Liturgy: how not to compromise our ‘messiness’ (Lucy Moore)

Lucy MooreLucy Moore wonders how to incorporate liturgy without compromising messiness.

The question of appropriate liturgies, usually for a proposed Messy Communion, often comes up at training days for Messy Church.

There's a divided reaction. The Anglicans take on a hunted air, while those of other denominations just look smug or slightly baffled that such a question should be any sort of a problem. I was chewing floorboards at the question raised at General Synod about Messy Church, which was not along the lines of 'How can we encourage and equip churches in this growth area?', but 'Has the Liturgical Commission considered whether it should produce guidelines or materials which would enable those leading Messy Church events to bring the worship into line with the principles behind Common Worship?'

Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The answer given suggested that as the Liturgical Commission was in touch with Messy Church, it was fine not to make us compromise our messiness. I did get in touch with the Liturgical Commission some years ago to see if there could be permission to try out different communion liturgies. It was then that I (a lifelong Anglican) learned that what makes Anglicans Anglican is our liturgy: a revelation to me.

Here is an opportunity to grow liturgies appropriate and meaningful to the new congregation

Liturgy means 'the people's work'. Its roots are linked to the words for 'public service'. When a bishop recently led a Messy Church confirmation service, it caused the diocese to see that this different congregation needs a different form of liturgy from one eminently suitable for services in cathedrals. The church then has a choice: either she decrees that the new form of church has got it wrong in its attitude to church behaviour and must learn to conform to existing liturgies on formal occasions at least (or do without them altogether 'until it learns some manners'), or she sees an opportunity to grow liturgies appropriate and meaningful to the new congregation.

This does not entail dumbing anything down. It involves reimagining what liturgy can do at its best: providing 'portable poetry' that seeps out at home, at school and at work, in our contented bathtime warblings and our arrow prayers of despair – the articulation of porous grace osmosing from the gathered church into everyday life to make a difference to whole communities.

It might also mean encouraging local churches to recognise the best liturgy for their own idiosyncratic congregation. In other words, become a resource rather than a requirement. This is the sort of liturgy I could get excited about.

Woman-coloured spectacles (Lucy Moore)

Lucy MooreLucy Moore puts on her woman-coloured spectacles.

When I was asked to write up my thoughts on this subject, I thought I'd scan through the previous blogs to get an idea of length, style, need for wit, wisdom, searing theological insight, blah blah… and got as far back as the last 25 posts before I realised that only 5 of those 25 are written by women. In fact, casting your eyes back through the past 10 blogs, you'd be hard-pushed to see that women feature at all in fresh expressions. Does this matter to you? How would someone outside the church perceive fresh expressions as an organisation if they read the same part of the website as I did? More importantly, how would they perceive Jesus if we're his reflection, his ambassadors? And is this bias typical of fresh expressions as a whole?

It can't be that women don't blog. It can't be that women aren't reflecting on fresh expressions as they lead them and belong to them. It could be that this 'one-fifth representation', together with the lack of women represented at the core of fresh expressions, is symptomatic of something deeper that needs addressing – and not just by women themselves.

You can get spectacles that filter out colours and force you to see the world in a particular way. If you put on metaphorical spectacles and look at the world through the eyes of gender equality, it soon becomes apparent that in fresh expressions / church planting / emerging church leadership there is still a huge gender imbalance. Sorry. I didn't want to believe it either as I love fresh expressions, but there it is. And yes, I feel very uncomfortable about raising this point as I want to get on with the fun of Messy Church, not get sidetracked into being labelled a bra-igniting Woman's Hour feminist, but who will raise this issue if I don't?

The lack of women represented at the core of fresh expressions is symptomatic of something deeper that needs addressing

No, I don't like wearing these spectacles, also because I soon become unable to see more important issues as I'm too distracted by gender questions (so busy fuming at the lack of female speakers, lack of stories from women leaders, the lack of pictures that show women as well as men, and so on), that I find I haven't listened to the wisdom of my male colleagues – you get the picture.

