Aaron Jenkyn of Epiphany & St Andrew’s Episcopal in Newport, NH
Messy Adventure #2: Rainbow Connections
Four months have passed since March when Covid-19 first emerged and we all began the days of staying home. We are more mobile now, but for some of us, especially those that work in schools or churches, when we change our calendar in a few days, we will be tearing off the untouched pages from spring and early summer. Some days it feels as if time has stayed still, but for most of us this has been a turbulent time of isolation and uncertainty and not knowing when things would end.
During these days of uncertainty I have been thinking a lot about the story of Noah in the days after the flood when he was waiting for the waters to go down. Most of you will know this story. A very long time ago God saw all the violence and pain and hatred of the world and groaned in sorrow. So God made a plan and whispered it to Noah, and Noah and his family built an ark and they filled it with the animals of every kind and seeds of every kind and plants and trees. And then the rains started and didn’t stop until creation was undone. Noah and his wife and the animals were safe in the Ark, safe but afraid because the world they knew was gone. This whole time Noah and his family had to wait, even after the rain stopped falling they waited, sending out birds to fly over the earth looking for dry land, unsure of what would happen next.
I wonder how Noah and his family spent their time inside the ark? I wonder what they were thinking, what they were saying to God? I wonder if they thought about where God was and what God was doing. I wonder how many times they cried out “how long”?
We know the ending to this story, we know that a dove brought back an olive branch and that branch gave Noah and his family hope. We know that when Noah and his wife finally came off the ark that they built an altar and offered gifts of thanksgiving to God. And we know that God looked upon them and promised, never again to destroy life in this way. And as a sign of that special promise, of that covenant, God stretched a rainbow across the sky.
In our own lives this story encourages us to not despair, reminding us to look for the way through the situation, no mater how desperate, to a resurrection truth. We see God wherever we see light and hope during worrying times, and rainbows are a symbol of that hope. I wonder where you might be seeing rainbows these days, where do you see hope?
In the past few months people all around the world have decorated their houses and storefronts with rainbows to thank the doctors and nurses and front-line workers who are working tirelessly to help those in need and keep our communities running. Thousands of people have started sewing masks, delivered meals, and found ways to connect with their neighbors. The outpouring of love and support that we have seen locally and globally brings me hope. We haven’t quite found dry land yet, but the rainbows still stand, and if you open your eyes and your hearts you will see them everywhere.
Read the Story
Before you go Read the Story of Noah and the Flood:
Pay special attention to chapter 8, the time he spends waiting for the waters to recede.
This adventure can be done in your own backyard, at the park, in the woods, even in the city, I suspect you will be surprised at all the colors around you, when you take the time to stop and notice. You could even repeat this activity over and over and have an entirely different experience just by changing up your scenery.
Pick up a scavenger hunt kit at Epiphany or St. Andrew’s churches, kits are located in bin outside the front door, or you can make your own using a recycled egg carton. Collect found objects, from nature or man made to match each color in your carton. Once you have collected all the colors, sort them into a rainbow on a large piece of white paper.
Activity #2: Write a Rainbow Poem or Prayer
Once all the rainbows have been formed and you’ve had a chance to look at them, write a poem or a prayer about the colors, objects, or experience related to your rainbow. Feel free to write your own poem in whatever form or style you would like, or you can use the simile poetry template included with this activity.
Activity #3: Write a story
Write a story about a time that you saw a real rainbow and share it with your Messy Friends.
Bonus Activity: Fun with Food
Bake rainbow cookies, or create a rainbow themed fruit plate to snack on while you explore. Learn more Here.
Thank you Aaron and the Messy Folk of Epiphany and St Andrew’s for sharing this great On-Line Messy Church Experience. If you use these ideas, be sure to tag Epiphany and St Andrews Facebook Page.
Are you experiencing impatience with figuring out how to reach your Messy Folk? Frustrated that you don’t know how to make plans for the fall in this changing and uncertain time? Are you more than ready to be done with all of the complexities of planning during a pandemic?
