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!)
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.
I’d love to say that our Saturday started like any other, but it didn’t. We woke with the heavy feeling that the afternoon before had brought our community. All schools were to be closed for the next two weeks due to the recent Coronavirus pandemic. Although we weren’t the only community to experience the announcement of the closures, I think it forced us to face the reality that this was getting serious. Yes, we’d been watching closely on the news the effects the virus was having on other countries, but it hadn’t hit our city yet so we seemed somewhat removed from the crisis. The announcement seemed to corroborate that it was, indeed, lurking in our own backyards. Until last Friday, the dangers seemed far away but it was time to hunker down and stay somewhat quarantined. Although that seemed depressing, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Messy Church was set to start at 5:00 PM that evening. It would be a time for us to get together with other families to laugh, have fun, and really connect with them through God’s word. We were all looking forward to the lighthearted evening. But, then, just after lunch, we received a text saying that our leaders had been monitoring the COVID-19 situation and that they felt it was best to cancel that evening’s Messy Church. The somber feeling seemed to instantly return and we tried to calm our children who were heartbroken to miss a night with their “Messy” family and friends. It left me anxious wondering how many more of these texts we would receive before the virus was contained? How would I break the news to my kids over and over that one of their favorite nights would not be happening? Then, I realized, maybe we don’t have to. What if we just brought the mess home? I decided to write a “Mini Mess” that not only our family could do at home, but that other families missing their own Messy Churches could do as well. I feel the verse is absolutely relevant to the state of our world right now so I hope you and yours find comfort after allowing His word to surround us in these distressing times.
Verse: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
3 MESSY ACTIVITIES
# 1- Cast Away Worries
Need: Paper, pencil, scissors.
Take a moment to really think about something that has been bothering you. Whether it be at work, at school, or anywhere else, write it down on the paper. Have each member of the family then cut their paper into tiny pieces. When you’re done, say a prayer, as a family, to have God release the uneasiness that comes with those situations. Throw the pieces away and mentally “let go” of those worries.
# 2- Yoga Church:
Need: Yoga mats (optional)
This is a simple way in which the whole family can relax, ease tensions, or just reset. Focus on the words from Philippians 4:6 while simultaneously doing yoga poses to bring peace. If you are an advanced yogi, choose whichever poses you find fitting. If you are looking for kid friendly poses, focus on things like “cat/cow,” “cobbler pose,” or “child’s pose.” Instructions for how to do these and other poses can be found online.
# 3-Letters of Care
Need: Stationary, envelopes, pens, stamps.
Sit, as a family, and write letters to the community who may be affected by the recent Coronavirus pandemic. Ideas include convalescent homes, first responders, or family members who may not be able to have visitors. Receiving mail from someone and letting them know how much you care is one of the most uplifting feelings there are. Take this time to put thought and effort into letting someone know how much you appreciate and care for them.
*If writing isn’t an option for you or your family, FaceTime and Zoom are other great options to brighten someone’s day without spreading germs.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is by a man named Robert Schuller. It goes, “what would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” The answer is pretty simple…nothing. There’s absolutely nothing we wouldn’t try because there would be categorically zero chance of a letdown. Wouldn’t that be so great? Just releasing the anxiety of the “what if’s” and knowing in complete and utter confidence that it will all work out. Well, guess what? We just described what our lives should be with God. God calls on us to rid ourselves of anxiety and depend on Him wholly and completely. This is hard for many of us because we want to be the ones in control. However, if we could know in our hearts, without a doubt, that God is in charge and His plan is what’s best for us, we’d never entertain an anxious thought again. So, you see, the quote could easily be changed from “what would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” to “what kind of life could we have if we trusted God’s plan was perfect?” Because, it is. His plan is perfect and we have to have trust in Him. Use this now, in a time where the world seems frightening, and know. Release your worries and have faith.
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, we ask you, today, for the strength to depend on you. We ask for the release of anxieties of situations that are out of our control. We ask for the healing of your people around the world and the continued health of our friends and families. Please, Lord, in this time of anguish let us find peace in the comfort of your loving embrace. We thank you, God, for all your love. In your name we pray, Amen.
Meal Idea: Happy Pizza
Need: Pizza crust, pizza sauce, cheese, meat of choice, veggies of choice.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. While waiting for the oven to heat, grate cheese and cut up veggies of choice. Spread sauce on the pizza crust and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Using whatever vegetables and meat you’ve chosen, make a happy face on the pizza (i.e. olives and pepperonis for eyes, sausage for nose, and thinly sliced bell pepper to form a smile). Put the pizza into the oven and let cook for 20 minutes. Let cool, slice, and enjoy.
