Getting involved: Messy Church

BRF depends on people getting involved in our work by volunteering, praying, spreading the word, giving through donations and legacies, and buying our resources. In the latest of our series of articles about people who have got involved, Linda Galpin writes about her various roles with Messy Church.

15 August 2021

My name is Linda Galpin

My name is Linda Galpin and I live in Woodley, near Reading. I’m from Northern Ireland and came to England as a newly qualified teacher to teach in Tottenham, London. I am married and have four grown-up children (that makes me feel very old). I’m a keen knitter and a lockdown vegetable grower.

I’m also the children and family worker at my local Anglican church – a part-time role which gives me time to lead REinspired-Woodley, an ecumenical school project delivering RE lessons in our local primary school. I lead our monthly intergenerational Oasis services, and run our puppet team along with various family events, such as our Hero Party (an alternative Halloween party), film afternoons, pancake parties and, of course, Messy Church.

My faith has always been part of my life. Being part of a church was important to my mum, so we attended and were involved in the life of the church from an early age. When I was eight or nine, I made that faith my own and God has lead me on many exciting and challenging adventures since then.

Messy Church was the way forward

I first heard about Messy Church at a Hand in Hand conference in Eastbourne, where Lucy Moore (BRF’s Messy Church pioneer) was speaking about what they were doing in Portsmouth. In our local church we had tried an after-school event for families. The children loved it, but we struggled to get parents attending. Everything I had been hearing about children coming to faith and growing in faith was all wrapped up in families: the whole family being involved in a faith journey together. The more I listened to Lucy, the more I felt Messy Church was the way forward for our community.

We started Messy Church in April 2010, and we are still going. I lead our Messy church – but I have a wonderful team of volunteers who help plan and run our sessions each month. We have seen the wonder and delight as parents and children discover Bible stories for the first time, together. We’ve seen parents encouraged as they step out of their comfort zone talking about faith at home with their children. I do have a reputation for organising the messiest activities!

‘The more I listened to Lucy, the more I felt Messy Church was the way forward for our community.’

Messy support teams

The challenges of the pandemic lead to a restructuring of the Messy Church support network in the UK and now, in addition to my role with the Woodley Messy Church, I’m also part of two of the ten Messy Church teams, the Alongsiders and the Pool of Wisdom. We’re there to support Messy Church leaders by sharing knowledge and experience in different areas. The Pool of Wisdom team might organise events to bring people together, such as Messy Meet-Ups or the recent Messtival, and the Alongsiders offer one-to-one support.

Sometimes being a Messy Church leader is lonely; you feel no one really gets what you’re doing or sees the potential for families growing in faith like you. Perhaps there are challenges in your Messy Church or you need some fresh ideas.

That’s where the teams can help. One of the things I love is being part of the Messy Meet-Ups: they remind me what an amazing community Messy Church is. You hear stories from other Messy Church leaders and share frustrations, joys and ideas. But being part of the Alongsiders team means that we’re all available one-to-one: to listen, ask questions and help other Messy Church leaders.

‘Being part of Messy Meet-Ups reminds me what an amazing community Messy Church is.’

The impact of lockdown on Messy Church families

We’ve worked really hard to keep in touch with our Messy Church families all through lockdown. We had all sorts of initiatives, the most popular of which was Messy Church in a Bag. But many of our families have struggled to connect with us online. Having to work and home-school online, our families needed time away from the screen. They struggled with having to juggle childcare and working from home, and they were exhausted.

Messy Church in a Bag really suited many of our families: they could space out the activities and do them when they wanted. Everything they needed was in the bag – along with some treats – just to say we care. We asked our families to pick up their bags, rather than us delivering them, and this provided space for conversations both with us as a church family but also with other families picking up bags. It reminded families we were there for them. Families shared their struggles and we listened.

At first I don’t think I really understood what Messy Church in a Bag represented for many families. Their gratitude each month was overwhelming – for just a paper bag with some activities, paper, card and a packet of nice biscuits or bottle of bubbles.

The rewards and satisfactions of Messy Church

The biggest satisfaction is seeing so many families – mums, dads, children and grandparents – all together, having fun, learning and growing in faith together, finding out about our amazing God and how much he loves and cares for each one of them.

One month our prayer activity was reminding everyone that God is with us 24/7 at home, at work, at school. We asked everyone to think where they would be at 12.30 pm the next day – God would be with them there. One usually very quiet dad shared that he would be in a very important meeting at that time the next day, and we were able to pray specifically for him and his meeting. It was such an encouragement for his children, and I would love to have been round the dinner table on the Monday night to hear what happened.

A really special family

Messy Church is a huge part of my role as children and families worker. When I first started in the job, we had quite a few church families but our engagement with our community was minimal. I really felt that as a church we needed to engage with non-church families but inviting them to our usual Sunday morning services wasn’t an option. We have a generation of parents who haven’t grown up in the church and therefore their knowledge of the Bible and faith is limited.

‘Messy Church is a place where everyone – all ages, all stages of faith – are welcomed, loved and valued. It’s a really special family.’

Messy Church was an ideal solution. We now have something that our toddler families can come along to, our pre-school families, and our families who come for baptism who are looking for something that will help them continue their faith journey together. It’s somewhere they don’t have to worry about their children running around or trying to keep them quiet, where they can relax, ask questions, feel at home, explore faith together and feel they belong. It’s a place where everyone – all ages, all stages of faith – are welcomed, loved and valued. It’s a really special family.

Linda Galpin is the children and family worker at her local church, where she also leads the Messy Church which has been running for the past ten years. She is also part of the Alongsiders and Pool of Wisdom Messy Church support teams.

Extreme Crafts for Messy Churches

In this fully revised and expanded new edition, Barry Brand (below) and Pete Maidment o­ffer 80 activities for Messy Church sessions, carefully crafted to appeal to male as well as female participants. They challenge the assumption that Messy Church ‘isn’t really for men or boys’ and offer approaches to engage men and boys in an intentional way. Featuring sections on Big Stuff, Construction, Science, Arty and Edible Crafts, this book provides inspiration for creating a Messy Church that everyone will love to be part of.