Don’t Be Afraid…Really?

Archive for COVID-19

Don’t Be Afraid…Really?

 A Sermon by Johannah Myers, Associate Director of Messy Church USA

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;

I John 4:18

There are certain things you can say to me that are guaranteed to have me doing exactly the opposite. Telling me to “calm down,” will not, in fact, help me calm down. To be honest, I’m pretty sure that telling anyone to “calm down” has never, in the history of the world, actually worked.

Right along with “calm down” come the equally useless phrases “don’t worry” and “chill” (or it’s companion, “relax, I’ve got this,” which is most often spoken by someone who rarely in fact has it…) – all phrases likely to have opposite effects. And of course, there’s the classic, “Don’t be afraid.”

Telling someone to not be afraid in the midst of a frightening situation seems about as useless as a back pocket on a t-shirt. Yet, it never seems to fail that as soon as we find someone in the Bible in times of disaster or at the start of a massive, impossible task, God shows up in one form or another and says, “don’t be afraid.”

The Israelites facing down Pharaoh’s army – don’t fear.

Daniel, facing off against lions or his buddies Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in a fiery furnace – don’t fear.

Mary, surprise, I’m an angel of the Lord and oh by the way, you’re gonna have a baby by the Holy Spirit – but yeah, don’t be afraid.

Storm on the sea, Jesus says, “Why are you scared?”

Jesus tells his friends they’re going to be persecuted and he’s not going to be around anymore the way they’re used to, but hey, don’t let your hearts be troubled.

There are some who say that there’s a Bible passage telling us to not fear or not worry for every day of the year. The instruction to “not fear” certainly appears more frequently than any other. As if somehow telling us to not be afraid will actually help!

Frankly, fear is a fundamental reaction – it’s wired into our bodies. Some fear is instinctive; it helps us stay alive figuring out if we need to fight or flee. We are made to experience fear – and who designed our bodies? Who knitted us together in our mother’s womb? Who knows every part of us, in our inward-most parts? So why is God going around telling us to “not be afraid?”

Lord knows, 2020 has given us plenty to fear.

Murder hornets? We’re wired to feel fear.

Massive dust storm? Fear response engaged.

A global pandemic, with daily reports of the rising, massive loss of life making even the simplest of tasks like buying groceries or coming to church dangerous? Our bodies are going to send out warning signals to every part of our body.

Protests? Political unrest, economic uncertainty? We’re wired to feel fear.

As the popular meme goes, let’s look outside and see what chapter of Revelation we’re on today.

The writer of 1 John wrote to a community wracked by division and excessive pride and it’s into this brokenness he writes, “perfect love drives out fear.” God is love and God’s love is revealed to us in the sacrificial love of Jesus. When we abide in God – rather than in our own fear – love is our only course.

But here’s what God knows better than anyone. Yes, instinctive fear is helpful, life-saving. We have an intrinsic fear of pain to keep us out of painful situations. But fear’s a funny little emotion. Because a good deal of our fears are not actually instinctive, but are taught – life experiences and even cultural norms can teach us to be afraid of certain things, even certain people. Fear gets even trickier because it’s also partly imagined. In the absence of something genuinely scary, our brains will begin to imagine the worst. We literally – without even realizing it – can make ourselves afraid in anticipation of something that may or may not happen.

So along with the instinctive fears of 2020 like murder hornets and a global pandemic, we can add in the “what if” fears. What if this never ends? What if life never returns to normal? What if we really don’t get to sing together for 18 months? What if the economy doesn’t recover?

Because fear affects all of our body, from head to toe, it’s no surprise that it greatly influences how we react. Fear leads to heightened anger or anxiety and so we’re angry without even knowing why. Fear causes us to lash out, to make enemies of neighbors and friends. We hoard resources. We are rarely creative when we’re afraid, meaning we’re less likely to find new, innovative solutions or even, apparently, manage good, critical thinking skills. When fear takes over, we are not at our best selves.

You’re scared. I’m scared, too. If ever there was a season that’s given us plenty to actually fear alongside enough imagined or anticipated fears to last a lifetime, 2020 has been that season. Lord knows, we’ve seen fear in action over the past months, wreaking havoc in its wake.

Into our fear, God says “Do not be afraid.” Not because God doesn’t recognize or understand why we are afraid, but because God knows that being afraid won’t leads us to live the abundant life God wants for us. Instead, God says “don’t be afraid” as an invitation to abide in something far better.

Like telling me to calm down will quickly have me doing the opposite, God’s is also calling us to do the opposite of being afraid.

What is the opposite of fear? Bravery? Courage? Maybe. But the root of the word “courage” is the Latin word “cor” – heart. In a recent sermon, Lutheran preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber suggested that we see in the life and example of Jesus that “maybe the opposite of fear isn’t bravery. Maybe the opposite of fear is love.”[1]

The writer of 1 John wrote to a community wracked by division and excessive pride and it’s into this brokenness he writes, “perfect love drives out fear.” God is love and God’s love is revealed to us in the sacrificial love of Jesus. When we abide in God – rather than in our own fear – love is our only course. We’re right back where Pastor Michael left off last week – love God, love one another.

[1] https://nadiabolzweber.substack.com/p/be-not-afraid-um-yeahok

Have you noticed that when someone is scared, we call them “chicken?” Ironically, it’s a chicken – more specifically a mother hen – that Jesus compares himself to. And Jesus certainly wasn’t chicken! In times of danger, a mother hen will gather all her chicks under her wing, sheltering them from whatever danger persists. Her action does little to protect herself; indeed, farmers have found hens killed by fox or fire, whose chicks remain alive and well, safe in the shelter of their mother’s wings. Gives a whole new meaning to calling someone “chicken,” doesn’t it? Jesus, like a mother hen, didn’t act in fear; he acted in love and calls us to do the same.