During the Season of Lent many of us engage in a new or renewed spiritual practice. I have re-engaged with the spiritual practice of observing a weekly Sabbath ritual. I am using a devotional guide from the saltproject.org that explores scripture and poems. “Sabbath is a day for delight, for participating in God’s ongoing joy in creation. If we refrain from certain activities during the sabbath, we do so precisely in order to make room for this enjoyment.”I must confess that my natural tendency is to worry rather than stopping work to engage in delight, so Sabbath ritual is helping me to trust and enjoy rather than worry and work!
I discovered the connection between my lent Sabbath practice and one of the foundational values of Messy Church when I read Lucy Moore’s recent blog following a day of quiet. The Messy Church UK leadership team began this year to observe what they call ‘quiet days at a distance’. The goal for these days is to grow together as a team even though geographical distance keeps them apart. They begin the day with a teleconference call in which they read and reflect on a specific scripture before spending several hours in separate quiet reflection. They come back together via teleconference at the end of their reflection time to share with one another what has ‘bubbled up’. Their most recent quiet day of reflection focused on the story of the Prodigal Son which led to Lucy’s blog.
Lucy writes: The celebration in the story is for the father, not for the son – it’s the father’s contentment that leads to celebration: he isn’t even really listening to the son, he just wants to get on and celebrate. The image of the father running towards the son is a very striking one, not least because that would have been a most undignified thing for a man of his age and status to do. For people at Messy Church who may have little sense of self-worth, the idea of someone running towards them because he loves them and he wants to celebrate with them is a very powerful one. (Full blogpost here)
My friends, in the midst of a global epidemic that causes uncertainty, anxiety and fear, a spiritual practice of celebration may seem to be counter-cultural. Yes, follow the recommendations of your local health departments and wash your hands regularly however it is imperative that we share the God who celebrates with each other and with our Messy Church attenders.
Engage in celebration as you greet one another by using the sign language for ‘peace be with you’.
Engage in celebration when you engage in a nature walk looking for signs of new life.
Engage in celebration as a leadership team as you recall meaningful interactions during Messy Church.
Engage in celebration as you share the scripture in participatory ways
I celebrate that Messy Church USA is growing broader and deeper as both a network of churches and an organization of committed people who worship the God who celebrates. I would love to hear how your Messy Church is celebrating!
Do you ever check out when you’re at church? Like, you’ve heard the story so many times and you know how it ends so you just go through the motions of nodding your head in agreement when in reality you’re thinking about what you need to grab at the grocery store after? Well, if you don’t, I commend you. I, on the other hand, do this often. I know it’s not ideal, but sometimes I feel like I know the story so well that I couldn’t possibly get anything else out of it. Right? Nope. I began my typical mind wandering last weekend at Messy Church. We were studying Luke 5:17. If you aren’t familiar, this passage tells the story of a paralyzed man whose friends carry him on a stretcher to a house where Jesus is so he can be healed. When they arrive, the house is so crowded that the only way they can get their friend in to see Jesus is by creating a hole in the roof and lowering him down inside. Jesus indeed heals the man and for the faith he has shown toward our Lord, Jesus informs him his sins are forgiven. The story is a good one and great setup to talk about trusting in the Lord to not only alleviate our pain, but also the pain of loved ones we lift up in prayer. And that is exactly what we did. After the crafts (which were centered around healing and family) were over, we settled in for a celebration that included a very emotional prayer in which we all said aloud the names of loved ones who were in need of mending. While the first time I heard this story, it was absolutely a testament to the way God heals, this time around, something very different spoke to me.
God wants us to show up and walk humbly with Him. Have faith. We don’t have to make it so difficult.
When I think about having faith, grandiose gestures always come to mind. Standing on my soap box preaching to passerby’s. Always suggesting prayer first to anyone showing signs of distress. Outwardly telling each person I meet how much I love Jesus so that it is absolutely clear I’m on the right track to heaven. God gives a love so big, so unbiased, so perfect, that He certainly deserves these big expressions. But, here’s the truth…I don’t do any of those things. In fact, I don’t do much in the way of preaching at all. I’ve always felt my relationship with God is very private so I don’t speak about it unless I’m writing or provoked. I’ve always admired those who speak freely about their religious relationships but it’s just not me. But guess what? God still loves me. It struck me big time when I heard the words from Luke 5:20. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” Really, I thought? He’s forgiven? That isn’t a grandiose gesture! We’d show that much trust on a typical trip to our general physician. But here’s the cool thing…to God, it is a grandiose gesture. In fact, it’s the only gesture God asks of us. God wants us to show up and walk humbly with Him. Have faith. We don’t have to make it so difficult. God is not looking for big performances with a side of showing off. He just wants us. So, the next time you start to wander in la la land or nod off a little, perk yourself up or you’ll miss it. Just because you’ve heard it before, doesn’t mean you’ve learned all you can.
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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.