I’m in Sydney this week for the Messy Ministry in Context, a conference organised by the Uniting Church in Australia, NSW/ACT Synod, designed as an inservice event for pastors, youth, children and family workers. We’re meeting at the Centre for Ministry in North Parramatta, hosted by the ELM Centre (Education for Life and Ministry), Childrens Ministry and Youth Units, each of which are due for closure before the end of the year.
The primary attraction this week has been Messy Church, an all-age approach fine tuned in the UK and fast spreading around the world. Lucy Moore, guest keynote presenter this week, started Messy Church in Portsmouth in 2004, out of a local Anglican church. She’s now working with BRF (Bible Reading Fellowship) to inspire, network and resource similar ventures around the world.
Messy Church starts with the concept of doing church in the context of all age activity and food. Instead of getting people who like craft to turn up to traditional church as well, Messy Church helps form a community of faith where people are already gathered. Most people gather monthly, as there’s a fair bit of effort involved in setting up crafts and hosting meals.
I’ve enjoyed the approach modelled by Lucy this week: interactive storytelling, opportunities for discussion around tables, encouraging flexibility and creativity, and no evidence of possessiveness about the brand or concept. People can use the logo and the materials without paying association fees, but are invited to register for the sake of networking and publicity. Risky, I guess, but certainly in keeping with the “Messy” concept.
Messy Church, as just craft and food, is possibly not for everyone. Pacific Parks Uniting on the Gold Coast ran a weekly Thursday night activity in its early days which included an all-age craft table, alongside an all-age discussion group, all-age prayer group, all-age kicking-the-ball-around-the-paddock group, and an all-age music jam group. I wonder how it might go with an all-age mechanics or DIY session.
The conference has also included a stream on Godly Play. Godly Play is a Montessori method of telling Bible stories, developed by Jerome Berryman, using parables, sacred stories and liturgical lessons about religious traditions using simple materials. Check out the Godly Play Foundation and Godly Play Australia site.
My two keynote sessions have focused on mission in context, and on the gospel lived out in community. The first was a reflective walk through 2000 years of Christian mission, starting in John 21 in a lecture room with the blinds closed and the door locked, walking past the chapel (in use by a group of Koreans) and outside to reflect on the establishment of the church and its many institutions (a reflection on the Burnside history), and then back to our auditorium to reflect around tables on the more fluid nature of today’s context in Australia. The exercise was designed to free people up to explore creative engagement with the community, outside the safety of rigid boundaries or privileged positions. See my notes on the exercises at the Vision for Mission site, written up back in 2008. The second session focused on the challenge of living out faith in community, rather than approaching faith as a product to be acquired as an individual. We explored some deeply moving stories and questions around being a forgiven and forgiven community together, before breaking up into groups to explore other lenses for Christian gospel, with questions to explore for each.
There’s the makings for a book, DVD and study series here. Maybe 2013 we can start work on the Gospel Stories series. See my earlier notes on this topic, with references to sources.
Gospel of Forgiveness: New beginnings
Forgiven and Forgiving Community
Gospel of Welcome, Belonging, Adoption, New Family
Welcomed and Welcoming Community
Gospel of Calling and Service: building, sowing, sewing, washing…
Served and Serving in Community
Gospel of Servant Leadership: socially responsible, proactive, future-focused
Led and Leading Community
Gospel of Reconciliation: removing walls of prejudice, fear and enmity
Reconciled and Reconciling Community
Gospel of Solidarity in Suffering
Supported and supporting those who suffer in Community
Gospel of Healing: wholeness for body, soul, mind, community
Healed and Healing Community
Gospel of Courage: Capacity to stand for justice, against injustice
Empowered, encouraged and empowering Community
Gospel of Liberation: Freedom and release
Liberated and liberating Community
Gospel of Transformation: Change in priorities for people, communities, societies, systems
Transformed and Transforming Community
Gospel of Creation: God’s pleasure in God’s handiwork
Created and Creating/Nurturing Community
Gospel of Insight: knowledge, wisdom, truth that guides and opens
Learning and wisdom-sharing Community