“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!
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
When I became a mother, something inside of me changed. Although I may be biased, sixteen hours of labor and a broken tailbone had left me with the most perfect and beautiful 8 lb. 2 oz. baby boy that anyone had seen. I remember looking at him and having an overwhelming sensation of fierce love and protection. No one would harm him, no one would take him, no one could break our bond. I was in absolute awe that God had given me this gift and incredibly astonished that He thought me worthy to raise, teach, and love one of his own holy children. The first few years were rewarding, exhausting, confusing, trying, and glorious. He was smart and loved learning, reading, and playing. His smile and belly laughs brightened any room and lifted the spirits of anyone lucky enough to encounter his joy. And, although I’d like to end this paragraph of bragging by saying that God presented this little boy to the world as a humble and empathetic creature, the truth is, there are some things we must be taught.
In our home, the care and treatment of others is a high priority. God calls us to love our neighbor and we take that to heart. But, how do you teach a child to have compassion and care for someone other than themselves? A child is not born knowing how to say “please” and “thank you.” They will not instinctively know to apologize if they’ve offended you. And for some, sharing with others (food, toys, or otherwise) is a completely foreign concept. As adults, we’ve had a longer time to develop these traits. Although we aren’t perfect ourselves, we’ve had years of sharing the load in the workplace and have lots of sympathetic practice in long lasting relationships. We learn to care for others when we get married, have children, or care for a sick relative. However, a child has not yet had the needed experience to develop these life necessities and our own son was certainly no exception. I really struggled with age appropriate examples of how important having compassion is in this life. Enter the dragon.
When that beautiful little boy turned five, he asked for a bearded dragon. We were hesitant at first (being more “dog” people than “dragon” people) but the gift of that lizard brought out something in our son, without reminding, that we had been working on for years…humanity. He was undeniably attached to his pet and cared for her in the most loving way. He asked us constantly to look up questions he had about her so he could learn everything he needed to know about dragons. He turned her heating lights on and off at the proper learned times. He fed her daily. When he learned she liked water, he put on his swimsuit and swam in the bathtub with her. When she was sick, he snuggled her and never left her side at the vet. He was treating her with the type of love, caring, and respect that I wanted him to treat everyone with. It became altogether apparent to me that an absolute perfect way to teach children empathy is through owning a pet.
At our last Messy Church, we celebrated just that. As a chance to admire and recognize the unwavering love we have for our pets, once a year, we encourage each of our families to bring their own family pets to enjoy a night of messy celebration dedicated to animals. We had fantastic stations set up, including: feather painting, Lego pet building, move like a pet game, a station for making cat and dog toys, bird feeders, and a pretend animal clinic for those who brought stuffed animals instead of real ones. No animal is turned away. As one of our most popular Messy gatherings, we’ve hosted dogs, cats, lizards, chickens, tortoises, guinea pigs, birds, and hamsters. It’s so fun to watch the interaction between families as well as the beloved animals they brought. The kids are especially proud when showing off their pets and often keep them in their possession even when they eat! Pets are a great conversation starter and it’s always enjoyable to hear funny stories about the animals and witness the abiding love a family has for their furry friends. It’s also undeniable the one shared feeling all of these owners have in common for their pets…compassion.
During celebration, we placed a strong emphasis on the fact that animals are a gift from God and He asks us to take care of them. The responsibility we take on with loving the animals in our lives is the same responsibility God asks of us for loving each other. We are to take care of, nurture, and treat with respect the people we encounter every day. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” We should wear this cloak of kindness with each other the same way we do with our children, the way they do with animals and…the way God does with us. I would love to say that only children need reminding of this, but it’d be naïve to think we’re not all guilty. So, use God’s word as the template for life’s teaching moments. His reminders are all around us. And, although I never dreamed, I’d say this sentence out loud, I’m so grateful that God created the lovely bearded dragon to help my beautiful boy learn compassion.