In times of heightened fear, God pushes us to get to work, putting sacrificial love into action. Instead of fight or flight, God wants us to lean in, extravagantly serving our neighbors. God calls us to move beyond the “what ifs,” the anger, the “worst-case scenarios,” and to do the opposite – love.

I want to close this morning with the story of Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore, examples of what sacrificial love looks like in the midst of great fear.

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, Robert and Kenneth, both medics with the 101st Airborne Division, were dropped behind enemy lines in France. While the 101st and the 82nd Airborne divisions, worked to secure the roads for the incoming waves of troops arriving along the Normandy beaches, the medics were to provide first aide to their comrades. They found the village church in Angoville-au-Plain and set up a first-aid station. The fighting was intense. While the battle raged, the medics administered first aid, going out into the battle to search for wounded, bringing them back to the church in a wheelbarrow.

Even when the Allies lost their tenuous hold on the area, Robert and Kenneth continued to work in little church, treating the wounded in their care.  The Germans left the Americans alone to work because they realized quickly the men were offering medical care to anyone brought to them, no matter their uniform. They treated American soldiers, French villagers, and German soldiers, never discriminating between friend or foe. For three days, they worked tirelessly with hardly any supplies to save anyone who came in the door of the church. They only required that everyone leave their weapons outside the door.

At some point, a mortar shell hit the roof of the church. There’s still a crack in the stone floor where the shell fell – and remained, unexploded. After witnessing this hit – one that should have taken out the whole church but didn’t – 2 German soldiers came out of the bell tower where they’d been hiding and surrendered to Kenneth and Robert. The medics promptly put the men to work helping treat the wounded.

When the battle ended and the dust settled over Angoville-au-Plain, 80 lives had been saved, American, German, and French. Despite having received very little medical training before they deployed, Robert and Kenneth only lost three people.

I first heard the story of these brave medics in 2017, standing inside the little church which still has bloodstains on the pews. There’s a newer stained glass window that replaced one damaged in the war. It simply reads “greater love has no one than he lay down his life for his friend.”

2020 has been a most difficult year. We haven’t parachuted into flooded bogs and intense fighting – but we’ve had plenty to fear, real or anticipated. Into our fear, God says to each of us – to all of us – “Do not be afraid.” Now is not the time for fight or flight. Now is the time to buckle down and get to work putting sacrificial love into action at every opportunity – to be “chickens,” if you will, mother hens willing to sacrifice for the good of the whole. And in loving God and loving one another, love will cast out fear.

Sermon preached on July 5th, 2020 at Aldersgate United Methodist in Greenville, SC.

Thanks Johannah for sharing your words of courage with Messy Church USA. You can reach Johannah at Johannah@messychurchusa.org.  

Highlights from Messy Church NOW Webinar

Logo Messy Church NOW

We had a great representation from all over the USA at the recent Messy Church NOW zoom webinar.  Messy Church leaders representing 25 churches from 16 different states and 5 denominations signed on to hear Jennifer May, Johannah Myers and Leyla Wagner share what they have learned in facilitating their Messy Church in a physically distanced world. 

Highlights from presentations

Jennifer used her teacher expertise to create a google slide show with recorded videos, activities and games that she emailed to her Messy Folk to use at home at their convenience. To keep the experience interactive, she provided a ‘would you rather’ game at the beginning that is the usual start to their in-person Messy Church. She vulnerably shared that it was difficult for her to get past her anxiety of seeing herself on a recording at the beginning which resonated with many of us on the zoom call. Taking risks and placing ourselves into new situations can be an uncomfortable experience. Jennifer leads Messy Church at Freysville Emmanuel United Church of Christ in rural Red Lyon, PA.

Leyla shared how their Messy Church has evolved as they have learned from each iteration of their Messy Church.  Their first COVID-19 Messy Church was a 15-minute zoom celebration worship that ended up lasting almost 45 minutes because people were so happy to see each other.  Since then, they have kept adapting their monthly on-line Messy Church. Their most recent Messy Church included an introduction video from their pastor emailed out one week prior, an activity bag that people came to the church parking lot to pick up, and a zoom community Messy Church that included doing activities together,  worship with favorite songs, and break out rooms to share reflections from questions. Leyla is from Community United Methodist in Huntington Beach, CA. favorite songs.

Johannah kept their first on-line zoom Messy Church short and simple.  The scripture story from Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu was read by Johannah after a time of welcome.  After the story, Johannah led everyone through making a hat of flaming tongues of fire out of a paper place, scissors and colored pencils and folding an origami dove from one piece of paper. Keeping the supply list simple was important.  To connect Messy Folk with Sunday morning worship, people were encouraged to drop off their origami doves at the church which were then placed in the worship space for the Sunday traditional recorded worship. Although the Messy Church zoom crowd was a bit smaller than their usual in-person Messy Church, those who participated ranged in age from toddler to over 70 years… a truly intergenerational experience!  Johannah is from Aldersgate United Methodist in Greenville, SC.

Some Messy Church NOW Ideas for you

Throughout the presentations and after, the chat room was busy with people sharing their own experiences of how they have continued to bring their Messy Church communities together over the past four months. Here are a few evaluation responses to the question, what are you key takeaways?  

  • We are all in the same boat. We try things and adjust accordingly. None of us has the “perfect” answer, we just keep working at it to reach people and have connection. 🙂
  • We had not considered recording our event so people who cannot attend live could come. What a great idea. As well as the ideas for how to share their crafts if they aren’t live with us.
  • Ideas, but most of all hope and strength – not in this aloneI

We are planning more webinars for the future so that we can continue to connect as we all experiment with ways to adapt our Messy Church during this weird time in history. Share your stories with us via Facebook or email roberta@messychurchusa.org.

