Going wild in Aberystwyth!

Messy Church Goes Wild aims to encourage Messy Churches to meet God outdoors, love the natural world, experience a sense of awe and wonder, and be more eco-aware in all we do. It’s a movement which is gathering pace across the country, in many different contexts: urban, suburban and rural. This week we’re highlighting the wild experience of the Freedom Community Church in Aberystwyth.

9 June 2024

God is building his kingdom

God led Carly and Jon Butler to ministry in Wales over many years. Some of the messaging was explicit, some more cryptic, as Carly explains: ‘We asked God to speak to us about where. We pinned it down to the west coast of Wales, so we came and travelled along the coast. We went to many different towns and villages – all of them nice, all of them possible – and then we got to Aberystwyth and just knew, okay, this is it!’

Jon is an Assemblies of God minister, and the couple had been involved in King’s Church in Portsmouth for 20 years. They moved to Wales in 2019 with the church’s blessing and support, but not as an official church plant.

They began with a small group of students but soon made other connections, including through the local primary school where their children, then aged five and seven, enrolled.

The welcome from other churches in the area blew them away: ‘We were bracing ourselves for some suspicion,’ admits Carly (pictured below, purple top). ‘We weren’t local, we certainly weren’t Welsh, but they were all so welcoming. They knew they weren’t meeting everyone’s needs and just thought, Brilliant! God is building his kingdom.’

‘We weren’t local, we certainly weren’t Welsh, but they were all so welcoming.’

A(nother) leap of faith

Six months after they moved, everything shut down. Lockdown rules in Wales were often more strict and longer in force than elsewhere. Like most churches, they went online, except for a dads and kids group which could meet outside in the summer months.

Eventually, in February 2022 they were able to meet in person again, but the group was growing. ‘Then we felt that nudge: be brave, you’ve outgrown your lounge!’

They made the leap and hired a room in a local golf club. ‘It sounds fancy, but it wasn’t!’ This worked as a temporary home, but there were too many restrictions for it to be a long-term solution: no noise, no mess – so Messy Church was out, even though Carly had seen it in action in her mother-in-law’s church and knew it was a ‘great way to get the gospel to families’ – and outdoor activities were out because of the risk of flying golf balls.

Nevertheless, there was a significant development. A young woman who was studying childhood development came along to the church and one day she told Carly she was joining an online webinar to help with one of her assignments. Might Carly be interested to come along?

Carly had seen Messy Church in action and knew it was a ‘great way to get the gospel to families’.

Do I really need this?

It was a Messy Church Goes Wild training session. ‘I thought I don’t really know if I need to go on a Zoom call, because I’ve seen Messy Church, so I prayed: Is this a good use of my time?

Carly decided it was, and this was confirmed when the first church to feature in the session was in Hornchurch, Essex, a minute away from the home she’d grown up in. ‘It was a church I knew well, even before I was a Christian, so I thought, Okay, God, I get the message. This is cool. I’m paying attention.

A few months later, in October 2022, they held their first Messy Church Goes Wild session and it’s been flourishing ever since, once a month on a Sunday afternoon. It appealed to Carly right away because it’s outdoors. ‘We couldn’t do a normal Messy Church, but we could do this! One thing you’ve got in Wales is a ton of outdoor space: it could be in the field by our house, it could be in the fields down the road, it could be in the woods… so many choices. I knew we’d have enough people to make it work, and I knew we’d have the take up from families who want to be outdoors in all weathers because that’s just how the people who live in this area are made.’

One thing you’ve got in Wales is a ton of outdoor space.

Building connections

She planned three sessions – October, November and December – in different woodland locations to ensure some shelter in bad weather. But these plans were soon overtaken when the church moved from the golf club to a school hall with lots of outdoor access. Now Messy Church Goes Wild meets regularly at 2.00 pm and the other three Sundays their ‘normal church’ meets at 4.00 pm.

There are 20–30 people in the ‘normal’ congregation, but Messy Church Goes Wild has a different make up. ‘We usually lose maybe five to ten of our regulars, but other people come and we have about 40 people. Many of them come just for Messy Church Goes Wild and a huge proportion of them are completely new to church.’

‘We have a lot of families say, Oh, I just love having something to do outdoors with the kids that’s free and fun. I think, too, that a lot of parents really value the engagement with one another and other parents in that setting. The benefits are all round: it just increases our connection with people.’

Carly speaks matter-of-factly about the challenges of running Messy Church Goes Wild: ‘The storms! There are a lot of storms in winter, and once or twice the weather has been horrific. But then it becomes a personal challenge to gee-up the team because people will have planned to come, and we’re not going to cancel!’

We have a lot of families say, I just love having something to do outdoors with the kids that’s free and fun.

Stories they’ve never heard before

And in any case the highlights more than outweigh the challenges.

‘The highlights for me have been children who are completely unchurched engaging in Bible stories. Their families would never take them to church, or consider reading them a Bible story. I’m not telling stories like Daniel in the lions’ den and Noah’s ark to children who already know them: they are hearing these stories for the first time. That’s so precious, to know we’re teaching them these stories that they’re not hearing anywhere else.’

Singing together about the love and greatness of God is another big highlight. ‘Parents have texted me to say, Could you send me a link to that song we sang because my kid wants to hear it over and over again. That’s so easy to do nowadays and then they have these songs on repeat because their kids love them. I’m thinking, Amazing! Here’s worship being played in your house every day now, because you came along to Messy Church Goes Wild.

Green Church Awards 2024

BRF Ministries is proud to be an official sponsor of this year’s Church Times Green Church Awards. The awards have two objectives: to celebrate the remarkable efforts made in recent years by individuals and congregations to offset the damage being done to the earth; and to set good examples for others who might be inspired to follow suit.

There are seven categories: green building; land and nature; congregation and community action; action on a shoestring; green champion; training and education (sponsored by BRF Ministries’ Messy Church); and green health. If you’re involved in a project that could win a Green Church Award, you need to get your entry in! It could mean a £1,000 prize!

Don’t miss this great opportunity! Entries close on 30 June.

Find out more

What is Messy Church Goes Wild?

Messy Church Goes Wild is the movement within Messy Church which aims to encourage Messy Churches to meet God outdoors, love the natural world, experience a sense of awe and wonder there and to be more eco-aware in all we do, both inside and out, as gathered and dispersed church, for the good of the planet.

Find out more about Messy Church Goes Wild

Messy Church Goes Wild: Caring for the world we live in

Edited by Messy Church founder Lucy Moore, this unique collection of wisdom and practical materials covers a range of topics from caring for animals and birds through living as an eco-friendly household to greening up your Messy Church activities and running an online session on Jesus in the wilderness. With chapters by Dave Bookless, Crystal Goetz, Dave Gregory, Graham Hartland, Jane Leadbetter, George Lings, Martyn Payne and Rachel Summers, and case studies from international contributors of all ages.


Find out more and order

Messy Adventures: twelve outdoor sessions for Messy Churches

Twelve sessions for Messy Churches to do outdoors, created by a Messy Church Goes Wild writer team, enhanced by additions from scientists, and piloted in urban and rural Messy Churches.


Find out more and order