Join us on Thursday, August 20th, at 10 am (PDT) to renew your spirit and learn some new spiritual practices. Rev. Nicole Reilley, a founding board member of Messy Church USA and teaching pastor of Valencia United Methodist in Valencia, CA, will be sharing what she is learning about patience and spiritual habits during this pandemic. Bring your entire Messy Team!
Cost: Individual $ 25.00, Team of 2-4 people is $ 40. Over four people to a team is an additional $ 5.00 per person. REGISTER HERE
Discount available for all Sustainer members of the Messy Church USA Network. Check with email@example.com or Johannah@messychurchusa.org for details.
Congratulations to Freysville Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, our August Messy Church of the Month!
We are excited to announce our first ever Messy Church of the Month! Drum roll please…. Freysville Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. Jennifer May, a lay member of the church who also teaches in the local school, led a small team in starting their Messy Church in March of 2018. Jennifer describes their church as a small rural community in which her school age children are some of the only children in attendance on Sunday morning. Thanks Jennifer for answering our questions so that we can learn more about your Messy Church! We are so glad that Freysville Emmanuel UCC reaching out to their community to share God’s love!
Messy Folk answers to “What I like about Messy Church?”
“I like all the stations, and the dinners are pretty good too!”
“Getting the parachute out inside the church at the beginning!”
“I like that it allows the gifts & talents of many people to shine.”
“It gives my child the opportunity to learn about Christ in a warm, loving community where being themselves is celebrated.”
Some Favorite Messy Activities
Example # 1: Jesus, We Thank You:
Instructions:Have every person who is at Messy Church find a spot around the parachute. The leader starts the prayer and invites anyone standing around the parachute to call out something they are thankful for. After someone calls out, then the whole group raises the parachute up and chants “Jesus We Thank You!” as it gently comes back down.
Example # 2 Snowball Prayer:
Instructions: As everyone arrives, have them write or draw a picture of a joy, prayer, concern in 3 or fewer words onto a piece of white paper, crumple it into a loose “snow” ball and place it into a laundry basket. Have every person who is at Messy Church find a spot around the parachute. The leader dumps all the snowball prayers into the middle of the parachute. Direct the group to gently shake the parachute enough to mix up all the snowballs. Then on the count of 3, the whole group pulls the parachute slowly down to the floor and then quickly yanks the parachute back up into the air above their heads to make it “snow”! The snowballs are flying all over the place! Everyone collects one snowball and then takes a seat on the floor around the parachute. One at a time, each person reads what is written on the snowball as a large group prayer.
More Favorite Messy Activities!
Messy Church ThanksGIVING:
Each November, our Messy Church service is a night of us giving instead of taking home crafts. We go home with empty hands but full hearts! Members from the church’s Sunday morning congregation sponsor and donate 12-15 “fleece blanket kits” purchased from a local fabric store. We come together with scissors and templates and spend the night cutting and looping the blankets to donate to our area chapter of Project Linus.
Project Linus is a non-profit organization that provides homemade blankets to children in need. The blankets are lovingly made by adults and children from all walks of life. Project Linus has specific directions on how to make blankets and what types they are allowed to accept on their website. https://www.projectlinus.org/
This is an evening where all hands, young and old, are needed!
Each year for the Lenten Season, we set up a station where families can work together to create their own Resurrection Garden. They take it home to water and watch it grow every day for 40 days.
Materials Needed:Materials needed:8 in clay saucers, 3 in clay pots, potting soil, grass seed, craft stones, craft moss, 3 inch rocks flat circular shape work best, 4 inch stick crosses tied with twine (See Pictures below)
What worked well for you in getting the support of your Sunday Church when you started Messy Church?
Educating the congregation on the mission of Messy Church as well as the history, where and why it began and how it is meeting the needs of families and individuals in communities all over the world who for whatever reason, cannot or do not attend traditional Sunday Morning church services.
Share a challenge you’ve had with your Messy Church and strategies you used to meet the challenge.
Getting volunteers can be a challenge. So, I approached individuals in our Sunday congregation and personally asked them if they could volunteer. After their first experience, those individuals looked forward to volunteering each month! Most often, a personal invitation is all people need.
How has your Messy Church adapted during the Covid-19 Pandemic?