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Equipping Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect across the USA

“What Next” Questions

Roberta J Egli

During the past several months of hunkering down at home, I have gained a greater appreciation for the global Messy Church Community and the USA network.  Hearing how people from all over the world are adapting their Messy Churches to on-line, or at home, or zoom calls has been a highlight.  I give thanks to God for all of the many ways that people from all over the USA network and world have creatively shared the good news of Christ in a large variety of ways over the past four months.

 One of my weekly routines has been to turn into the Messy Church/BRF Facebook Live event every Wednesday. Several weeks ago, Lucy Moore,founder of Messy Church, voiced something that I had been thinking for a while.  When COVID-19 began, there was a sense that we were in for a several month crisis that would soon pass and then we would get back to our regular church routines.  How silly!   It is now apparent that we will be living with COVID-19 precautions for an extended period of time. Even though some churches across the country are re-opening across the country many others will not hold in person worship until much later this fall or in early 2021. Even when we gather again in person, Messy Church will look much different as we have entered into a new reality of how we can gather to worship all-ages together!  

Lucy shared some questions that I have been pondering. (Read More Here)

  • Is it too early to decide on a course of action or strategy for the next seven months?  Should we just do all we can to listen to families, leaders of Messy Churches, wise people?
  • Should we keep pushing the ‘Keep contact, keep caring, keep serving, keep reaching out even if nobody seems to respond, keep offering Messy Church at home resources, keep doing Messy Church on Zoom and Facebook Live for a much longer stretch than we’d imagined
  • Should we see this as a fallow/sabbatical/Jubilee period and give Messy Churches permission/encouragement to stop rushing about…and use the time to think and pray and listen to God?
  • Is this an opportunity to leave the garden to its own devices and recover or not after the storm to re-imagine everything from scratch and break the ground in the new field we now find ourselves in? (“Wilding” is a concept that i learned about in Lucy’s blog, learn more here)

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.

Rainer Maria Rilke

What I found inspiring at the end of the 30 minute FB live session with Lucy is that she did not proceed to give any answers to the questions. She simply invited others to join her in conversation to discern which questions to ask.

We are called at this time to live in the tension of ‘what next’ questions which reminds me a favorite quote:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
i
Letters to a Young Poet

So, my friends, what are the questions that you have been asking in your local church settings?  In my next blogpost I will share some of the ‘what next’ questions we have been asking at Messy Church USA.  Our mission as an organization is to equip Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect.  In order to meet our mission, we need to hear from you what it is that you need at this time. Look for an opportunity to gather via zoom to learn from one another on July 23rd.

Grace and Peace,

Roberta

Below are some articles that have been helpful in my pondering! Happy Reading!

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Equipping Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect across the USA

Stones of Help

Johannah Myers, Associate Director of Messy Church USA

Johannah Myers from South Carolina led the Messy Church Facebook Live event on June 10th.  Watch the FB live here.

Johannah Myers
Messy Church UK Facebook Live, June 10, 2020

Johannah’s original blog post from Messy Church UK is posted below.

I’m in a part of the world where things are opening back up – including churches. In fact, we’re planning to start back with in-person worship this week. It’s very scary. And it’s very different! One of the changes that will be hardest for many of us is that we won’t be singing together any time soon. I’m not sure if I know how to be Methodist if I can’t sing!

One of my favorite hymns is ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’. There’s a line in the second verse that says, ‘Here I raise my Ebenezer.’ And of course, how many times have we sung this song without ever knowing what an Ebenezer was and how we might would raise one?!

It comes from a rather random story in 1 Samuel 7. The Israelites messed up (again) and lost the ark of the covenant to the Philistines. Of course, while the Philistines were in possession of the ark, they experienced nothing but trouble – passing it around from city to city because no one wanted it! Finally, the Philistines take the ark back to Israel! But it’s another 20 years before it seems the Israelites are ready to turn back to God in a way that they can bring the ark back into their center. Samuel gathers them to repent and pray. But the Philistines learn that Israel’s gathering, and they decide to attack. Israel calls on God for help and God protects them. Samuel takes a stone and sets it up and call it Ebenezer – eben = stone, ezer = help. Samuel wanted the people to remember the ways that God helped them. The stone was a visible sign of God’s faithfulness.

A few years ago, on a retreat, we made ‘Stones of Help’. Mine has names of people who, throughout my life, have been a source of strength, help, encouragement. As I look over this rock and all the names, I realize how many ages are represented!

iStock

As we begin to think about Messy Church during this season of forced physical distance, but also what Messy Church will look like as we begin to gather, I wonder about how we will make space for the Messy togetherness.

For the last few years at my church, we’ve had small groups (10 or so people, 3-5 family units) that meet monthly for really what amounts to a mini-Messy Church or a Messy Church at home. They’ve done Bible study and activities together, worked on mission projects, they eat together… so basically Messy Church, just smaller! As we’ve moved out of strict shelter-at-home restrictions, some of our Companion groups have even gathered to reconnect in person.

Like many of you, I’m realizing that our Messy Church may be one of the last pieces we can bring back in full. But like Greg, who did this Facebook Live earlier today, I’m wondering what opportunities this season presents for us. Our Companion groups were an accompaniment of our Messy Church – now, they might very well be the primary access to Messy Church, at least for a season. Maybe we think small as a way of thinking big?

