God’s word for messy people
For the past 18 years, the Messy Church movement has grown, adapted and evolved, enabled through BRF. This has been especially the case over the past two years. Throughout the pandemic Messy Church has continued to draw new families into a Christ-centred community that embodies the generous hospitality of the creator God that we read about in the Bible. As well as offering people of all ages a warm welcome and a meal, Messy Church brings alive in all its creativity God’s Big Story – the narrative we find in the Bible.
Some parents, as well as their children, may be hearing these stories for the first time, interacting with them through play, craft, science or sport-based activities, as well as through storytelling, song and prayer during the short celebration. Through active participation, Messy Church allows everyone to experience the Bible by doing, seeing and hearing, bringing the challenge of how this might impact our everyday lives and the people we encounter.
‘A Christ-centred community that embodies the generous hospitality of the creator God we read about in the Bible.’
Theory and practice
That’s the theory. But what does it look like in practice? I had the joy of visiting St Barnabas Dulwich Messy Church back in November 2021, as it was being filmed by the BBC’s Songs of Praise team. This Messy Church started during the pandemic, and it regularly welcomes around 200 children, teenagers and adults.
Much to the excitement of the children, CBeebies presenter Gemma Hunt joined us as we explored the Bible story of Moses being called to set God’s people free. Families spent the first hour exploring different parts of the story through craft and science experiments. There was junk-modelling, creating pyramids out of recycled cardboard and Pharaoh headdress-making, reminding us of the cruel rule of Pharaoh over the Israelite slaves. It was safety goggles on for the fire-making experiment, remembering how God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. And as we made candles, we remembered how God promised to be with Moses on the mission he was sent to do, and that God promises to be with us.
‘Much to the excitement of the children, CBeebies presenter Gemma Hunt joined us.’
But that wasn’t all. Other activities included: making unleavened bread, remembering the Israelites were in a hurry to leave Egypt; playing with sand; and watching as folded-paper lily flowers opened up as they floated on water to reveal the prayers we had written on them.
During the celebration, Revd Rachael Gledhill told us the story of how Moses used the power God had given him to answer his call to set God’s people free. She challenged us to wonder what God is asking of us and how will we use our God-given gifts and talents in this season? Little did she know that I had just accepted the role as BRF Messy Church ministry lead a few days earlier.
‘Little did they know that I had just accepted the role as BRF Messy Church ministry lead a few days before.’
A new role, a new challenge
When I first heard about the role, I gave every possible excuse why I wouldn’t be suitable – the job was full-time; it would be a step up from my current role at the Diocese of Southwark; and, to be quite honest, I was afraid I’d fail at it. I wrestled with God in prayer, and as I read the Bible and engaged with some sermons and my Bible reading notes, the same two passages kept popping up: Jesus saying to Jairus, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe’ (Mark 5:36), and the story of Moses responding to God’s call from the burning bush (Exodus 3). I read how Moses gave excuses why he wasn’t fit for the task of setting God’s people free, and yet God was gracious, gave him some tools and a companion for the task, promising, ‘I will be with you.’
As I sat surrounded by Messy Church families that day, I felt affirmed that God would be with me in this new role and make use of the gifts and talents I bring, despite my perceived inadequacies. Besides, God was also providing a wider team from BRF to help with the task. I laughed inside at God’s sense of humour, that the first Messy Church I’d been able to visit since the start of the pandemic shared the Bible story that was at the forefront of my mind, encouraging me to step up, stop being afraid and believe.
‘I felt affirmed that God would be with me in this new role.’
Messy Church: transforming the way we do church
I wasn’t the only person God encouraged to be brave that day. During our mealtime, the Songs of Praise team interviewed some of the children, families and leaders. 9-year-old Alice felt nervous but lit the candle she had made during the activities, asking God to help her ‘Be brave, like Moses.’
If you want to catch a glimpse of their stories, the Songs of Praise Sunday 23 January episode is available until 21 February on BBC iPlayer. We hope that the joy of this Messy gathering will inspire other churches to enable children and families to explore the Bible in new and creative ways.
If you’re thinking of starting a Messy Church or wanting some help to renew and refresh an existing one as we emerge from the pandemic, get in touch with the BRF Messy Church team through the Messy Church website.
Revd Rachael Gledhill said in the programme, ‘Messy Church has transformed the way we are church, the way we relate to each other and the way we relate to our community.’ Let’s continue to pray that Messy Church will transform the lives of families who might not otherwise engage with the Bible.