These churches may be messy, but they’re organized around Christ

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Lucy Moore, founder of Messy Church, and U.K. team member Martyn Payne gave the keynote address at the Messy Church Canada Conference, Oct. 26, 2017. Photo: Joelle Kidd

Messy Church is a ministry that is “Christ-centred” and “not a pipeline to Sunday morning church,” Lucy Moore, founder of Messy Church underscored at a keynote address during the Messy Church Canada conference October 26-27.

The two-day conference, which was held at Wycliffe College in Toronto, kicked off with an address led by Moore and team member Martyn Payne. In addition to an overview of how Messy Church began and its new initiatives, the talk focused on the organization’s “foundational values” and the importance of being “Christ-centred.”

Adopted by many Anglican congregations, it aims to present church in a way that is less formal and more accessible than a traditional service. It involves a meeting—typically monthly and not on a Sunday morning—where people of all ages eat together, do crafts and activities designed to demonstrate a biblical lesson, and participate in a “celebration” that usually involves prayer, music and storytelling.

Founded in the U.K. in 2004 under the banner of the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF), there are now 3,700 registered Messy Churches in 30 countries, representing 500,000 people, according to the BRF website. Messy Church Canada is affiliated with the U.K.-based Fresh Expressions and Wycliffe College. According to team leader Sue Kalbfleisch, there are now 246 Messy Churches in Canada, 81 of which are either Anglican or a partnership between an Anglican church and a church of another denomination.

In front of a gathering of around 150 conference attendees from across Canada (and some from the United States), Moore and Payne stressed the importance of being “Christ-centred” as a foundational value of Messy Church.

The other core values, which those registering a Messy Church must state a commitment to, are creativity, hospitality, celebration and accessibility to all ages. But having all these values in place means nothing without a focus on Jesus, Moore said.

“When we sat down to sort these values out…very soon we thought, we need to add something, because people are doing something like Messy Church, but they’re not including Jesus in it.” Moore recalled one Messy Church themed on Thomas the Tank Engine. “They weren’t actually mentioning Christ,” she said. “They weren’t celebrating the story of God. They weren’t ‘church’ at all.”

Moore and Payne presented a list of what Messy Church could become without an emphasis on Jesus, which included items like “a club for kids,” a “machine getting the job done” and “tidy.”

Moore also touched on a criticism commonly heard from the wider body of traditional churches, saying, “I wonder how many people in this room have been asked by their congregation, ‘Well, it’s great that you have people coming to Messy Church. When are they going to start coming to church?’ ”

The aim is for Messy Church to be a church in itself, said Moore, not a “pipeline to Sunday church.”

Rather than an outreach ministry, Messy Church seeks to be a reimagining of the format of church that works better for families, as well as those unfamiliar with or who dislike typical church structures.

Moore said they wanted to work against the mentality that those who attend Messy Church “aren’t worth anything until they come on Sunday.”

“What if we accepted them to come into this thing, and that was church? What if we brought all the riches of church into that, and made it happen here? Without any expectation that these people would ‘move on’ to another form of church? What would that look like?

“Jesus was a revolutionary, a rebel,” said Moore, in the address. “He came into neat and orderly households and turned everything upside down, and threw out the old rules, and made it new, changed it…he wasn’t a tidy person.”

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Joelle Kidd
Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

3 COMMENTS

  1. My parish apparently has the largest Messy Church in western Canada. It’s a great program. But let’s not be coy about what is happening at Messy Church. Yes, the lessons and message are absolutely Christian, and some families and children are being exposed to the Christian message in a new and refreshing way. But being Christ-centered also means that the attendees eventually need to move beyond receiving the ministry of others to seeing themselves as the givers, seeing themselves as the church.. While I am hopeful, the jury is still out on whether Messy Church can help people make that step in the discipleship journey. Some of our Messy Church families have been able to make that step. It also needs mentioning that many already have churches that they worship at on Sundays, and Messy Church is a bonus night for their families. Since our committed Messy Church volunteers all come from the regular Sunday services, as do most of our Food Box and Soup Kitchen volunteers, there is clearly something transformative about weekly worship with which once a month attendance cannot compete. In the wider community, scratch a community service organization in our town and you will most likely find a member of our congregation, a member who generally attends every single Sunday. There is no need to wrap Messy Church in an ideological blanket in order to highlight its value. The Anglican Journal should know this.

  2. My wife and I were blessed to be able to attend the conference. We’ve been involved in Messy Church for about 8 years now. Messy Church does reach out to people in Sunday Morning Church, to those who have left Church for whatever reason and to those who know nothing about Christ. We have seen changes in peoples lives as they start to become involved and learn about Christianity. The conference was great fun and encouraged new ways of story telling. I appreciate this article because it clearly outlined the values of Messy Church and reflected some of the issues that we, as Messy Church Coordinators face while running our Messy Churches.
    Thank you Joelle.

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