Going back to my Ebenezer – my stone of help. These people are here, listed on my rock, because along the way we had space for relationships to grow and development. In those spaces, I found help and support along my faith journey. These are the people who pointed to God, the ultimate source of my strength and help. Where will we create the spaces for relationships to flourish in ways that we can point the way to God, our Rock?

Equipping Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect in the USA.

Scattered Senses

A blogpost by Roberta J. Egli

Morning Prayer at the Egli backyard

Over the past weeks of this stay at home pandemic reality, I have begun most days drinking coffee in our backyard, in the cool spring morning, listening to a daily devotional a friend recommended titled Lectio 365.  Like many good things (i.e. Messy Church) it originates from the UK and uses the rhythm of P.R.A.Y; Pause, Rejoice and Reflect, Ask, and Yield.  I have resonated deeply with the opening invitation to pause: “As I enter prayer, I pause to be still; to breathe slowly; to re-center my scattered senses upon the presence of God.”  (Learn more Here)

As someone who has worked from home for almost three years, I have been surprised at how difficult it has been for me to focus for a sustained period of time during this physical distance work rhythm.  My mind is scattered, jumping from one thought to the next attempting to figure out what the future of Messy Church USA will look like which leads me to get stumped because this is a completely new reality for us all.  We are living in an extended pause and even though part of the USA is beginning to ‘re-open’, we will not be returning to any semblance of what life looked like prior to COVID-19. Taking a moment to be still and breathe the prayer; “re-center by scattered senses upon the presence of God” has been a life preserver to cling to.

I pause to be still; to breathe slowly; to re-center my scattered senses upon the presence of God.

Morning Prayer, Lectio 365

In the Bible paraphrase, The Message, by Eugene Peterson, Jesus gives strength to his followers with these words: “Are you tired? Worn out burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message)

My friends, we have all responded to this pandemic in different ways. Each day may find us experiencing wildly different emotions.  I have heard people describing ‘roller coasters’ of emotions. As we continue to step into the unknown future, may we put our trust in our God of all time. We are not alone; God is with us.  We are not alone; a global Messy Church community gathers to share ideas, experiences and a taste of life.  We are not alone; we can rely on the unforced rhythm of grace rather than our own anxieties, scattered senses or strategies to re-open. We are invited into the unforced rhythm of grace as we simply take one step and then another as we follow in the way of Jesus the Christ.    

My friends, wherever you find yourself,whatever emotion you are experiencing, take a deep breath, pause for a moment and center your scattered senses on the presence of God. (repeat often!)

Grace and peace, Roberta 

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Equipping Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect across the USA

Separated

A blogpost from Lindsey Goodyear

iStock

“Scenes from an apocalypse” would be the only way I’d be able to describe the last month around here.  On March 13, 2020, we got a call from our son’s school letting us know that school would be canceled for the next two weeks.  The following week, it was confirmed it would be closed until after spring break.  Then, last week, we were formally notified that our kids would not be returning to school for the remainder of the year.  With each passing week, more and more businesses closed.  With each passing week, more and more people filed for unemployment.  With each passing week, we lost access to parks, the beach, church, and gatherings of any kinds with those we love.  We were advised to stay home to “stay safe”.  If we absolutely needed to go out, gloves and a mask should be worn but it should be a “necessary” outing as every time we left home, it was a risk to us and the most vulnerable among us.  News outlets were splattered with devastating headlines of what the coronavirus pandemic was doing to our world.  Death tolls ticked up and we were left to watch, unable to believe our eyes.  What on Earth was happening?

As I’ve shared before, I struggle with anxiety.  One thing that helps, is conversing with others and making a connection.  I’m definitely someone who gets energy from being out and about.  I love talking to the parents at drop-off and pickup, I love meeting friends to exercise with, and I love making small talk with people I don’t know while I’m around town.  I love to cook and some weeks I go to the market four or five times.  Because of this, I know most of the people who work there and look forward to seeing them.  In short, I’m a gal who thrives on conversation.  So, when we received the news about our new way of living, I did my best to ward off panic and be in good spirits.  So, we are homeschooling?  That’s okay.  It’s an opportunity to spend more time with my boys.  So, I have to exercise alone?  That’s okay.  I’ll use the time to do some deep meaningful thinking.  So, I can’t go to the market on a daily basis?  That’s okay.  When I do go, I will smile and chat with people the way I always do.  But, this positive way thinking was not only ambitious, it was short lived.             

Homeschooling is arduous and teaching at home was proving to be an adventure I’d have to white knuckle through June.  I was spending more time arguing with my sons over how I wasn’t teaching the way their teachers do than time spent on actual school work.  Trips to the store were a huge letdown, as well.  I was all excited to go one morning but my arrival brought the reality of bare shelves and rude people shoving to get to items first.  I was only able to get a few things and stood number 22 in the checkout line.  To top it off, I was suddenly painfully aware of the loneliness I felt when I gave an elderly gentleman a big grin only to realize he had no idea.  The mask I was wearing would never show my smile.  Then there was exercise.  Living in a beach community, there is no shortage of people outside.  My normal morning workouts were littered with friendly smiles of people out for runs, walks, or a ride on their beach cruiser.  Now, the silence was deafening.  I was lonely.  I know this doesn’t make sense since I’m quarantined with my husband and two sons, but I did feel lonely.  I felt like there was no one to talk to outside of my house and although guilt came along with these feelings, I couldn’t help but wish there was someone else I could interact with.

