Messy Church at St Pancras

Monday, 27 January, 2014

Ruth Burrows tells how Messy Church continues to transform the ministry of St Pancras, Chichester.

It is amazing to see what God has done at St Pancras since we first launched Messy Church in November 2011. Before then we were really struggling to connect with young families in the area, in fact we would have no children at all in our congregation. Our Messy Church now attracts about 50 adults and 40 children and it has gone up beyond this on occasions!

I lead a team which is involved in prayer, planning and preparation for each of the Messy Church sessions at St Pancras. Students from the University of Chichester also lend a helping hand at our Messy Church, which runs on the first Sunday of the month from 4pm to 5.30pm.

Messy Church St Pancras - handsIt's partly bridge-building, some parents have started to bring their children along to St Pancras services, but I'd say a lot of people think of Messy Church as their church because there is worship, there is biblical input and there is relationship with God and each other.

The story really started in summer 2011, a few months after our Rector, Mark Payne, came to St Pancras. There was a Messy Church presentation going on at another church and Mark suggested that it would be good for someone to go along, find out about it and report back. Of course, he already knew about Messy Church... but he sent me along anyway as I have a nursery school and teaching background. He knew that I would be very enthused and encouraged about the whole thing! He also knew that I'd come back and say it was something we should do.

His response was, 'Great! So, when can we get started then?'

From there, our launch team came together and it was initially made up of people at the core of our church, those in leadership roles and with experience of children. It was quite a small team but, even at that time, it included a couple of students from the University of Chichester. When we got Messy Church off the ground in November 2011, we attracted maybe 10-15 adults and about 10 children.

Messy Church St Pancras - craftSince then, the team has changed and we have had increasing support from students – many of whom have become integrated in the wider life of the church as a result. This has been fantastic to see but right from the start it was emphasised that we didn't want to have a very forthright evangelical approach to outreach through Messy Church. I think some people felt that if you don't 'hit' people hard with the gospel message, then Messy Church is not worth doing. Well, we don't hit people hard with the message; I feel quite passionately about that. However, we do feel that Messy Church is offering an opportunity for many people to discover God's love – maybe for the first time. Messy Church is right for us in our context because it is non-pressurising and really gentle, with much being conveyed through conversations and relationships.

Right from the start we looked on Messy Church as 'church' and, soon after we started, quite a number of those involved took part in a training session with Lucy Moore. This helped to reinforce the ideas that we had been expressing as a team about Messy Church's purpose.

I now lead a team of about 15, eight of whom are students. We also have a couple of people from other churches from various denominations in the mix and that helps to bring different people in; it also saves it from being a St Pancras, Church of England, 'thing'. Also involved is a woman who runs the toddler group in the parish, a couple of like- minded teachers, the university students, and Mark (the Rector) and curate, Chris Styles.

Messy Church St Pancras - Christingle orangeWe meet once a month, a week after we have had a Messy Church so that we can review what happened and learn from things that have gone well or not so well. I normally brainstorm ideas and discuss these with the group but, as time has gone on, what has grown is a confidence from others in coming up with ideas. At first I was doing it all but now it is shared out a lot more. We plan what the next few themes are going to be and talk about particular families that have come to the fore in the last Messy Church session (perhaps through a personal conversation one of us has had) and how we can take these people forward in their next step of faith and discipleship. Our conversations revolve around building on the Bible stories that people have heard and highlight themes such as forgiveness and the person of Jesus.

So we might look at, 'What kind of things are we going to be talking about in the next Messy Church? What can come from this? What sort of conversations might this theme produce?' It's all about thinking ahead and trying to discern how God wants this to develop and what we need to do to join in with Him on it.

It is wonderful for those of us who have been on the team since day one to witness what God has done. Then we had no children, now we average about 40 children and 50 adults. Our 'problem' is now a very good one to have because we are reaching capacity so our question is, 'How are we to arrange things in future?'

Messy Church St Pancras - starsWe've found it an advantage for Messy Church to take place in our church building because it helps to take away any preconceived ideas about what Christians, and particularly clergy, may be like - but space is now at a premium. However, St Pancras also owns the building next door and our long-term plan is to use that so Messy Church can 'float' between the two sites. At this stage, the people who I have been more personally involved with at Messy Church are de-churched rather than unchurched but we are still at an early stage in the development of this fresh expression.

The good thing is that we don’t have any pressure to get the people who come along into 'normal' church. It's true that, before Messy Church, the average number of children in a service had been zero and now we might have between 5 and 10; that's not the intention of Messy Church but it's certainly been a bi-product! We’ve also had a couple of baptisms come from it, a mother and her children.

Another woman and her two children came for a while, started to come to services at St Pancras, did an Alpha course and then disappeared. She came back for a Messy Church barbecue to tell us she'd done Christianity Explored at a local Baptist Church and had stayed there. She was a bit embarrassed about going somewhere else but we said, 'That's fantastic. It's not about making you come to our church, it's just exciting that you have found this relationship with God'.

Messy Church St Pancras - houseA big challenge is to ensure that we don't get so bogged down in Messy Church's activities that we miss out on the opportunities to create meaningful relationships with those who come along. However, one of our strengths is that Mark or Chris is always free for a chat at Messy Church and that's really important. Normally both of them are there and it's great to have someone who isn't tied in to all that's going on with the art and crafts. It means that the mums and dads and carers don't have to be 'doing' something all the time; instead they'll have someone to have conversations with – and not in a pressurised way. It's also useful for many people to talk to clergy very informally!

I think the next step for us as a team is to explore further how people might start, or continue, their journey with Christ. This is so, so important because it's possible to be very heavily involved in something like Messy Church and yet not feel challenged by it.

As part of this review of the next phase of Messy Church @ St Pancras, I believe we also have to think about everything we do in our 'normal' church services. It's not just a case of asking the difficult questions of our Messy Church, we have to be prepared to do the same thing across the board. To me, that means when we pray, have 'a time of worship' and listen to a sermon or talk, we have to ask, 'What language are we using and what concepts are we drawing on?' We may go on and on about 'blessings' and 'outpouring' but for someone unfamiliar to church life, do they understand what we mean?

Messy Church St Pancras - cakeMessy Church has made me think so much about the people we wouldn't normally reach through traditional church, and those who have been hurt by church in the past. If our language and ways of doing things are a stumbling block to those people, we really need to think again.

Comments

Interested to read this. I went to this church with my family for 4 years in the early 1970s, and I would have been the right age for Messy Church. As it is my first (positive) impressions of church as a child were formed there, in an excellent Sunday School.
Excited that Messy Church has really taken off here!

Fantastic to hear of this development and the desire to grow and reflect on what M.C. might be saying to the wider Church family. However could I urge a word of caution in the mis-use of the word evangelical when I think you meant evangelistic. The two are not the same and to confuse them is not helpful especially to those from a more catholic aspect of the Church.

'This has been fantastic to see but right from the start it was emphasised that we didn't want to have a very forthright evangelical approach to outreach through Messy Church.'

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