PPP Messy Church

Emma Major tells how she followed a fresh expressions 'journey' to develop People, Prayers and Potatoes (PPP) Messy Church.

People, Prayers and Potatoes at St Nicolas, Earley, does what it says on the tin – we bring people together once a month at midday for a Bible story, craft, activities, worship and prayer before sharing a jacket potato meal. Since we started four years ago, we've served up over 2,200 jacket potatoes!

I will tell how it developed through the fresh expressions' journey of Listening, Loving and Serving, Building Community, Exploring Discipleship, Church taking shape, Doing it again.


PPP Messy Church - giantAfter completing my training to become a Licensed Lay Minister I spent a year in formation discerning what God wanted me to do at St Nicolas, Earley. Being a mum in the playground at the local primary school it became clear to me that there were many families searching for something 'God shaped'. I was forever being asked things like, 'What do you believe in?', 'Will you pray for me?' I encouraged them to come along to St Nicolas, and for their kids to join the thriving Sunday School, but the majority of the families had never come to church so this was a step too far.

Our standard 10am service at St Nicolas is quite formal so it's just not the right place to bring people into a church environment if they've never known it before. It really wasn't attracting the people who don't have a background in church.

Loving and Serving

Over several months of prayer and conversations with the unchurched families, the concept for People, Prayers and Potatoes evolved. Over the years I've found that God tends to speak to me in images and it was at this stage that I got an image in my mind of people sitting down and eating together, I then wrote what I thought that was all about in terms of exploring faith.

It sounds incredible but, within two weeks, I knew how it was going to work in practical terms and I'd chatted it all through with my vicar, Neil Warwick, who was really supportive. A friend offered to come and cook a jacket potato lunch for whoever was going to turn up and we'd see what happened.

With the help of a few keen teenagers, and two expert cooks, PPP was born as a place where families could come and meet God, many for the first time. Interestingly I only discovered Messy Church, and its resources, after about a year of us running PPP! So I did not have that model in my head and we are not exactly like a Messy Church because there is no set format each month but it gives a verbal shorthand for the type of thing we do.

PPP takes place on Sundays at mid-day. If children are involved in football on Sunday mornings, the matches have finished by then so it seems to be a good time. We don't try to make something that suits everybody because you can't but we keep it very simple with a talk, doing something with the kids, go into the church for some worship and prayer – and, of course, eat together.

Building Community

PPP Messy Church - craftAll we did was ask people we knew from the school and the community to come and join us. We told them that we didn't really know how it was going to look but that we'd have a God story in one way or another and that it would be a type of church. The line was, 'Come and try it. What have you got to lose? We'll feed you lunch!'

I thought no-one was going to come but People, Prayers and Potatoes, as a Messy Church, was popular right from the start and six families turned up for the first one. It was all very informal and unthreatening. Within three months, those initial families had brought friends who also kept coming; and families approaching St Nicolas for baptism came to PPP to explore faith as a family. Now, four years on, we regularly have 50-60 children – and their parents and carers – who worship together. We've got babes in arms, children at every primary school level and four teenagers who are part of the leadership team.

Exploring Discipleship

We have a jacket potatoes rota where the families volunteer to cook lunch for everyone else and we also have a craft team who come up with wonderful ideas every month. PPP is truly a community of families exploring and growing in their faith together. Two years ago I started the 'Mums and More' group to which a dozen mums from PPP belong; this is a group which explores prayer, the Bible and what it means to be a Christian. We also ran a nurture course which fed them further.

I am a person who likes to take the risks and start something new; I want to keep pioneering and you can't do that until you help what you have started to grow to be sustainable. In saying that, PPP is extremely cheap to run with the food costing about £30 and the craft materials no more than £10. It's also interesting that the families who come along now take it in turns to do the jacket potatoes; they say it's their gift to the community of PPP – others might donate some craft resources for use in our activities. That culture of giving is already there.

Church taking shape

PPP Messy Church - EasterWe have never had a huge team but have grown a planning and leadership group of three from the families who call PPP their church. Over the last two years we have had three Messy Church adults' baptisms and we are thrilled that six of the PPP mums will be confirmed in a Messy Confirmation at the start of September 2015. People, Prayers and Potatoes is truly a church in its own right at St Nicolas, Earley.

Doing it again

I am now in the process of handing over the leadership of People, Prayers and Potatoes – partly in response to the fact that a decline in health means I need to step back from those particular responsibilities. That's OK with me because I never wanted to hold on to the reins too tightly. When you step out to do something, you should create space for others to flourish and I've already been fortunate to see that happen. The leadership team have run three PPP services to great acclaim alongside the clergy worship team. They are gaining confidence in planning the year ahead and it is a joy to see their faith grow as they lead others as they were led. I have no doubt that People, Prayers and Potatoes Messy Church is in extremely safe, motivated and enthusiastic hands!

Warham Trust

Warham - Malsanger HouseIt's many years since every country estate had its own church. Now, Malshanger House, just West of Basingstoke, has opened the doors of its clubhouse for the Warham Trust, an Anglican fresh expression of church in rural England.