 We’ve been lucky that the church we attend is in the same neighborhood that we live.  My kids both went to preschool there, it’s the home of our Messy Church, and it’s both my boys’ absolute favorite parking lot to ride bikes in once the service crowds have dispersed.  I was nearing the end of my morning walk, one Friday, when I looked up and something struck me.  I was right in front of this church that I knew inside and out, yet, something was different.  I always acknowledge the banner that hangs in front of Community United Methodist Church is Huntington Beach as it is changed from week to week to display different Bible verses.  This week’s stopped me dead in my tracks.  Romans 8:38-39 says, “Remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  Wow.  In a time where all I felt was separation, I ignored the fact that I hadn’t been alone.  Not even once.  I was so wrapped up and consumed by the fact that I couldn’t see and make my normal connections with everyday citizens that I missed the fact that I had a direct line to a connection anytime I wanted.  It was just the reminder I needed to refocus and look at our situation with fresh eyes.

That verse did its job, and some anxiety was relieved.  I’m still a little anxious about what’s to come but, I’m definitely more aware.  God got my attention, once again, with His incredibly comforting words.  Although we are separated from each other right now, we will never be separated from God.  With the confidence of His words backing me, I’ve noticed things are starting to fall a little more into place.  Zoom has made it possible for our incredible teachers to do distance learning and both my kids are reacting favorably to their new school schedules.  When we go out on walks or bike rides, there are others out, now, as well.  They may be wearing masks or cross the streets to keep a safe distance, but they’re there.  Our Messy Church held their very first meeting through Zoom.  It was great to see faces of the “Messy” families that attend our church and to be able to catch up (it may be our new normal for the next few months).  Last but not least, the cooking.  Grocery stores have started to have more stock and my cooking has gone back to normal.  It takes a little more planning on my part so that I only go once a week, but things are looking up.  As I left the store the other day, I acknowledged a fellow shopper whose eyebrows lifted, cheekbones raised, and eyes sparkled.  I knew it instantly…there was a smile for me underneath that mask.                             

Lindsey Goodyear and her family attend Messy Church at Community UMC in Hungtington Beach, CA. You can reach her at lindseygoodyear@gmail.com
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Equipping Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect across the USA

From the Heart

Leyla Wagner, Huntington Beach, CA

Messy Church (MC) USA Board of Directors’ Secretary, MC USA Co-Regional Coordinator of California, Community UMC Messy Church Leader and MC USA Trainer

In a recent Messy Church USA Regional Coordinator (RC) meeting we discussed the impact of “social distancing” with our Messy Church friends.  We acknowledged that we were all feeling a bit overwhelmed and exhausted.  We missed being with our Messy families! We wanted to connect and were grateful for all of  the online Messy@home activities. However, we were also concerned about overwhelming others just as we were feeling overwhelmed.  In our quest to be helpful and reach out with Messy Church friends, were we exhausting one another rather than connecting with one another?

I’m a Pre-k teacher at our church preschool as well as a leader for our Messy Church. Prior to our RC meeting, I watched a video by Sally Haughey, the founder of Fairy Dust Teaching. In the class, she talked about the importance of connecting with children and their families from our classes while our schools were closed. Haughey’s teaching is helpful as we prioritize our connections with our Messy Church friends and families.  

Sally began by asking the question we’ve all been struggling with over the past few weeks…

  • What do families need in this time of uncertainty, when everything is new and many are faced with some level of economic instability?

The simple answer is connection. Sally shared that all humans have two basic needs during a time of crises.  First, we want to feel safe, and second, we want to be seen, heard and valued – even in the middle of the mess.

Our messy Church families need connection! In our monthly Messy Churches, we provide a safe space where our needs are recognized and embraced as we build relationships in our faith community. Relationships (with each other and with GOD) are the heart of Messy Church. Because of these relationships, our Messy Churches have become an important, not to be missed, monthly worship for many of our attenders.   

So how can we, as Messy Church Leaders, help our Messy friends and families feel safe right now and also seen, heard and valued when we aren’t meeting?  Sally suggests that people feel secure in these basic needs when their normal life rhythms are consistently maintained. Messy Church is a part of the normal monthly rhythm for those that attend and with the cancellations; it is another way their normal rhythms have been disrupted. Our Messy Friends and Families need consistent personal connection with us to maintain some normalcy.

Making personal connections help our Messy friends and families feel seen, heard and valued. People who come to your Messy Church are connected to YOU.  Our Messy Church has made a point to call or Face Time with each of our Messy friends.  We’ve split our list between Planning Team Leaders and our Table hosts.  Just as when we are sitting at craft tables or sharing a meal with our families at Messy Church, a personal call is a good opportunity to listen and find out how our Messy Friends are doing, where they are struggling and/or where they are experiencing joys. Because relationships are two sided, it gives us the opportunity to share our joys and concerns and where we’ve seen God at work lately possibly deepening the connection we’ve already established at Messy Church.

The main point to convey to our Messy Friends during this time of uncertainty is that they matter to us and just like God, we are there for them. How can we share our hearts and God’s love at this time?

Leyla Wagner

Another important point Sally made is that it isn’t the quantity of activities but the QUALITY of engagement that matters.  This is the same advice many of us have given at Messy Church training when asked “How can we do “more” in our Messy Church?”

There are many great online resources that have been created that we want to share with our Messy friends, yet we do not need to pass on or implement every great idea!  We are doing enough.  The main point to convey to our Messy Friends during this time of uncertainty is that they matter to us and just like God, we are there for them. How can we share our hearts and God’s love at this time?

Tips on ways to make a personal connection from the heart:

  • Call or Face Time with your messy friends and families.
  • Send a note to families
  • Use the phone to connect
  • Create a short (one minute or less) video of your Messy Team that you can text or email. Let your Messy friends know that you are thinking about them, praying for them, and that you miss seeing them. 
  • Remind them of the lessons we teach at each of our Messy Church geographical locations: 1) God is with us all the time (even in the middle of a messy pandemic), 2) God loves all of us, 3) God gives us strength and 4) God can do amazing things.

