Blowing bubbles, bouncing balloons, and flying paper airplanes: these may not be the images that spring to mind when thinking about prayer. But for attendees of a workshop on “Messy Prayer,” creative ways to pray were the order of the day.
The workshop was led by Jane Hird-Rutter, a regional co-ordinator for Messy Church on Vancouver Island and the lower mainland of B.C., as part of the Messy Church Canada Conference, which took place October 26-27 at Wycliffe College in Toronto.
Messy Church services vary in structure, but typically include an activities time, which involves a range of crafts and games meant to illustrate Biblical themes, a hot meal, and a time of celebration, which often includes singing and storytelling. Hird-Rutter’s workshop centred around incorporating prayer throughout this type of service.
Many suggestions were made about how to integrate prayer into the activity time by creating interactive, participatory prayer actions. Books available through the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF), including Messy Church (Vol. 1-3) and Messy Prayer, give examples of these types of prayers, from bubble blowing to paper airplane-flying. Other suggestions included “using a map, pray for areas around our home” and “taste a grape and pray we can help someone today.” Attendees were encouraged to create and share their own.
Hird-Rutter ran a Messy Church for five years through St. Catherine’s Anglican Church in Port Coquitlam, B.C. After moving to Vancouver Island and joining St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Quamichan, B.C., she and her husband started a second Messy Church. She recalled the service in which they introduced Messy Church to St. Peter’s by doing a prayer activity: bouncing balloons all over the sanctuary. “Every time someone sang “Pass it on,” you had to bat a balloon, and say a little prayer.”
“I sort of went into coffee afterward thinking, ‘Uh oh.’ And we did get some complaints. Would you like to hear the complaint? ‘It’s not fair, I didn’t get enough balloons!’”
Other suggestions from workshop participants included praying to music, writing prayers on blocks and building with them, and writing prayers on ribbons and making a chain.
“I think so many people think that prayer is ‘talking to God.’ The other side of prayer is listening to God and hearing what God wants,” Hird-Rutter said. Prayer, she added, is a “conversation.”
In a setting focused on introducing those unfamiliar with the concept of church, as well as families with children, these creative ideas allow participants to have fun and get comfortable praying. “Most people will get up and read a prayer, and they’re comfortable with that, but for some people, if you want them to get up and say a prayer, there isn’t always that comfort level. It’s not something that they’re used to,” one workshop participant pointed out.
This topic was broached during the conference’s keynote address as well by Messy Church founder Lucy Moore, who is a member of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission. Moore was invited to the commission “so that we can work together to interpret the liturgies for a Messy Church setting,” she said. While Moore expressed eagerness to incorporate communion into Messy Church, she noted the issues with translating traditional liturgy to the all-ages inclusive setting: “If it’s too wordy, then that’s a problem for Messy Churches—if you have to read this thing…most of the congregation can’t read yet.”
Hird-Rutter sees creative prayer as an opportunity to connect with and include the children who attend Messy Church. In one case she shared, prayer was used to connect with two boys who were disruptive and unable to focus during church. At one Messy Church service, her husband, Mark Hird-Rutter, devised an activity called “Morse code prayer,” in which simple prayers were spelled out in Morse code using flashlights. The boys loved it. “That was the only craft they did all day. They were there for over an hour,” she said.
“Usually when you go into a church setting, you sit and somebody prays at you…somebody lays hands on you, or sometimes you have books that have rote prayers in them. How much more exciting is it, though, to throw a paper airplane, or to eat a grape you’ve had a prayer over?”
That’s the beauty of Messy Church, said Hird-Rutter. “You can pray any way you want to.”