This update is from GCI-England Pastor David Bedford.
Seven years ago, our congregation in England moved to St. Andrew’s Church in Carr Clough and began to work together with them on combined outreach projects. Last year we began holding joint meetings the first Saturday of each month in what is known as “Messy Church” (www.messychurch.org.uk/).
Messy Church (one of our meetings is pictured at left) is for younger children accompanied by at least one parent or other adult. A theme is chosen for the meeting. Our first one was Abraham. At the start, a brief ten-minute explanation of the theme is given. Then, for the next hour, or so, the children work on various craft items related to that theme. We had one craft of sticking stars on a page to make a pattern. Another was drawing a beach with the sea, sky, sun, etc., plus sticking real sand on the beach. They could also build their own personal family tree as Abraham was a father to many nations. There was the opportunity of coloring a picture of the three men at Abraham’s door, plus other craft work. About eight different items were offered. As the children enter we give them a brown paper bag with their name on it to leave on a table and, as they complete each craft, it is popped in the bag to take home at the close.
At the end of the craft section a fuller explanation of the theme is presented and the children are encouraged to ask questions and join in. Two or three children’s hymns are sung followed by a closing prayer. Following that, a cooked meal is provided, giving the helpers opportunity to sit down with the visitors to chat and get to know them. We have one collection box at the food counter and another at the reception desk for any donations.
Including the helpers, we were graced at our first meeting with an attendance of 107, of which 52 were children. This was more than twice as many as both congregations combined. We had planned food for 60, but God did a loaves and fishes’ act and we had enough.
As the Messy Church book states, “expect lower numbers after the first meeting.” They were right; our attendance dropped to 49, then 36, in large part due to summer travel. For that reason we’ll probably not have meetings in August in future years. In September our number jumped back up to 92, and for the months from October through May the numbers have fluctuated between the low 50s to high 60s.
The “fruit” so far? The churches involved have grown closer and some Messy Church participants have begun attending church for the first time or more regularly. Most importantly, seeds have been sown that God, no doubt, will water when the time is right. One child who attended said this: “I like Messy Church because it’s lots of fun. It teaches us about God’s story in a different way.”