There is NO limit to how creative you can be in sharing God’s unconditional love. The point is that these personal messages will connect in a real way, that links to online resources and messages from strangers giving the same messages, will not. 

Even in the midst of physical distancing, instead of incessant ‘doing’, our mission is to share God’s love from our heart through a personal connection. 

In peace,  Leyla

leyla@messychurchusa.org

Leyla Wagner (r) and Marty Drake (l) traveling home to California from London after MCIC in May 2019
Equipping Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect in the USA.

An Easter YES!

Roberta Jantzi Egli, Messy Church USA Executive Director

I am exhausted!  How about you?  Last week my husband had a fever for 48 hours which upped my anxiety to overdrive.  I moved out of the bedroom and he was quarantined to that one room for six days (he had to be fever free for 3 days without any medicine).  I thought I had adjusted to the physical distancing and the limitations placed on us all with the pandemic but the fear that Lynn may have COVID-19 practically immobilized me for 24 hours.

We are fortunate, we have a home that has enough rooms so that we can separate when needed. Lynn was only sick for 48 hours and did not develop any further symptoms other than a fever and headache.  Yes, we were inconvenienced and stressed but it lasted less than a week. However, the virus became much more ‘real’ and my eyes have been open to the extreme suffering that COVID-19 is causing throughout our fragile world.

One of my pastor friends preached several weeks ago that she has never had to lead a church through a pandemic as a pastor.  She reminded us that what we all need is grace and compassion. Compassion for our world but also compassion for ourselves. You have never led a Messy Church during a pandemic.  You are adjusting, you are learning, you struggle at times. Please take time this Holy Week and next to rely on the grace of God and give yourself some self-compassion.

One of my spiritual practices the past several years is to place a “Listen for Joy” art card produced by Melanie Weidner (www.listenforjoy.com) on my desk each Monday morning. Melanie’s art card decks and her written reflection have spoken to me deeply.  I am always amazed that the card i randomly pick is exactly what I need to hear. This week, my art card is a drawing of a beautiful rooster shouting “Yes!” in the midst of heavy black scrawls.  in her reflection on this art, Melanie shares that saying yes is the invitation to do “our best even when we feel shaky. Standing our ground in darkness, believing the light will return.”

Saying yes is the invitation to do “our best even when we feel shaky. Standing our ground in darkness, believing the light will return.”

Melanie Weidner, Listen for Joy

What a message for a Holy Week in the midst of a global pandemic.  We are invited to stand our ground in darkness…the darkness as we pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane…the darkness as we pray for those who are separated from their beloved in sickness and death…the darkness of the cross of Good Friday…the darkness of living in the anxiety of the unknown future.  It is okay to feel shaky…we all feel shaky! Yet even in our shakiness, even as we stand our ground in darkness, we have the power through Christ to shout YES!

Yes! Jesus has overcome death!

Yes! Christ is risen!

Yes! We are an Easter People! 

Yes! As an Easter people, we see examples of people rising throughout the world bringing life through acts of compassion, kindness and love!  

My friends, we are not alone, Christ is with us at this time and all times.  May we joyfully shout a loud EASTER YES!

Be on the lookout for daily social media posts as we enter into 50 days of Easter celebration.  We will be posting some favorite Messy Easter activities for you to share with your families at home. We will be shouting yes for the entire 50 days of Easter! 

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!  YES!  Alleluia!

Prayer for Easter during a Pandemic:  God of all time, our hearts are heavy this Holy Week.  Many of our foundations have been shaken, we are not able to gather together as we struggle to make sense of the suffering of the world.  Yet, even as we shake, we know that the Christ who prayed in darkness while his friends slept, who endured pain and died on the cross, is with us this day.  Easter is not postponed this year… we celebrate the Christ is risen.  Give us the courage to give a loud Easter YES! to the signs of new life in the midst of our pain.  Send your Spirit to breathe peace upon us and guide us into the new day.  In the name of Christ we pray. AMEN.

Happy Easter!

Roberta 

Bringing Home the Mess: Holy Week Edition

By Lindsey Goodyear

I was hoping that this blog would find you in a position much different than my last one.  Unfortunately, the situation with COVID-19 is spreading and most of us are quarantined to our homes.  I know it’s a trying time to say the least but I’m hoping that the ability to participate in Messy Church from home is bringing some joy in these uncertain times.  With Holy Week fast approaching, I thought it would be a perfect subject for an at home “mini mess”.  Holy Week covers the time period between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.  Below I’ve outlined the seven days that represent Holy Week, what happened, and fitting activities and food ideas to go with them.  Please discuss the parts of the story on the coinciding days and then do the craft/activity that follows.  I know this is a little different than the way we normally do Messy Church (all in one day) but I’m hoping that stretching it out and having a little bit of mess for seven days straight will really bring families together to understand what happened every day during the Holy Week.  I’m praying for the health and safety of our Messy families and keeping my fingers crossed that we can meet, in person, again soon!

Messy Church USA @ Home

Holy Week Edition

Scripture Readings from Common English Bible

Palm Sunday, April 5th, 2020

Jesus and His disciples make their entrance into Jerusalem. Two of His disciples went ahead of the rest and brought a donkey for Jesus to ride. Jesus is greeted by crowds waving palm branches and exclaiming, “Hosanna to the son of David!”

Scripture: Luke 19: 37-38
As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said, ‘Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.’”

Activity: Palms and Races

Need: Green construction paper, pencil, scissors, glue, Popsicle sticks.   

