From the moment the country locked down in March, Messy Church leaders and volunteers went into overdrive to respond to the new circumstances with huge energy and creativity. As Messy Church pioneer Lucy Moore explained in a Facebook Live session in early June:
When coronavirus first hit, we rose to the challenge: We will do Messy Church in a bag! Messy Church online! We will Zoom! We will do Facebook lives! We will keep this thing going! We will conquer this adversity!
The network was amazing. Things were done in an incredibly short space of time and relationships were kept going even though we couldn’t be together face to face as we normally are.
A long medium-term
But back in March, Lucy, like many of us, had no idea of the coronavirus timescale:
‘To be honest, I thought we’d have a couple of months of crisis and then we’d be able to get back to how we were.’
To be honest, I thought we’d have a couple of months of crisis and then we’d be able to get back to how we were, meeting face to face. But now, for us in the UK, that’s just not going to be the case. Can we actually imagine meeting as Messy Church face to face before next year, 2021? I’m not sure that we can. But we can’t keep that sort of initial energy going for a prolonged period of time. A crisis is different from a long medium-term.
Also, if you take away the physical reaching out, the physical touching and activity, Messy Church loses a lot of its raison d’être. It’s very hard to do all these things virtually, to have those powerful relationships virtually.
The listening project
So in the face of fundamental questions about the future shape of Messy Church, how has Lucy responded? By asking more questions.
In early June she began an intentional listening project, posing questions and asking for thoughtful, prayerful responses from people who are listening to God. As she said:
This is where I need everybody’s help. I’m surrounded by this wonderful Messy Church network with so many brilliant people full of insight and wisdom, and beyond Messy Church a huge network of friends outside the network, in Fresh Expressions and the established churches, who are full of guidance and wisdom.
She asked people to reflect on these two clusters of questions and ideas:
Is it just too early to decide on any strategy? Should we just watch, wait and listen to be able to see in due course the amazing possibilities that God has for us? Is this a fallow year – a gift, to open ourselves up to being a better community than we were?
Is this a time to ‘go local’ – an opportunity to focus on local pastoral care and love – to go back to our roots? Or do we say the landscape has changed – Messy Church was designed for a very different landscape and we need to break out and change too? The tools that worked in the old situation may not work in the new one – do we need different tools?
Lucy didn’t want knee-jerk responses; rather, she asked people to ponder these questions in their hearts, to listen to God and to be alert to and discerning about what emerged.
Over the weeks the response has been enormous, from all around the world. As ideas began to come in, a number of Zoom meetings were held to share thoughts and insights. In parallel with the listening project, Messy Church ran a survey of Messy Church leaders and participants, to find out what they most wanted and needed from the Messy Church team.
Lucy blogged about the preliminary findings of the listening project, and preliminary responses to the survey also appeared on Facebook.
‘The questions and the findings are relevant to the wider church.’
It’s a huge learning experience and one that will continue for some time to come. The questions and the findings are relevant to the wider church as well as to Messy Church. Underpinning it all is Lucy’s longing to encourage people to listen to God as they look for answers to the big questions: how does God want us to be in this medium-to-long-term situation, and what does God want us to do?
That wisdom is crucial, for as Lucy says, ‘The decisions we make now are going to shape the future of Messy Church.’