Our last in person Messy Church was Friday, March 13th. We were excited to kick off our 3rd year as a Messy Church! Little did we know, our messy togetherness would be put on hold for a little while. For the month of April, we put out a “Messy Church At Home” edition. We posted the theme and station material lists prior to the event so that families could plan ahead of time how they would do this in their own homes. Then, the day of our Messy Church, we posted an interactive Google Slideshow for families to work through at their own pace. The slides included a prerecorded welcome message, the story/scripture lesson, closing prayer, and a slide of directions for each station/activity. We had a few of our Messy Church families try it out! We took the month of May off and now are planning a “Messy Church in Bag” for the end of Summer.
Thanks Jennifer for sharing your Messy Church story! To learn more about Emmanuel UCC you can contact Jennifer firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”
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.
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.
Our first Messy Church Town Hall conversation happened on Thursday July 23rd. A group of 12 people from Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, South Dakota, Texas, Oregon and Washington met for a time of sharing ideas of how they are connecting with Messy Folk currently and their plans for the next phases of the pandemic.
Priming the Pump for Conversation
Roberta shared a bit to prime the pump for our conversation. We began with a focus on the ‘in-between’ time that we find ourselves living in. Usually we think of ‘in-between’ or liminal time of being a short duration but this pandemic has brought a deeper understanding of what it means to live in the in-between time. Check out Recording Here
Messy Church began as a new expression of church as a way to engage with people who were not connecting more traditional forms of church. Since the beginning, Messy Church has been adaptable so that it can be contextualized. The main constant of Messy Church are the five foundational values of All Ages together, creativity, hospitality, celebration and Christ- Centered. Keeping those five values in mind, what are the possibilities for Messy Church in the various stages of this COVID pandemic?
Possibility # 1- In-person Messy Church when able to safely meet:
Messy Folk who come together get a box of supplies at the beginning rather than having supplies at activity tables
Messy Church Outside
Rather than people moving from table to table, groups remain in place the table hosts move from group to group to lead activities and games
Reservations/ tickets to limit number of people at Messy Church
Possibility # 2- Hybrid (On-line and smaller groups in person) Messy Church)
Intergenerational Messy Church Small Groups meet in homes
Connecting the smaller groups once per month with an on-line Celebration
Pre-recorded Messy Church with lists/ bags of activities for Messy Folk. Activity bags either picked up at church or delivered to homes to have some in-person connection
Messy Adventure from Epiphany Episcopal in NH- List of scripture, activities featuring local outdoor attractions. (insert PDF)
From Dallas Oregon- A Chalk Art festival in the church parking lot- people have their own space to make their chalk art
From South Carolina- On-Line Messy Church starting a week of on-line Vacation Bible School. Have had good engagement with zoom Messy Church. Churches are beginning to meet in person in South Carolina which brings challenges to in-person Messy Church
From Washington- Messy Church team would prefer to be in person but this pandemic has enlivened and brought new enthusiasm to the team. One member has taken over the prayer time and another has become the storyteller for the zoom on-line Messy Church
From Michigan- Messy Church only met twice before pandemic and some discouragement that people are not connecting on-line. However, has had good engagement with weekly Wednesday on-line lesson- using stories and activities from Heifer International that were given to family units. Positive response to a FB ad about an on-line Messy Church- received 31 one new likes and follows from the local community
From Florida- looking for ways to connect and do outreach to community. Group encouraged to build on things you are already doing i.e. weekly pastor chat to include a weekly or monthly chat with messy church community
As always it was good to connect and share ideas and stories. Join us at future Town Hall Conversations. Here is a list of resources to help you in your own planning.
A Great Idea from Aaron Jenkyn, Epiphany Episcopal, Newport, NH
When churches closed in March our Messy Church family stayed in touch with each other via e-mail, snail mail and on Facebook but we never really found a way to connect as a group. As we began to discuss reopening, we began to think creatively about how Messy Church might be able to meet outdoors. Living in the beautiful state of New Hampshire where there are many treasured outdoor spaces to explore, it seemed only natural to share these places and experiences with our Messy Church families. People can choose to do these activities on their own, with their families, or in small groups, however they feel most comfortable. Some of these activities will be destinations, others will be activity based and can be done closer to home.