Have each person in your family trace their hand four or five times on the green paper. Using the scissors, cut out the hands. Apply glue to the sticks and arrange the hands (thumbs together) on either side of the stick so they resemble a palm leaf. Once the leaves are finished, set up a start and finish line and divide into teams. Since the palms were laid so Jesus’s feet would not touch the ground, lay the palms, from your team, end to end and try to be the first one across without actually touching the ground. Once you step on a palm, lay another in front. Then, once you step on that one, reach back for the other and, again, place it in front. Keep this going all the way across the finish line!

Prayer:Faithful God, we give you praise this day! The people gathered to surround Jesus with shouts of praise, yet here we are at home to keep our neighbors safe by social distancing. We join our “Hosanna!” with people all over the world you are praising you this day. Be with us as we walk with Jesus during this coming week. In the name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN.

Food Idea:Since Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, take the opportunity to try some different foods from that region. Ideas include baklava, hummus, or Israeli salad.

Holy Monday, April 6, 2020

Jesus and His disciples go to Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is frustrated with how people are treating this worship space. He turns over tables and declares, “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.”

Scripture: Luke 19: 45-46
“When Jesus entered the temple, he threw out those who were selling things there. Jesus said to them, “It’s written, my house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a hideout for thieves”

Activity: Your House of Prayer

Need: Paper, pencils, tape.

Create your own “house of prayer” by writing down reminders to pray. It can be specific prayers or just to pray in general, but write your thoughts on the paper and tape them up around the house. Mirrors, the refrigerator, the television, and doors are all good reminder places we will see frequently.

Prayer: God of all times, as we walk with Jesus as he walks toward to cross of Good Friday, be present with us in all of the twists and turns of this Holy Week story. In the name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN.

Food Idea: Donuts! There is a cute saying that goes, “Donut forget to pray!” Yes, it’s a cute saying but it also has a great message (plus your kids will love the sweet treat!)

Holy Tuesday, April 7, 2020

On this day, we look at the story when Jesus and His disciples come across a fig tree as they walked through the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus used the fig tree to give a lesson about staying persistent when it seems that everything is falling apart. The leaves on the fig tree are beginning to sprout and Jesus tells his followers that it is a sign that the seasons are changing. Jesus then instructs them that when things are changing, they are to stay alert and pray for strength. Our world has changed through the Covid-19 pandemic but we can hear the voice of Jesus telling us to stay alert and to pray for strength.

Scripture: Luke 21: 29-31, 36
“Jesus told them a parable, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near…Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to endure everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Son of Man”

Activity: Pay Attention and Pray
Need: Pencils, paper.

Take a moment to reflect on what may be causing you anxiety today. Draw a picture or write it down on your paper. As a family, take turns sharing what it is you are feeling. Then as a family pray for strength during this time of uncertainty. Reach out to your Messy Church friends via social media or a phone call and let them know that you are also praying for them.

Prayer: Merciful God, during this time of uncertainty, we remember how Jesus told his disciples to stay alert and to pray for strength. Give us strength and courage this day. Thank you that you are with us in our anxiety and will never leave us alone. In the name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN.

Food Idea: Spaghetti! Heat up some spaghetti sauce on the stove and boil the water for noodles. As you wait for the noodles to boil, talk about how we never know the precise moment that the noodles will begin to boil but we know that through the heat, they eventually will boil. Just as we are patient for the noodles to boil, when we pray, we must also practice patience. We can rely on the faithfulness of Jesus to be with us always as we wait for things to fall into place in our lives. Then, mix your spaghetti sauce and noodles together and enjoy your spaghetti!

Holy Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Today we look at the story of one of Jesus’s disciples, Judas, who goes to the religious leaders of the time who are disturbed by the teachings of Jesus and want to silence him by arresting him. Judas asks the religious leaders what they would give him if he helps them follow through with their plan to arrest Jesus. The men count out thirty silver coins and hand them to Judas. From that point on, Judas is looking for a time when he can help the leaders arrest Jesus.

Scripture: Luke 22: 3-6
“Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve. He went out and discussed with the chief priests (religious leaders) and officers of the temple guard how he could hand Jesus over to them. They were delighted and arranged payment for him. Judas agreed and began looking for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them—a time when the crowds would be absent.”

Activity: Collecting Silver

Need: Thirty pieces of silver.

Collect thirty pieces of silver and decide which organization you’d like to donate to. The silver can include nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, or any other coins of the same color.

Prayer: Forgiving God, there are times in our lives when we turn away from you and do not love others as Jesus teaches us to love. We ask for your forgiveness. Give us the courage to follow the teaching of Jesus to love one another. We thank you for your mercy. In the name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN.

Food Idea: Silver dollar pancakes. Mix together your favorite pancake batter and drop small amounts of batter onto the skillet. Cook thoroughly and enjoy!

Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020

On this Holy Thursday, Jesus and his disciples sat down together to celebrate the Passover. This was a special meal meant to remind everyone of how God saved the Israelites and brought them out of Egypt. Before they ate the meal, Jesus knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet. This was something that a servant would normally do and the disciples where shocked! But Jesus told them that they were to love one another like this, by serving one another. We call this day “Maundy” Thursday because “Maundy” means “mandate” – Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another the way Jesus loved them. At the end of the meal, frequently called “The Last Supper”, Jesus took bread and wine, which was tradition at the end of a Jewish meal, and he blessed them and told his followers to remember him whenever they gathered together. Later that Thursday night, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and taken to the house of one of the high priests where they begin to make a case against Him to use in a trial.

Scripture: Luke 22: 14, 19-20
“When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the disciples joined him…After taking bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup after the mail and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant which is poured out for you.”

Activity: Cup Decorating

Need: Paper cup, stickers, markers, glitter, etc.

Decorate your paper cup any way you’d like so you can use it with your “last supper” meal.

