Passive Observer or Active Participant?
This summer, our family has planned monthly weekend getaways s rather than a longer vacation. We wanted to stay relatively close to home and also use these short trips as a trial to see if our two-year-old dog, Jack, is able to behave in new locations. At our July weekend on the Oregon Coast, we experienced a community gathering, Circle in the Sands. I discovered something that weekend that speaks reminded me of our gathering as Messy Church. Just like Messy Church, it was a diverse and intergenerational group that gathered on the beach that included both passive observers and active participants. All were welcome on the beach yet there were steps that were given to help a passive observer become an active participant.
There was a common interest for all the people that gathered on that cold windy beach in Oregon. I was a first-time visitor at Circles in the Sand. Pictures from friends who had attended previous summers cause me to look up the schedule and plan a specific weekend getaway. I was interested in the creation of a new sand labyrinth that was washed away several hours later by the tide. We got there early to watch the creative process. I kept walking around the large circles that connected all connected with a common path. I took pictures and chatted with several people working with rakes on the labyrinth. Observing from the sidelines felt comfortable.
Risk Inviting Others
After walking around the circles, I was invited to join in the creation of the labyrinth. ‘I see that you have been taking pictures, would you like to help?’ was the simple question I was asked. When I responded I didn’t know what to do or where to walk, I was told that I would be given instructions.
Give Simple Instructions
Very quickly, a rake was placed in my hand as another volunteer instructed that our task was to rake the sand in the spaces between the circles so people would know where to walk. He had a rake and showed me the motions to use and where to start. He stayed beside me for a bit and kept checking back in to make sure I understood my task. In a few short minutes, I had moved from being a passive observer to an active participant.
Recognize Different Skills
As I worked at my raking, I learned that there were a variety of tasks that people with different gifts used to create and participate in each circle in the sand. First, there was the designer of the labyrinth. Upon arrival at the early morning low tide, he creates a unique path by free hand dependent upon the shape of the sand and the weather. After the path is laid, artists come in to add to the original creation by their designs. Some of my favorite artistic designs included a dragonfly, a starfish and a lotus blossom. (See pictures) Then there are the volunteers who ‘scratch the sand’ to make it make the path clear. And last but not least, there was the group of people that came simply to walk the labyrinth after it had been completed.
The final thing that relates to Messy Church leadership is the importance of celebrating each person, whether they are a passive observer or an active participant. The volunteers were given a special little card saying thanks. Each person who walked the path was given a rock to remember their time. Those who gathered around the labyrinth but chose not to enter were also welcomed to the space. At the exit of the labyrinth was a large circle where everyone was invited to add their own sand ‘scribble’.
In Messy Church, we have the opportunity to walk with a diverse group of people of all ages. We have observers who hang out drinking coffee but may not enter into the activities at first. We have children that need some guidance and assistance. We have table hosts who invite people to come, see and do. We have people who have different skills and gifts and all are welcome.
As many of us move back into in-person Messy Church, may we consider how to welcome all while also taking the opportunity to show interest, invite, instruct and celebrate the many messy folk who gather creating community.
Grace and peace,