Celebrate the Mess, Regional Coordinator of the Month and Welcome New Members to the Messy Church USA Network
Celebrate the Mess! Equipping Messy Churches in the USA to Start, Sustain and Connect
Mark your calendar for October 22-24, 2020 when we will gather in the greater Chicago area to Celebrate the Mess! We are happy to announce that Lucy Moore and Stephen Fischbacher will be two of our plenary speakers/ musicians! There will be more!
The members of the planning team for the 2020 Messy Church USA Conference are:
Overall Lead: Roberta Egli and Casey Cross
Workshops: Marty Drake and Leyla Wagner
Finance: Lynn Egli
Messy Church Experience: Maureen Carey-Back
Hospitality/Local Logistics: Ronda Bower
Publicity: Robin Canon
Multimedia/Technology: Andrew Scanlan-Holmes
Messy Extras: Johannah Myers
All of these fantastic team members are recruiting for their teams so if you would like to get involved contact them at (firstname)@messychurchusa.org. Look for more details and registration coming soon.
Messy Church USA Regional Coordinator of the Month
Ronda Bower is our Regional Coordinator for Northern Illinois and Wisconsin. She is the Pastoral Associate for Family and Educational Ministries at Northfield Community Church in Northfield IL.
We are excited to use the beautiful campus of her church for our 2020 Celebrate the Mess Conference. I have firsthand experience of how beloved Ronda is at her church! In my short visit with Northfield Community in August, people kept coming up to me sharing how Ronda makes such a difference in her church. Whether it was about her Sunday morning adult education class or her leadership of the vibrant Messy Church team, Ronda is appreciated for her multiple gifts. THANK YOU, RONDA!
Do you know your Regional Coordinator? Here they are…contact them at (email@example.com) (Hint- there will be two more announced soon!)
California/Hawaii/Southwest – Marty Drake and Leyla Wagner
Chicago/Northern Illinois and Wisconsin – Ronda Bower
Colorado/Kansas/Oklahoma/Nebraska – Janeen Hill
Indiana –Andrew Scanlan-Holmes
Michigan – Missy Harrison
New Mexico – Barb Tegtmeier
New York and New Jersey – Julie Hintz
North & South Dakota/Minnesota/Montana/Wyoming – Sandee Prouty-Cole
Ohio –Robin Cannon
Oregon (& other areas not listed) –Roberta Egli
North and South Carolina –Johannah Myers
Southern IL/Missouri – Jillian Mayer
Texas –Kate Cross
Virginia –Cindy Banek
Washington – Crystal Goetz
Is God calling you to spread the word about Messy Church? We will be announcing two additional RC soon but we still need more! Our current high priority areas for new Regional Coordinators include Florida, and the mid-Atlantic states. Contact Roberta if you are interested.
Welcome to the Messy Church USA Network
In August we welcomed eleven new Messy Churches to our Network! We also had one renewal! Take a moment to give God thanks and say a prayer of blessings for the teams who are bringing Messy Church to their local communities!
August 2019 Messy Church USA Network Memberships
New Supporter Members
Marshall United Methodist, Marshall, MI
Epworth United Methodist, Concord, NC
Christ our Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church, Peachtree City, GA
My personal Facebook page has been filled with pictures of children and teachers starting another year of school. I love the smiling faces that show both excitement and some nervousness. I chuckled at a friend who shared a picture of his briefcase filled with his plans for a brand-new course he is teaching at his university. How do you experience times of transition? Are you filled with anxiety or delight or perhaps a little of both? Transitions can be a bit messy!
This September we are sharing stories of transition. Stories of unexpected surprises as well as stories of preparing for an anticipated change. Lindsey Goodyear blogs about her Rev. George Hooper, who became pastor on July 1st of her church in Huntington Beach, CA. Their previous pastor had been instrumental in building excitement for their Messy Church Start over five years ago. How would their Messy Church transition to a new Pastor?
In news from across the pond, Dave Martin joined the dynamic team of Lucy Moore and Jane Leadbetter at Messy Church/BRF on September 1st. What kind of creative ideas will come from this transition? I imagine that there will be even more great resources from Messy Church/BRF.
