Congratulations to our Messy Church from Vancouver, WA
“God brings us into the world with one hope and
that is to celebrate the gift of life God has given us.”
-Pastor Jim Stender (1951-2019)
St. Andrew Lutheran Church holds a special place in my heart and work. Their late pastor, Rev. James Stender, was a colleague and friend of mine. We met at several 5 day Academy for Spiritual Formation events from 2012-2018. Pastor James was the leader of our small covenant group that met in the may of 2018 in the Seattle area. His leadership, prayer, and compassion were a highlight for me during that week as I was less than one year into my work with Messy Church USA after transitioning out of pastoring a local church.
After the retreat, he asked me to come to St Andrew to share Messy Church with staff and the Preschool leaders. So following a workshop on Godly Play that I attended at St. Andrew, I gave a workshop on Messy Church and ways to Get Started with their own Messy Church. It was one of the first training events of Messy Church USA. Pastor James died suddenly of a cardiac event in February 2019 however Messy Church at St. Andrew lives with great leadership! I am thankful for the faithfulness of God’s mercy as the congregation of St. Andrew continues “to celebrate the gifts that God has given (them)”. (A note from Rev. Roberta Egli, Executive Director of Messy Church USA)
Chris Natland, Director of Children, Youth, and Family at St. Andrew has led the Messy Church team for the past several years. Let us celebrate their story!
How did you hear about Messy Church
As the current Messy Church leader, I had previously been involved in a MC community before coming to St. Andrew. When I saw that this church had a MC program, I was that much more excited to be part of this community.
Why did you decide to offer a Messy Church in your community?
Messy Church is such a great opportunity to connect with our faith in a way that is friendly and accessible to those that don’t do well in a sit and listen environment – whether it’s kids & families or those that get more out of involved faith experiences. The opportunity to worship together in this format is so meaningful.
When did Messy Church start at St. Andrew?
Messy Church started at St. Andrew Lutheran Church toward the end of 2018. When public health shut down in-person gatherings, Messy Church took a backseat until April of 2021. I knew that when we approached the one-year mark, it was time to come back together in one way or another – the Sunday morning congregation came back together online so why couldn’t we?
Our first gatherings as we came back as a Messy Church were held on zoom – a place where we could be together safely and still work through our messy materials. Worship kits were delivered to participants, and we came together online to craft, bake, worship and fellowship. We are now back to meeting every month and including our shared meal.
Messy Folk answer the question, ‘What do I like best about Messy Church?’
- I have been to several Messy Church events. My favorite thing is connecting with people I don’t yet know. I have made several new friends at these events. I also enjoy working with the kids at the activities. Talking with them and their families about the activity creates a bridge between us that may otherwise be harder to find since we are in very different parts of our individual lives. I think it is a much more approachable way to do “Church” for young families because it is inclusive of their little ones. (Dave, adult participant and volunteer)
- It’s fun. I like to be creative. And sometimes I get a little messy with color or glue on my hands. It’s the best. (Declan, age 6)
- I like Messy Church due to how fun it is for parents, as well as kids. During normal church with small kids, it’s always a balance between keeping them entertained, but also quiet to not take others out of their worship experience. At Messy Church, it’s just free. They get to be themselves, and as a parent it takes all that anxiety away and allows me to relax and enjoy the experience as well. (Dusty, adult participant)
- I like the crafts and activities and being able to wander around to each of them. The food is delicious, and I like talking with other people while we eat. (Audra, age 11)
- I like how interactive the Messy Church learning experience is. My children request to attend Messy Church. It keeps them active in the learning experience while interacting with others in our community that they don’t always get to interact with at our normal church services. My children have so much fun that they retain more than if they were sitting in church listening to a Pastor preach. The flexibility of the activities and going at one’s own pace adds to the quality of their learning experience. We love that you may take as long as you need at each station or even revisit a station at your own leisure. The community mealtime also gives us time to socialize with others we don’t always see.(Dani, adult participant)
Some Favorite Activities with instructions
Gethsemane Leaf Prayers (Jesus in the Garden)
Instructions: With a large tree sketched on butcher paper and posted to the wall, get a leaf cut out and write the name of someone who is facing something hard or a situation that that is hard. Say a prayer for that person or your situation while you attach the leaf to the barren tree.
Taking a Census
Instructions: Set up a census table and have each participant visit the table through the activity time – this table may have information sheets to fill out about their family but also have a US and world map available on bulletin boards. Have each person place a pin on the map to show where everyone was born AND where everyone has lived.
Paper Plate Frogs
Instructions: Fold a paper plate in half and use a marker to color the inside red for the frog’s mouth and the outside green. On the folded edge, cut a small hole that you can place a party blower through to create the frog’s tongue. Attached two cotton balls on the top for the frog’s eyes. Enjoy frogs together as you open their mouths and have them stick out their tongues.
Paper airplane Prayers
Instructions: Have each person write a prayer on a piece of paper and fold it into a paper airplane. In a large circle (so nobody gets hit with a plane), fly your prayers across the circle as far as you can. Once the airplanes have landed, pick up the nearest to you and pray for that person or situation throughout the month until we come together again.
Picture Gallery from Messy Church at St. Andrew
What worked well in getting the support of your ‘Sunday’ church when you started Messy Church?
It has helped most to involve many folks from the Sunday morning congregation into the leadership and specific aspects of MC. Once we’re able to share photos, information and have the ‘Sunday’ congregation join us, they usually return or more willingly share the invitation.
It has also really helped as we build our leadership team and choose who might help us this week – we choose some specific people to lead stations based on the activity and interests of our people. We never want our volunteers to be asked to lead something they’re not interested in – we want our volunteers and participants to leave feeling fulfilled and not as though our time was a struggle to get through.
Share a challenge you have had with Messy Church. What strategies did you use to meet that challenge?
Covid has been a challenge. We’ve been able to adapt using specific event plans to allow a move to online if needed.
Finding the volunteers for event date can be a challenge, continually. Finding people with specific interest areas that correspond to the activities has been helpful and a joy. Finding someone with an interest in mission and our food pantry helped as we wrapped collection boxes to inspire families to remember to support the hungry in our community. Asking our caring ministries team to lead card making as we remember to reach out to the sick or homebound. Reaching volunteers on that personal level helps everyone to feel great about their time at Messy Church.
How has your Messy Church adapted during the COVID pandemic?
We’ve kept flexibility during the time that we thought we may have to move online – keep the activities simplified in a way that could be sent home for a zoom model. Over the past year when we have had many models – including kit bags at entry so each family could participate in the same space but have room and their own supplies, meeting in full capacity but not including a meal, and more.
Luckily, we are back to full program but will always keep these options available if we need to move back into a safer model for public health. We remember that this is Messy Church, made to connect with a messy world and things may feel messy as we adapt to meet safely and reach the whole community in a way that’s comfortable for us.
Thank you St. Andrew for sharing your Messy Church story!
Let us continue to hold St. Andrew and their team leader, Chris Natland in prayer this month. Let us give thanks for God’s faithfulness!
St Andrew Contact Information
Address: St Andrew Lutheran Church, 5607 NE Gher, Vancouver, WA 98662
Church phone and Email: 360-892-7160, [email protected]
Messy Church Team Leader: Chris Natland, [email protected]