The idea has been that we should be a fully-fledged church in our own right, at the same time as many of our people belonging to their local churches,

explains Peter Irwin-Clark, the vicar of the Warham Trust.

For the vast majority of our 100 or so core members we are their first church, and about one third of those don't belong to another church at all.

Beyond that inner circle we have contact with another 200 or so who are infrequent attenders at our worship-services but may come to one of our small groups or a midweek teaching meeting.

Earlier in the autumn some of the members were confirmed by the Bishop of Basingstoke, reinforcing the clear connection with the established church.

On Sundays, Warham holds Liquid Church — everyone worships together for much of the service, but, in the middle, disperse across the estate to different sessions offering a variety of topics and styles (including a non-verbal Creative Workshop).

Warham - baconOn Wednesday evenings, a daughter congregation meets in Padworth, where 40 to 50 people come together for worship and small groups. The more-than one-centre element is part of what makes Warham different.

This approach to Sunday worship seems to be attractive to all ages. The clubhouse is set out in café-style and provides easy access for people in wheelchairs. This (with the excellent bacon-butties!) encourages a relaxed atmosphere, and it is less disruptive if, for example, a young child wants to walk around.

It is natural for people to stay around after the service because the church is set out so informally – and in such a beautiful setting no one is in a hurry to leave anyway!

This story was originally published in expressions: the newspaper – issue 3 (spring 2007) and features on expressions: the dvd – 2: changing church in every place.

All Saints Wingerworth

All Saints Wingerworth - fontAre people coming to faith through Messy Church? Do they really become members of the wider Church as a result? Revd Dr Jo White, Rector of All Saints’ Church, Wingerworth, tells how they responded to those questions through Messy Confirmations.

At the end of January we held a Messy Church with a difference. Five children took Communion for the first time, two people affirmed their faith, two were baptised and then joined eight more to be confirmed while a further person was received into the CofE!

We had been talking with people about this service and encouraging adults to take responsibility for their faith in a variety of ways for a while but how did it all start?

Someone said they'd like to be baptized, and that set us thinking. We know that for adults the Church of England likes baptism to be linked with confirmation, but how would that work in this context? We'd held a Messy Baptism for a new baby to one of our existing families last year – so how about a Messy Confirmation?

The idea took off big time – as did the questions, 'Will I have to come to church on Sundays in future 'cos I work that day as my husband's at home to look after the children and so I can't do it.' 'Me too – I feel a fraud as I only come here and not to 'proper' church – it's just it reminds me of when I was a child and that was a terrible time for me.'

All Saints Wingerworth - BishopThe comments just kept on coming… 'I want to get confirmed here, even though I live two hours away – I was brought up here and my family still live here, but above all these are the people who make me feel I belong.' 'I heard my brother's getting confirmed, so I'd love to do it with him.' 'This is the time for me and God. I do really want to come, I really feel 2011 needs to be a year when I reconnect with the church and my faith, too much has come between us of late.' 'I was confirmed as a kid, but I don't remember it, I wish I could do it with you.' 'Well I'm Catholic, but this is really my church now.'

So we spoke about Communion. What should we do about the bread and wine? We've never 'done' Communion before. When would you like to take it, at the confirmation service itself or shall we get together a few days later? Let's go for it! What about the kids? (In this church you have to be baptised and over seven years old) Hence we started preparing them too!

Needless to say, everyone who came to this service did know it would be different and longer! The key pressures came from balancing the need of the Bishop to follow the 'law' of the Church of England and our wish to make the service accessible and understandable for the majority of the Messy Church congregation who are either children or have none or little experience of 'formal' church. How do you make such a huge formal service needing loads of preparation and 'serious' thinking accessible to all of us at our different stages in our faith journeys?

All Saints Wingerworth - prayerAt the rehearsal we realised that only one person knew what 'the peace' was. Things that church regulars take for granted, prayers that they know by heart, are unknown territory for most Messy Churchers and could easily divide the congregation in a service – which is exactly what we do NOT want in Messy Church.

We pared the service requirements to the bone, chose the shortest Communion Prayer and then added opening and closing prayers that were in everyday but in very meaningful language; trying hard to keep the theology of the occasion without dumbing down or making it so simple it was meaningless. We wanted this to be a memorable time for all those involved – in a good sense!

The service sheet, more of a book really, included absolutely every word and instruction. But it did mean that everyone could take a full part on an even footing. We made sure that there was a regular churchgoer you could follow if you got lost at the front of church and said so in the 'Welcome'.

We moved everything we could out of the 'service' section – like the prayers – and into the 'activity' section that comes first; trying to shorten the service without losing any of its meaning or worship elements. The children brought forward, as they often do, a collage of all our prayers written on paper cut-outs of our hands and glued as feathers on a dove. Come, Holy Spirit!

All Saints Wingerworth - song sheetsWe chose songs that we often have at Messy Church and included some simple new ones either with a tune already known or that we’d introduced at other services in recent weeks.

A few weeks before Messy Church, Rt Revd Humphrey Southern – the Bishop of Repton – asked everyone being confirmed or otherwise involved to write a few lines about themselves and he wrote a few for them. On the day he arrived in good time to join in with all of Messy Church, including the activities in the first element of our Messy service, and chatted with everyone including the candidates all together. This set good practical examples of relationships which passed on to the service itself.

