‘How do I know how many to cook for?!’
There are memes that run through my years of Messy Church. One that has always tickled me is the question, usually asked by a panicking potential team member tasked with providing meals for the new Messy Church: ‘But how do I know how many to cook for?’ Over and over again, the reply would come back from experienced Messy leaders in the room: ‘It’s like the feeding of the 5,000 – you never know how many will turn up, but somehow God makes sure everyone is fed.’
Perhaps one of the quietly genius aspects of BRF is its ability to take something tiny (like Jesus taking the boy’s lunch of loaves and fish), offer it to God and share it out to unreasonable numbers of people. BRF has certainly done that with Messy Church and its other ministries. And the smiles on the faces of teams, families and individuals involved in each of these ministries mirror what I imagine to be the those of the original picnickers when that miracle happened.
‘The quiet genius of BRF is its ability to take something tiny, offer it to God and share it out to unreasonable numbers of people.’
Doing what I love best
There’s been a lot of smiling. My time with BRF has been a blast, to be honest. It’s been a joy to work with such dedicated and gifted colleagues and to be paid to do what I love –
- sharing with people the good news of God’s love
- helping churches understand better how they can serve families in their community
- trying out new ideas
- writing books
- speaking in all sorts of interesting settings
- travelling to countries I never thought I would get to visit
- making spaces where people can discover and develop their gifts
- encouraging and challenging and giving hope.
A vision for intergenerational church
Back in the early 2000s, I had the gruelling fun of taking the Bible into countless primary schools, through ‘Barnabas Live’ days, and, through drama and storytelling, exploring its stories with intrigued (and occasionally unimpressed) under-12s. Whenever we had time together, my former colleague Martyn Payne and I chatted endlessly about the spiritual nurture of children. From those rambling prayers and conversations, a belief in the value of intergenerational church became very important to us both. It was out of this conviction that the first Messy Church in my own parish church emerged, as our worktime thoughts impinged on our spare-time work in the local church.
Just as Jesus said…
Since 2008, when Richard Fisher, BRF’s chief executive, and BRF’s trustees had the faith and vision to encourage me to run with Messy Church full-time, the parables of the kingdom have jostled in and come to life.
The mustard seed growing to a huge tree where birds nest in the branches is reminiscent of the unexpected growth of Messy Churches, in which so many new families have found a safe space to enjoy exploring and discovering the riches of the Christian faith.
‘So many new families have found a safe space to explore the Christian faith.’
The parties at the end of the parables of the lost sheep, the lost son and the lost coin are reflected in the festival atmosphere of a lively all-age Messy Church ‘household’ eating together (after their shared experiences around the activities) and remind me of meals in different countries with Messy Church hosts of all backgrounds.
The merchant who gave up everything for the pearl, or the person who found buried treasure and bought the field with their entire savings: I’ve met them! They’re team members who have invested inordinate amounts of time, money, energy and creativity in their Messy Church or poured their talents into the support teams at a national level.
The net full of fish says something vivid about the sheer numbers of families new to church, running in through the doors or on to the hilltop, for their inside or outside Messy Church.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds illustrates that untidy generosity of spirit that welcomes even those who may be there just for the fun, rather than the fellowship, and encourages them to stay and flourish alongside everyone else.
And the parable of the yeast reminds us of all those people, especially women, who quietly lead Messy Churches… who use mind and muscle to mix it all up and make it happen, while the Spirit of God gets to work, gradually and miraculously bringing life, growth and transformation to the huge mound of lumpen dough!
‘The Spirit of God gets to work, gradually and miraculously bringing life.’
A firm foundation
I’ve grown older with BRF and with Messy Church. They’ve both been a huge part of my life and have shaped me – as a family shapes its members – over almost a third of my life to date!
There’s still so much to learn in my new role with the Church of England, but that formation by the BRF staff, the different members of BRF’s Messy Church ministry team and the all-age Messy Church community – all under the loving hand of the living God – will be a firm foundation for all that follows on.