Written from International Messy Church Conference, May 2019
I’m currently sitting at the table in my brother-in-law’s house in Wales having spent the night here after the end of the International Messy Church conference. I’m finishing off my final essay for the postgrad and writing this piece. My mind is a whirl trying to process everything I’ve heard this weekend. Despite the planning, the effort and the expense of just getting here, it has been so worthwhile, something I did doubt at one point on the somewhat ‘ordinary’ flight over.
But I’m also here collecting some items from Richard’s mum’s house that he felt connected to, and some photos his brother found. All precious items and precious memories to be packed between clothes and safely brought home so he can feel connected to family and to his past.
This conference was about ministry, a fresh expression of faith, a new way of being church that has actually been around for 15 years in the UK and is now around much of the world – Russia has just made contact. I’ve spent time with colleagues from Sweden, Germany, Denmark, NZ, Canada, USA, Croatia, Hungary, S Africa, UK and so many more! We’ve talked about spiritual disciplines, how to develop messy churches, the role of the clergy and church hierarchy, how the messy church congregation fits into the structures of the different denominations and their regulatory requirements. And the result is really very messy.
There were stories of churches with a handful of older people who opened themselves up to this expression of church and who now have a vibrant midweek or Sunday afternoon congregation of people of all ages coming together for messy church. They don’t attend the Sunday morning service – they don’t need to as they have their own service, their own church called Messy at a different time. It doesn’t look or worship in the same way as Sunday mornings and that has brought judgment from some church members across the globe.
Other forms of fresh expression that have been hugely successful include a particular form of chaplaincy in aged care and forms of worship that have been developed to be inclusive of those living with dementia. This chaplaincy model is probably the only fresh expression that isn’t intergenerational in its intent but it responded to the need to take ministry into aged care facilities. The love and grace of God shared with everyone no matter where they happen to be.
The aged care chaplaincy expression is about discovering the aspects of worship the older people connect to through the long-term memory that remains. The Messy church expression is about discovering a way of worship new people can connect to through their experiences of everyday life. All precious items and precious memories to be unpacked and explored together in order to connect with the sacred and the divine. After all, isn’t that what church is about?
Richard’s family is currently trying to work out what to do with the possessions his parents collected over a lifetime, items that were precious to them and formed them as a whole family. But Richard and his siblings are finding that these items are not part of their present or future and so need to be released rather than held onto forever. This does not diminish the memories or the feelings they attach to these items, but they are finding that they don’t need to carry them forward physically with them. This is taking some time of course, as well as thought and conversation between the three siblings and all the grandchildren.
We make these decisions throughout our lives but it is at such times as these that they come into focus. My reflection, as I sat in the Messy Church conference, is that we are making these decisions in church too – which precious items that have helped to form us are remembered fondly and which are actually carried forward into our present and future. These decisions also take time, thought and conversation. Throughout all of these processes, the Spirit is there to guide us. Rather than be held back in the past by a perceived need to carry ‘stuff’ with us, let’s listen carefully so that we can travel lightly and gently.