For each adventure we will offer activities, a reflection and a biblical story or theme to ground the experience. We are leaving room to let this program be shaped by the community. Our hope is that in time we will partner with Messy Church families to create these adventures, and that others will join in by posting their pictures on Facebook, creating a sort of hybrid Messy Church experience.
Stay tuned to see where the journey takes us, you can follow along on the Facebook page for Epiphany or St Andrews.
Messy Adventure# 1 is based on this verse from Isaiah 40: 31:“those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,they shall mount up with wings like eagles,they shall run and not be weary,they shall walk and not faint.”
Even though my youngest son is a young adult, one of our favorite summer activities is roasting hot-dogs over a campfire and enjoying S’more’s together. So I was excited when I came across a post from Christine V. Hides and the idea of a family prayer based S’more ingredients. Check it out here.
Have you prayed with a beach ball before? You may not be able to get together in person to play this but you could use these different examples via on-line or perhaps you can find some beach balls at a dollar store and print out the prayer to send in a take home bag to your Messy Folk. Here are a few Beach Ball Prayers:
“We are made in the image of God, and God is the great Creator of new things and re-creator of people and communities who are broken. As we create and play together, we echo (God’s) creativity and we are renewed and repaired ourselves.”
Lucy Moore, Messy Church: Fresh Ideas for Building a Christ- Centered Community
My husband is the gardener in our family! He patiently plants bulbs and waits for them to spring up out of the ground. He gave up on a few bulbs he planted earlier this spring only to be surprised when a little green shoot came out of the ground much later than he expected. The growth that was occurring underneath the ground was beyond our visual perception.
As I engage in conversations regarding what is next for Messy Church in the USA, as well as the global community, I wonder how God is creating something new, even though we may not perceive it. I wonder if the anxiety that I feel arising from the unknown to the many complex questions regarding how Messy Church adapts to our changed world blocks me from placing my trust in our creator God. Rev. Nicole Reilley, a Messy Church USA board member, shared in her recent sermon on July 12 that “we need to look to God rather than the past or the future…we are to live in the in-between space trusting in God.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43: 18-19
Trusting in our Creator God and grounding ourselves in the messy foundational value of creativity, I am wondering….
What are the most effective ways our Messy Church USA network to engage with one another to learn from one another and to perceive the movement of the Spirit?
What kind of resources do local church Messy Leaders and the households they engage with need at this time? How can we most effectively provide those resources without overwhelming overworked people engaged in ministry?
How can we equip local Messy Churches to engage with their Messy folk through on-line, in-person or hybrid experience?
How do we stay grounded in our five values of Hospitality, Creativity, Celebration, All-Ages Together and Christ Centered as we experiment with new forms of Messy Church?
How do we envision new ways of being Messy Church in our changed world?
What are the spiritual practices that we need so that we can more clearly perceive God’s presence and guidance for our ministry?
On July 23rd at 10 am Pacific time, you are invited to a Messy Church USA Zoom town hall to engage with the above questions as well as questions that you bring to the conversation. Here is a link to the Zoom invitation.
My friends, this is a difficult time. This is the first (and hopefully last) global pandemic that we have had to navigate. Many of us who work in the church, use the summer to plan out the worship and curriculum for the coming school year. However, everything is constantly changing which causes our plans to not be relevant in just a few short days or week. Let us place our trust in our Creator God who is making something new that we cannot even imagine right now. Let us live in a sense of curiosity rather than anxiety as we experiencing the unfolding of the next weeks and month. I look forward to our ongoing conversations as I hold you in prayer this day.
Prayer: As you find yourself in times of uncertainty, may you perceive God creating a new thing within your life and community. In the places that are broken, may you experience the healing power of Christ. In the spaces where community is being re-created, may you place your trust in God’s Spirit to lead and guide you. May your spirit be renewed as you place your trust in the God of Love. AMEN.
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!
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?
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!)
“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.
Are you more than ready to be done with all of the complexities of planning during a pandemic? Join us on Thursday, August 20th, at 10 am (PDT) to renew your spirit and learn some new spiritual practices.
Learn more about this webinar and register here:
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