The Messy Church


So what does “church” mean to most people?

For many, probably an hour or two on Sunday morning, sitting in one’s best clothes in a wooden pew, listening to a formal service, often conducted in formal language. 

That is, if one goes to church at all.

In these days of harried and busy households, parents working, kids signed up to sports and lessons, too few hours in the week as it is, most churches are facing a grim reality: seriously declining numbers. Only seniors in the pews. Few, if any, young families coming out.

That is why a new concept, The Messy Church, has taken many parishes by storm, and why Lakeshore Drive United Church in Morrisburg has embarked on what they hope will become a new, and vigorous approach to faith for people in South Dundas. 

On a Saturday evening, between 5 and 6:30 p.m., passersby might hear the sounds of hammers from the church hall. Children are building bird houses. In the back yard, young parents and their children, some grandparents too, are racing around playing games, or ducking under a bright, billowing parachute cloth. Others are using magnifying glasses to examine spring plants or occasional passing bugs. 

Inside the church a white-haired man is patiently demonstrating how to plant seeds in egg shells for home gardens and small hands are getting happily dirty. Some seniors are tearing up newsprint for papier maché. No one minds the boys and girls racing around, asking questions, lending a hand.

In the kitchen, men and women, some young, some much older are putting together a home-made spaghetti dinner, that everyone will sit down to share. Before the meal, adults and children join hands in a great circle to say grace. Later, exuberant hymns are sung, with lots of freedom to move, even dance in the aisles, as part of the short worship service.

This isn’t traditional church: rather messy church is a complement to, a companion to, traditional forms of worship.

“The ‘messy church’ offers a lot of flexibility,” said the Reverend Arlyce Schiebout, of Lakeshore Drive United Church. “When a church decides to adopt this program, you look around at the gifts the members of the congregation have, the facilities available in the church.

Then we approached area families with children, and asked them what they wanted. 

And it turned out that what they wanted was a ‘service’ on Saturday night (which surprised me) because they said that that was the one evening of the week, at supper time, that the family was all together. Our Saturday night messy church program is the result.”

The concept of the Messy Church began 10 years ago with Lucy Moore, who created the first Messy Church program with her husband’s  Anglican congregation in Portsmouth, England.

She felt that the church had lost one, perhaps two generations, and there was a real need to bring people back to their faith. Her scheme involved an all age event, with activities like “making things, blowing things up and exploring a Bible theme through all those activities.”

A session is brought together in celebration with story, song and prayer and a meal together. Activities are always child friendly and the feedback from parents exceptional.

Moore once said, “There are lovely stories of people rediscovering what Christianity is all about, or finding it for the first time.”

The Messy Church program is spreading in Canada.

“The core values stressed in the program are creativity (lots of activities), celebration, and eating together,” explained Rev. Schiebout. “And it must be intergenerational.” At Lakeshore, 30 members of the congregation have become involved.

At the Easter event, Morrisburg’s messy church helped the children create newspaper palm branches, and foam crosses with magnets and flowers they could take home. 

No one has to worry about dressing up for messy church.

“I find that I can talk to individuals and families in a more intimate manner than at Sunday worship,” Schiebout said. “We have a values and virtues thumb ball, that lists words like dignified and kind and wise. Where a kid’s thumb lands, that’s what we talk about. For some children, this is a special time to think, discuss and reflect.”

She feels that Messy Church is a good idea, although it takes a lot of energy and commitment from a faith community to make it work.

“Messy church is a way to share the gospel message in a more relaxed format.

 A church needs to be instantly responsive to young families and people. We must leap in and accept the challenge.”

Messy Church will meet again on June 2, at Lakeshore United Church at 5 p.m.

There is always room.

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