Alison Dalton, Church Related Community Worker, looks at the growth of Messy Church at Parkstone United Reformed Church, Poole.
We began our Messy Church journey four years ago with our ecumenical partners – the Parish of Parkstone St Peter's and St Osmund's with Branksea St Mary's.
They already had really strong links with our local schools and were involved in holiday activity days. Those developing these events had been inspired by Messy Church founder Lucy Moore and wanted to explore the idea of Messy Church further. As a result we talked together and developed our team throughout 2006.
After discussions with the schools, parents and carers and wider community it was decided that the Messy Church model would be piloted over six months. However, through my experience as a Church Related Community Worker, I realised that six months was not long enough to get something off the ground and so it was extended to one year. Our Messy Church journey began in January 2007 but it was in the eleventh month that our numbers increased. Our lowest numbers in the early days were around 10 children and their carers whilst our highest numbers were over 60 children plus parents/carers.
We were in no doubt that this was a different experience to our earlier activity days, this was Messy Church! The upshot is that we have found ourselves developing a community, asking questions of ourselves about Church, baptism and who we really are. For me personally that has been a key part of the whole thing, being able to look at such questions as, 'Is this an activity or is it church?' 'If it is church, how can we make it more sustainable?' 'How can we be open to people's questioning without imposing our belief system on them?'
I feel the whole thing is about relationship. If I was in the position of forming a new traditional church and it was developing as a community, I wouldn't expect that to happen after a month or so – it would take years. Why should Messy Church be any different? I have just got to be ready to be where people are, not expect things to happen quickly but be prepared when it does.
It's all about timing and unreal expectations.
Lucy Moore has facilitated two training sessions for us and continues to support us through the Messy Church Network. Nearly four years on – and with a cluster of a dozen Messy Churches in Poole – we realise that this development is really important for us as individuals, as a team and as a wider ecumenical partnership. Parkstone and St Peter's have been a Local Ecumenical Partnership for about nine years but Messy Church, among other initiatives, has helped that partnership to deepen even further because we have got a shared goal, a shared vision and shared experience. When we work together we grow together and that's of great benefit to everyone.
Those Messy Churches which are part of our local network have worked together to ensure that they are not in competition with each other and their Messy Church times do not clash. This means that mums or dads and their children can go to all the various Messy Churches if they want to and we have already found that some parents are doing just that.
There are many personal good news stories about God's work through these churches. People who have gone forward for baptism in other churches have said it was because of their involvement in Messy Church; our Messy Church coordinator has been accepted for ministerial training; members of St Peter's youth group, and other young people, have become actively involved as volunteers while students at a local college cook – and sometimes serve – food for Messy Church sessions as part of their studies in life skills.