are there). I believe that inviting people to attend and encouraging them to be part of the fun was an important way to let them know (or remind them) how wonderful Messy Church can be. We also share photos from our events on our Facebook page, and I find that members of our broader congregation really enjoy seeing the happy children and families!
Share a challenge you have had with Messy Church. What strategies did you use to meet that challenge?
A major challenge for us has been having enough volunteers. When we started three years ago, our church was larger and it was easier to keep a spreadsheet listing everyone who’d been asked to volunteer for Messy Church and to rotate among people (not ask the same person each time). When I asked someone to volunteer, I would ask if they might be available this month or next month, also, so that there was more of an option. Since the pandemic and the reduction in regular church attendance, it has been more difficult to not ask the same people each time. Our current strategy is to reevaluate our list of crafts once we know how many volunteers are available. Sometimes we need to make activities simpler, so that one volunteer could be host to two related crafts or service projects. We also recently bought a large version of Jenga and Corn Hole, so that if we need to set up some self-explanatory games as an activity option, it will be easy to do so.
How has your Messy Church adapted during the Pandemic?
Initially, we tried meeting on Zoom, but we found that our Messy Church families were not interested in online events (even if there was an option of crafting at home). During warm months we hosted several outdoor Messy Churches. We returned to in-person events this year at first with face masks and social distancing (i.e. pick up your family’s craft supplies and take them to your own table). Currently we are back to a more “typical” Messy Church event, where kids from different families may mingle at the same tables and face masks are not required. We will continue to monitor the public health situation and adapt as need be. One thing that has been helpful is that a lot of our marketing has been done through Facebook, and sometimes people have sent questions to our Facebook Page. When they establish a conversation like that, we are able to follow-up with them in a casual, friendly way over time (to ask how their family is doing) and stay in touch. This helped us to grow more connected to several families during our pandemic-related pause in Messy Church, and made it easier to invite them to events when we resumed meeting.
Name and Address: Saint James United Methodist Church, 29 Pearl Street, Kingston, NY 12401
Church Phone# and Email: (845) 331-3030 [email protected]
Messy Church Contact: Messy church contact Name and email: Rebecca Leibowitz, Children and Youth Director – [email protected]