by Lindsey Goodyear
Every once in a while, my interest gets peaked by a particularly unusual conversation opportunity. I love to get to know people, and their stories, and often say that my incessant interest and question asking probably makes most people think they are being grilled regularly. In reality, I’m just excited to hear their journey. So, when Roberta Egli contacted me about interviewing a Messy Church in the southeast that had multiple denominations participating at the same event, I was antsy with curiosity. How does that work? Whose sect are you following? Where did you find each other? This seems like a strange arrangement. Although I couldn’t wait to find answers, I also wasn’t prepared to be as blown away as I was with the response I received. One basic agreement, right off the bat, turned this seemingly messy situation into a well-oiled machine of success. Please enjoy the little chat I had with Amanda Hawk (AH) of First United Methodist Church and Rev. Denise Lay(DL) of First Presbyterian Church in Zephyrhills, Florida.
The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
LG: Let’s start at the beginning. What was your experience with church growing up?
AH: I was raised Roman Catholic. As a teenager, my parents went through a bitter divorce and I didn’t like the way our particular church treated them. As a family, we left. After almost 20 years away, I felt the need to return to church and began to “church shop.” A few choices in, I tried the First United Methodist Church. I immediately felt like I was home. I have been a proclaimed Methodist for seven years.
DL: I was raised a Southern Baptist and, like many others, left the church when I was a teen and did not make a return until I was an adult. At that time, I entered the Presbyterian denomination. There, I found a winsome, grace-based message of God’s love. Eventually, I not only joined the church, but I served 12 years as Director of Christian Education, attended seminary, became an ordained minister, and have now been the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Zephyrhills for about five years.
LG: It’s always so interesting to see where people started with their faith and where they ultimately find a home with it. Where does Messy Church fit into the equation? How did you hear about it?
DL: I stumbled upon Messy Church while preparing a sermon series on joy. I was using the book, “The Gift of Wonder,” by Christine Aroney-Sine, and, as soon as I read it, I knew God was leading me to be a part of Messy Church. There was just no way to deny the excitement and energy that surrounds the concept of Messy Church.
AH: About three years ago, the Fresh Expressions movement at our church was really taking off. I served on the committee and I loved going out to bring the good news to those not attending traditional church. While I was serving, I heard the term “Messy Church” and became curious. I began researching online and immediately knew I had to start one! I took it to my pastor and my Fresh Expressions team and requested to bring it to the church. My team and I were so excited that we signed up for the October 2019 Getting Started in Messy Church training in Mt. Dora FL led by Johannah Myers. While I was waiting to present Messy Church to our congregation, Denise mentioned Messy Church to our pastor’s wife, who, immediately brought us all together. I presented it to our congregation shortly after and the church gave their support.
LG: It’s funny, bringing up the topic of Messy Church almost always provokes the question, “what is that?” from others. Sounds like it did the same for the both of you! What was the thought process behind joining different denominations together and who reached out to start first?
It really was a God ordained process (that brought us together)…the differences in denominations didn’t matter because at the heart is God’s love and grace”Amanda Hawk, First United Methodist of Zephyrhills
AH: It really was a God ordained process. At the same time I had discovered Messy Church, Denise was reading about it. We were both so excited about starting a Messy Church that we were sharing the information with anyone who would listen! The right person listened to us both and made the introductions. After we had lunch together, we instantly knew we wanted to do a joint venture. The differences in denominations didn’t matter because at the heart is God’s love and grace.
DL: Increasingly, we had been trying to reach out to the other churches in our community to work together on various joint missions. We are better together, wouldn’t you agree? I shared a Bible Study with the Nazarenes, Stephen Ministry with the Methodist Church, and we had all done VBS together. But, serendipity and the Holy Spirit brought this together. I shared my excitement over Messy Church with my friend from the Methodist Church, Eileen Thomas, who, then, connected me with Amanda. Amanda was as excited about the project as I was! They had actually registered for the same training in Mt. Dora as we had, so we all decided to go together. Everything fell into place from there!
LG: So, wait, are there more than two denominations joined for this “Messy” venture, then?
DL: Yes! We started with First United Methodist, First Presbyterian Church, First Church of the Nazarene, and Awake Wesleyan Church. First United and First Presbyterian have been the lead, providing the majority of the funding, supplies, and volunteers. The other two are smaller congregations and participate to the extent they can. At the moment, like many churches, they lack the resources to be deeply involved. However, we still consider them to be partners and include them in all communication, activities, and more, allowing them to do as much or as little as they are able. This being said, we do hope to increase their future involvement.
Stay tuned for Part II of this interview. We are also excited to announce that Messy Church at Zephyrhills, FL is our November 2020 Messy Church of the month- more details soon!