Preparing for something new is what our “Getting Started in Messy Church” training is all about! This month there are three new opportunities for training. Read what others have to say about how this training has helped them get ready to start their own Messy Church. Our mission as an organization is to equip Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect which occurs through conversations and presentations at our trainings!
We are transitioning into full gear as we plan for the Celebrate the Mess Conference in October 2020. At our first planning meeting for the upcoming Messy Church USA 2020 national conference, the team shared of their involvement with Messy Church over the past six years. A common thread I heard as people introduced themselves to each other was how when they first became involved with Messy Church, they would not have predicted how their lives would change. Messy Church had changed the way people approached their ministry setting and for some on the team, had changed their vocational lives!
Living into transition is an opportunity to open ourselves to the leading of Spirit of God. Where will God lead you in your Messy Church this coming year? Where is God calling you to say ‘yes’? Where does your team find joy in your Messy Church? What continues to challenge you as a team? We would love to hear from you as you transition into this new school year and church life year at your Messy Church!
May you find grace and peace in all of your transitions,
New Every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world…
The sun was rising over Chicago as my overnight flight from Oregon circled around downtown to land at O’Hare. I thought of this prayer, that I learned at the Academy for Spiritual Formation as I gave God thanks for the dawn of another day. Although I don’t remember her name, I connected with my seatmate when she asked if I could airdrop the picture from my phone that I had taken of the early dawn to her phone. I will never see her again, but we are now connected through a shared picture on our smart phones. That was the first of many connections that were made throughout the weekend.
I was traveling to Chicago to lead a training in Michigan City for Messy Church. What a gift the weekend was for me! For the first time ever, I connected with four great mid-west Messy Church USA Regional Coordinators in person! Ronda Bower, Robin Cannon, Jill Mayer and Andrew Scanlan-Holmes have participated with me in phone calls, emails and monthly zoom teleconferences but all being together in person was fantastic!
I connected with the generous hospitality of Michigan City First United Methodist Church. Pastor Nancy gave me a wonderful place to catch up on sleep after a night on the plane. Trish Johnsen, Children’s Ministry Director of Michigan City First, spent hours of preparation so that all of us were warmly welcomed to a day of training.
Finally, I connected with 85 people who came from six different denominations and 18 different local churches. Some teams traveled several hours to get to the training. We spent time learning some best practices to get started with Messy Church. We learned from each other through conversations and Messy Activities.
I am grateful for the many ways we connect through the Messy Church USA network. Getting to know one another through phone calls, webinars and zoom calls are all great ways we connect, yet it is an extra gift when we can meet in person. Over the next several months, there are several training events from the state of Washington to New Hampshire! I invite you to check out the website and connect with others involved with Messy Church. One consistent positive statement that we receive on our feedback forms is that being with and learning from other local churches who are starting or have already started Messy Church in their local context is very valuable as they move forward. Make plans to connect!
Be sure to check out the two-part blog post from Crystal Goetz coming soon. Crystal writes that connecting with others from all over the world was a major highlight for her at the Messy Church International Conference 2019. She continues to stay connected with new friends from Sweden, Denmark, South Africa and many other places.
The Playfully Seriousresearch confirmed what we have suspected at Messy Church USA…that the teams that prayerfully discern, attend training opportunities, and start their Messy Church with support of others are more vital and sustainable than those teams that begin without training. This led us to set a goal of offering a minimum of twelve training events in a variety of USA regions in 2019.
The Getting Started in Messy Church will benefit those getting ready to start their Messy Church as well as those that have been offering Messy Church for months or years. Connecting with other churches is important! Below is the list of our upcoming training. Click on the link to register. There are several that have the dates open and registration will open soon.
Looking for a Messy Church Introduction? Our July What is Messy Church free webinar is coming up on Thursday, July 25th at 8:30 am Pacific time. You will learn about how the Messy Church global movement began and why it works in many different ‘flavors’ of the Christian church. In addition you will discover how the five foundational values of Messy Church weave in and out of the Messy Church worship experience. You will also be given some resources as you consider beginning your own Messy Church.