But if we, as practitioners of fresh expressions or more simply just as Christians, are concerned with justice, reaching the marginalised, giving outsiders opportunities to grow in faith, surely we should be doubly conscious of injustices in our own front room and challenge each other to right these easily rightable wrongs – from the point of view of witness to the rest of society if nothing else! And how much more gracious it all becomes if those calling for justice are not the ones being marginalised; how much more powerful it would be if it was a man writing this blog? (Ah, no, that would make it 5/26.)

At a seminar recently at a church planting conference, Penny Marsh and I were asking the question: 'Is church planting just for blokes?' We managed to lure two genuine blokes in to join the women. (How? Cake.) Between us, we came up with a lot of meaty ideas as to the possible causes for this perception and possible responses to the state of play.

Language, history, culture, having babies, leadership styles, structural blind spots and more come into it. Do have a gander.

And now, stamping on my smouldering underwear and grubbing around in the ashes for a pair of contact lenses, I shall return to the messiness of my real passion.

Where is the place for pain within Messy Church? (Lucy Moore)

Lucy Moore asks where the place for pain is with Messy Church.

Lucy MooreMessy Church is far too much fun to be proper church! Where's the endurance? Where's the grind? Where's the discipline? Why aren't my Puritanical masochistic itches being scratched? Can we really be truly church and still enjoy it so much? (I shall try to remember this jollity when I'm down on my hands and knees grimly scrubbing off glass paints from the hall parquet floor or sweatily frying up half a dead cow's worth of mince.)

While I don't have an issue with enjoying church, one question I have been musing on recently is: where is the place for pain within Messy Church, or indeed any form of church with children present? Given that the UK is statistically one of the most miserable countries in the developed world for being a child, there is a mass of suffering out there among the under-twelves as well as the more-often-acknowledged pain of teens and adults: bullying, loss, self-doubt, fear, peer pressure, life.

If Messy Church is only a place we can bring our thanks and praise to, if it is simply a place of creativity and bonhomie, surely it can't be a true church? We need to learn to paint with the colours of Good Friday as well as those of Easter Sunday, to model the thorny crown as well as the Easter bonnet.

Crafts can be a space to place our pain: we have made 'God's tears' out of acetate and hung them with silver thread from a cross, drawing on them what makes God cry. We say 'sorry' as well as 'please' and 'thank you' in our prayers.

But where do we find the place and courage to tell the stories of suffering from our own lives that release the stories – and pain, and tears – of others, young and old?

Don’t forget joy and laughter in discipleship!

Messy Church founder Lucy Moore, in her latest interview with Fresh Expressions, emphasises the importance of joy and laughter in the journey of discipleship.

Watch or read the full interview below.

Hundreds of Messy Churches have been formed in the UK, and across the world, since the first one launched in Cowplain, Hampshire, nine years ago. Lucy says the question is increasingly being asked, 'Now what? Is Messy Church really making disciples?'

She comments,

This is a really interesting and difficult question to answer.

Messy Church congregations are starting from a different place than many who would normally be coming into some sort of discipleship process, comprising a different set of people with a different set of expectations and perhaps prejudices.

So what we've found really helpful is to think about discipleship as a process or a journey. Instead of simply asking if people have become disciples or Christians in Messy Church, we prefer to ask, 'Are they becoming disciples; are they becoming Christians?' The answer is, 'Yes, hugely,' but they are just starting from a long way back in many cases.

The result is that Messy Church is currently reassessing what discipleship involves in the way of learning.

It's not just cerebral learning, intellectual learning,

adds Lucy,

but it's also valuing the non-formal learning and the social learning which are hugely powerful in Messy Church and a crucial part of discipleship – whole life discipleship, not just head discipleship.

This is a long haul and it's why Messy Churches are there as church, not as events. They're there month by month by month over a period of years, carrying people through on their Christian journey and accepting that this is a very gradual process for them.

The challenge for those leading a Messy Church is to offer as many chances to encounter God as possible in the limited time span available.