Prayer: God of mercy, as we prepare this meal, we remember how Jesus told us to remember him whenever we break bread and share a cup with one another. We thank you for Jesus and for his love for us and we remember his teaching us to love one another. In the name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN

Food Idea: Mimic a last supper meal with your own family. So, choose a family favorite meal and use this time to talk about what feelings Jesus might have been experiencing at His own supper. Then, use the unleavened bread (or crackers) and wine (you can also use grape juice) to recreate communion. There are lots of easy unleavened bread recipes online so encourage your kids to help bake as well!

Good Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday is, by far, the most somber and arduous day of the Holy Week. On this day, our savior Jesus Christ was wrongfully accused in illegal trials and sentenced to death via crucifixion. He was nailed to a wooden cross and suffered for many hours before His death. Friday evening, Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb.

Scripture: Luke 23: 44-46
“It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my life.’ After he said this, he breathed for the last time.”

Activity: Cross Art

Need: Paper, painter’s tape, paint, paint brushes.

Place the painter’s tape, in the shape of the cross, at the center of the piece of paper. Then, pick out your favorite colors to paint with. Paint the entire piece of paper (including over the top of the tape) and wait for it to dry. When it has dried, carefully pull the painter’s tape off to reveal a beautiful white cross among your artwork.

Prayer: Be with us this day, O God, as we remember that Jesus died upon a cross many years ago. We are sad yet we know that you are with us no matter how we feel. Thank you that your love for us is stronger than death. In the name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN.

Food Idea: Make a rectangle pan of Rice Krispy Treats and empty it onto a cutting board. Cut the rectangle into a large cross and have fun decorating it with sprinkles and frosting before enjoying the delicious treat!

Holy Saturday, April 11, 2020

This day in the Holy Week is the day Jesus lay in the tomb. While many of his disciples had fled the scene, some of the women who followed Jesus stayed behind. They buried Jesus in a borrowed tomb on Friday before the Sabbath began. The tomb was then sealed tightly and guarded by Roman soldiers. On Saturday we remember how Jesus’ disciples must have felt, thinking that everything was over, knowing that Jesus was dead.

Scripture: Luke 23: 55-56
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph of Arimathea. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it. Then they went away and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. They rested on the Sabbath in keeping with the commandment.

Activity: Moment of Silence

Need: Just yourself.

Take a moment out of your day as an individual or as a family and just be silent. Use this time to reflect on what happened to Jesus and the miracle that is to come. You can also use this time to pray if you’d like.

Prayer: We rest in your love, O God as we keep silence this day. We wait for the coming of the dawn of Easter light. In the name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN

Food Idea: We’re quietest when we sleep so let’s make food that makes us sleepy. Turkey has a naturally occurring amino acid that blocks proteins. Normally after consuming it, we become very sleepy. Make your families own favorite turkey dish and get some rest!

Easter Sunday, April 12,2020

The Bible says that early on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial. When the women got to the tomb, they discovered that the tomb was empty! The large boulder that covered the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away and Jesus was gone. An angel appeared to the women and told them they need not be afraid. Jesus had risen! The women went back to the other disciples to tell them all they had seen.

Scripture: Luke 24: 1-6
“Very early in the morning on the first day of week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t hear, but has been raised. He is ALIVE!’ “

Activity: Secret Message

Need: Paper, white crayons, watercolor.

Use the white crayon to draw and write secret pictures and messages that have to do with Easter Sunday. Hand the paper to another member of your family and have them paint the paper with watercolor to reveal the secrets underneath! Ideas include the words “He is risen,” a hill with three crosses, an empty tomb, etc.

Prayer: God of life, we have experienced many different emotions this past week and today we are jumping up and down in joyful exuberance. Jesus is alive! What a surprise to remember that in the midst of dark times, you surprise us with new life. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! In the name of the risen Jesus we pray. AMEN.

Food Idea: Enjoy the evening with whatever traditional meal your family makes for Easter dinner. If you don’t have a tradition, put the eggs you just colored to good use and make some egg salad!

CHRIST IS RISEN!

CHRIST IS RISEN, INDEED!

HAPPY EASTER

FROM MESSY CHURCH USA

Messy Church USA and COVID-19…oh my!

Roberta Jantzi Egli

iStock

As a former communicable disease registered nurse with a local county health department, I certainly understand the anxiety regarding what is now an official global pandemic.  Should we cancel this month’s Messy Church?  How do we keep messy fingers clean if we decide to proceed with our Messy Church?  There are many questions that many of you have been asking. Recommendations are changing quickly but this is the latest.

First, follow the guidelines of your specific denomination and local health departments regarding the decision to cancel or postpone your monthly Messy Church. 

Second, find ways to connect with your Messy Church Community during this time of uncertainty. 

  • Pick up your cell phone and call anyone you are worried about
  • Reach out via social media to stay connected with your Messy Church families
  • Pray for each other and especially the global Messy Church movement with special attention to those areas that are especially hit hard with this virus
  • Share your prayers with one another via social media

Third, stay informed with current science.  Here are some great resources. World Health Organization and Centers For Disease Control.

Last but not least, you are invited to join in a brainstorming conversation with other members of the Messy Church USA network.  A Zoom call has been set up for Monday, March 16th, 2020 at 1 pm Pacific Daylight time.  Here is the link that you can use to join in, https://zoom.us/j/5417603909

If you have not used zoom before you will need to download the free software prior to the call on your phone or computer at https://zoom.us/support/download

I am praying for you as you and your Messy teams lead your communities during this time.  Don’t forget that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.  

Grace and Peace, Roberta

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Equipping Messy Churches to start, sustain and connect across the USA