We give God thanks for those churches who become new members of renewed their membership in Messy Church USA in May and June 2019. Spent a moment giving God thanks and praying for the leadership teams for the following churches.
New Members for May/June 2019
Northside Presbyterian, Chattanooga, TN
St John United Church of Christ, Trenton, IL
Cornerstone United Methodist Church, Elyria, OH
Lyall memorial Federated Church- Millbrook, NY
Diocese of Southern Virginia- Newport News, VA
First United Methodist, Bowie, TX
Lexington United Methodist, Lexington, MI
Hillsides Residential Youth and Children, Pasadena, CA
Renewal Members for May/ June 2019
Auburn United Methodist, Auburn, WA
Christ United Methodist- Albuquerque, NM
St Peter’s Episcopal, Bettendorf, IA
Oak Grove United Methodist, Oak Grove, OR
Freysville Emmanuel United Church of Christ, Red Lion, PA
Did you know that we have a Facebook Group for Messy Church Team Leaders. It is a great place to ask questions and get ideas for activities, food and how to do publicity! Check it out and while you are at it— be sure to like our Facebook Page.
Blog post by Lindsey Goodyear who interviewed Leyla Wagner, Messy Church USA Board of Directors, California Messy Church USA Regional Co-Coordinator.
Last month, some of our Messy team members attended the highly anticipated Messy Church International Conference in London. Because I was unable to attend, I decided to pick the brain of one of my favorite Messy friends and see just how much fun I missed out on. Please enjoy this interview with Leyla Wagner from Community United Methodist Church (CUMC) in Huntington Beach, CA!
Lindsey: This is your second trip across the pond for Messy Church, how was this time different from the last?
Leyla: Three Years ago, we had only been doing Messy Church for three years when we went. There weren’t really any other Messy Churches around, and, it was before MCUSA was even a thought, so our CUMC team was really on our own. We were drawing from training and using print and online resources in figuring out Messy Church. It was amazing being around the energy and excitement of others hosting Messy Churches and realizing we were part of a bigger community. We learned so much and realized that our joys and challenges were similar to many. This time I didn’t expect as much excitement. We’ve had Messy Church at CUMC for 6 years now…and the oldest Messy Churches in the UK are celebrating 15 years! I was amazed because the excitement and energy was not only still there, but it was just as high. Rather than just talking about the nuts and bolts of Messy Church, this time conversations focused on sharing stories of seeing how Messy Church is transforming the lives of people who are attending and how it is making an impact worldwide.
Lindsey: I’m sure there were familiar faces, were you able to network with any new Messy friends?
Leyla: It’s funny…I only saw a couple of people that I had met the first time even though I heard many times from people I was in conversation with that they had also been there for the first conference….we hadn’t connected. So actually, this time I feel like I made many more Messy Friends than before. I even met two more people from the US. I felt a stronger connection to people this time and I think it’s because we were sharing deeper stories, not just nuts and bolts stories…and many were part of leadership teams for their countries so it was interesting to learn more about their experiences with the bigger church, as well.
Lindsey: You’ve mentioned to me that this convention was rejuvenating. What do you, personally, feel fueled your passion for Messy Church the most?
Leyla: I was rejuvenated by so many things! I loved hearing the research that supports what we are what the leading Messy Churches are seeing…that what we are doing is making a difference, making disciples and that Messy Church is church! We are re-imagining church…possibly changing it to be something God can use to reach people today. I also liked hearing the journey of the past 15 years and realizing how much has been accomplished from this “Grass Roots/organic” movement in such a short time. Lastly, I feel called to be a part of Messy church but often worry that I don’t have a background or enough bible/theological knowledge to be “leading” Messy Church. During one reflection, Martyn Payne told the story of Moses and the burning bush and we sang a wonderful Fischy Music song so I left feeling that I have everything I need to do what I’m being called to do because God is behind me, beside me and in front of me.
“God is at the Center of this Messy Church journey”
Lindsey: What was your favorite activity at the international conference?