I wouldn't want to undervalue what goes on through joy and fun and play in Messy Churches. I think that's actually very deep in many ways but it is probably undervalued when it comes to discipleship. We (the church) tend to value the quiet, solemn, mysterious, things and undervalue the joy and laughter and re-creation that goes on.

Lucy says Messy Church has considered devising a discipleship course but the feeling at the moment is,

Not yet. If ever. If we start prescribing what discipleship should be rather than allowing people to think it through for themselves, to allow each church to discover a way that's right for those people, those families, those teams; I think we could be missing out on something exciting that God's got on offer for us. So maybe the time will come for a course, I don't think it's yet.

Paul Moore's book, Making Disciples in Messy Church – Growing faith in an all-age community, is published in March. Lucy comments,

I hope it will help people to think through the principles of it all rather than giving them ready made answers and I think that could be the catalyst that could send us off in exciting new directions as each church attempts – and fails and succeeds – with its own Messy Church. It will make progress but there will be a lot of failures along the way because this is new, this is pioneering stuff and it's not been done before. How do you grow atheists into disciples in this context as families, all ages, together? As far as I know it's not been done in quite that way before so it will be exciting to see what God's got up his sleeve for us in the next few years!

Messy Church – update Jul10

Lucy MooreSince the original Messy Church got off the ground at Cowplain, Portsmouth, in 2004, founder Lucy Moore has seen huge growth in this model of fresh expression of church. She describes what has happened in the past six years.

God has gone before us all the time and got us ready to go on safari without a map.

It has been quite a journey but looking back, we can see that God had already put in place many elements for Messy Church long before we started. They were:

  • A sense of frustration with the traditional way of doing children's work in church because a group of us found that we were failing in that. It was also frustrating that we heavily invested in that children’s work but it seemed to be in isolation as parents didn't appear to be supporting those children by encouraging them at home in their faith;
  • A lot of people who were good at artwork and crafts. We found that God had provided a creative team of people who were passionate about children's work and confident in dealing with children;
  • Our church, St Wilfrid's. This was a very important factor because it has a great sense of being hospitable and looking outwards rather than inwards. It also had a very useful building that offered all the facilities required to get something going;
  • A small group of four or five children coming on a Sunday. They gave us an inroad into the local schools and it was from those children that we built up our first invitations to Messy Church.

It has become increasingly apparent over the years that families face meltdown in our society and they need more support and help than ever before. In saying that, there was still an element of panic among our group at the prospect of doing children's work in the current climate, facing issues such as CRB checks, discipline, health and safety, and so on.

So what has shaped Messy Church so far?

  • Generosity. Our church has been very hospitable and also generous in saying Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) could take on the Messy Church model and take it out to the wider church. Messy Church has since become a core part of BRF's children’s ministry, Barnabas, which assists churches who have caught the vision and need help in running Messy Church;
  • BRF itself. The team that I work with are very supportive and generous;
  • The funders
  • Fresh Expressions. They have shared their wisdom, their help, their time, their website. Various individuals have also made a huge difference, including Bishop Graham Cray, Bishop Steven Croft, and George Lings;
  • The growing Messy Church team of regional co-ordinators;
  • My family.

There has been a lot of growth; I still feel we are on this surfboard and we are riding a wave of energy. We now have about 330 Messy Churches registered on the website from all sorts of denominations.

In terms of attendances at individual Messy Churches they can range from 15-20 to 180. The variety of contexts include Anglican, Methodist and Assemblies of God, urban, rural, north, south, east, and west. This gives us huge breadth.

There is now geographical spread all over the world with the Canadians taking on Messy Church wholeheartedly. Also going great guns are Australia, South Africa, Finland, Germany, and New Zealand.

Thanks to the increasing number of regional co-ordinators, we can also have a more localised output. There is a growing depth of experience and ideas; growing ownership by church structures; and growing numbers of stories of transformation. The challenge, as ever, to go just a little bit deeper with people and help them explore discipleship. On with the journey…