Leyla: Again, there were many activities I really liked. I loved the key speakers, reflections, prayer stations and, I enjoyed meeting people and sharing stories. But, my favorite activity was the add-on day (Monday) that was only for leadership teams from all the different countries. We broke into small groups being made up of representatives from all countries there and gave input on questions Messy Church BRF asked. It really felt like an International experience and I liked hearing perspectives from all over the world.
Lindsey: Anything you’re planning on using at our own Messy Church that you learned while there?
Leyla: Andrew Roberts is the author of a book called Holy Habits. It’s based on the passage written by Luke in Acts 2 42-47 and focus’ on creating deep and committed disciples by practicing and living out the 10 Holy Habits. These include: Biblical Teaching, Breaking Bread, Eating Together, Fellowship, Gladness and Generosity, Making more Disciples, Prayer, Serving, Sharing Resources and Worship. These Holy Habits align with the values of Messy Church, and are applicable and easily accessible to all-ages. This year the Get Messy Magazine, which provides monthly curriculum resources to Messy Churches, will be focusing on a different Holy Habit each month. We will most likely use these and the other supplemental for deepening the quality of our own Messy Church.
Lindsey: I know Steven Fischbacher founder of Fischy Music was there rocking and rolling! Any new Fischy Music that’s a must have?
Leyla: ALL Fischy Music is a MUST HAVE! (Note from Roberta Egli– Check out a video of Steven leading our final song at the conference Here)
Lindsey: What was your biggest takeaway from your experience in London?
Leyla: That God is at the Center of this Messy Church journey.
Lindsey:Do you think you’ll attend the next overseas international convention?
Leyla: Well, I would love to be able to attend the next International Conference in 3 years. So much has happened in the three years since the last International Conference it’s hard to imagine where we’ll be in 3 more years. Marty and I met Roberta and Julie at that first International Conference. We came home and hosted the first National Messy Church Conference a year and a half later while working with Robera, Julie, Lynn, Nicole and Lucy to start MCUSA. Anyway…..I think attending an International Conference helps us as local Messy Church leaders to feel connected to the bigger Messy Church organization and share in the excitement. But, it’s also helpful for our roles in Messy Church USA.
Lindsey: We will host one in the states before then. Is there anything you particularly loved that we will see incorporated into out next convention?
Leyla: Yes, we are hoping to host a National Conference in the Fall of 2020 and there are definitely things that we will incorporate but those will be decided by the MCUSA team and Conference Planning Team. One thing that came out of this International Conference that will be incorporated into our National Conference, and highlighted even more in training across the US, is the best practices for starting a sustaining a Messy Church…which starts with training. (Check out Messychurchusa.org for a training near you!) Haha!
Lindsey: I was so sad to miss the trip so, just for fun, what was your favorite meal while there?
Leyla: Ah, we were really sad that you couldn’t make it, too. My favorite meal was the last one of the trip. Roberta and I both had Fish and Chips. So good! (She has a great picture of them.) Hey…just wondering…will YOU make the trip in three years?
Lindsey: Given how much time I spent stalking the conference on Facebook, I think it’s a definite yes!
Looking for a creative, new way to bring people of all ages into a space where they can meet Jesus? Check out this new podcast with Johannah Myers about Messy Church. This is a great resource to share when someone asks, what is Messy Church? churchleadership.com/podcast/…
Interested in learning more about Messy Church? Registration is open for 3 upcoming Regional Training Workshops! Clemson, SC on February 22 Atlanta, GA on March 21 Norfolk, VA on April 25 For more details and to register your team: messychurchusa.org/upcoming-r…pic.twitter.com/d2JYV7tVHH
Today we are celebrating the churches that renewed their memberships with Messy Church USA in January. Please take a moment today to pray for these churches. Want to learn more about joining the Messy Church USA network? ow.ly/ZyDz50wLLPlpic.twitter.com/AGfqSQxt4y
Messy Church USA is a newly formed nonprofit 501c3 corporation. Messy Church USA has been formed to provide an organizational structure to support the health, growth and sustainability of local Messy Churches in the USA. In addition, Messy Church USA will assist individual Messy Churches to become an integrated part of the larger national and global network of Messy Churches. Read more.