We began the service in the same way as usual, casually, with no 'procession' – and me, as minister, in my 'home' clothes. To save time, the Bishop was robed from the start, and I popped mine on during the first song. There were two Welcomes, first one from myself and then one after the first song, from the Bishop. I gave the practical details whilst the Bishop reinforced the views that all are welcome, there's not one way to 'do' church, and we all worship a living God in our own ways at our own levels. In other words – we may have a bishop, we may be dressed differently, the service may be longer BUT it's still the Messy Church we all know and love.

Bishop Humphrey's address talked about faith being in different layers and each one has value in itself – you don't have to wait 'til you get to the middle to get the gift. He'd brought 'Posh Pass the Parcels' which had a gift under each layer, just like our faith, so wherever we are faith has value and each layer brings surprise.

All Saints Wingerworth - cakeThe taking of Communion was done kneeling or standing at the altar rail. We decided not to use sidespeople to indicate when to come up but to leave it open. In the event I (as the Rector) acted as maître d' in the sanctuary while the Bishop gave bread to everyone and two lay assistants gave the wine. In this way I was able to 'introduce' the Bishop to young children by name and tell him a little about those who were not taking Communion but had come up for a blessing, and just about everyone did come to the rail. His prayers of blessing were then made by name and were very specific for that person. The sight of him walking on his knees to give blessings at that rail to the many children squeezed alongside each other will stay with me for a long while.

So 75 minutes later (it's usually a 20-minute church service element) we went to eat our buffet tea together that our wonderful cooks had prepared. Something for everyone and a large celebratory cake with coloured icing that the Bishop cut – a final sharing. We're still smiling at the experience and wondering when we can do it all over again.

A key component in bringing all of this about was that 18 months ago, with the help of a diocesan mission grant, we created a new post here – Connecting with Families Co-ordinator (CFC): and that person has since been accredited by the Diocese as a Lay Minister in Fresh Expressions after completing the mission shaped ministry course.

Early discipling, encouragement and support takes dedication, time and vision!

Now we need to create something for those now recently confirmed or otherwise involved who are thirsty for more but still don't want or can't make Sunday services or more 'formal' church. At the moment we're thinking of late evening weeknight services, including Communion sometimes. Suggestions for inclusion welcome.

Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries

Faith and fries - Richard MoyRichard Moy, ordained pioneer minister explains how church is forming amongst those who have never been involved before, through Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries.

When the Methodist and Anglican churches in Wolverhampton realised there were 23,000 people involved in the 'night-time' economy of the city, most of whom had no Christian commitment, they decided to do something about it. Richard Moy was appointed to start to form church with those who often only came into the city to bars and clubs after 10pm. The first thing he did was go to a monastery – to pray hard! Then he visited St Thomas' Crookes Church in Sheffield to find out about their 'Life Shapes' program and that visit was followed by 40 days of prayer and fasting.

Faith and fries - foodA small team of three gathered to pray every week in a local church and then gradually others joined in. After a year they began to gather in a café location in the centre of town and now a pool of about 50 people meets regularly for Sunday evening worship. On any one occasion 30 or so will gather together. Church 18-30 has been born.

Richard is particularly pleased at the mixed nature of this new missional community. The age range is about 16-32 but members come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are graduates, others come from 'very difficult backgrounds in terms of education'. Some are unemployed and others are destitute.

Faith and fries - flierEarly on Richard decided that one size would not fit all. Based on differing learning styles, this fresh expression of church offers deliberately varied learning and worship opportunities. There's a gathering for 'reflectors' which has a real sense of the 'spiritual'. Another event is aimed at 'theorists' and encourages those who attend to think why they believe what they believe. A third gathering has a contemporary worship style and a fourth is based on food and sharing communion together.

But Richard's eyes light up when he mentions 'Man Night'. Every Monday a group of men meet to share a simple form of communion, watch a DVD or get to work on a Playstation! This is church literally out of the box! 10-15 attend regularly and Richard is seeing real discipleship growth amongst the group.

Richard believes the venue is vital. There's a weekly midday meeting in McDonalds – an opportunity to share Bible, burgers and fries! Yates' Wine Lodge provides another meeting place, along with a city centre church café. Recently Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries has acquired a flat and that is slowly becoming a centre of ministry for the church.

Faith and fries - mealAnd Richard believes what he is doing really is church. They operate as church – with regular worship, gathering around word and sacrament. People have been baptised as a result of joining Church 18-30 and mission is very much at the heart of things. If you see a couple of people sitting on a sofa in the middle of Wolverhampton, it is likely to be members of the church sharing their faith or offering to pray for passers by. And in a network church, 'some bits of the church will only last for a season and some bits will last forever', says Richard and that's OK.

Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries grew out of local Christians' concern for those who had no connection with church. It's still growing and Richard Moy is very open to what surprising things God might have in store for the future.

I love going to Church 18-30's Vitalise service because it does what it says on the tin. It really revitalised my relationship with God through John's Gospel and smoothies.

Katie, 18

I went to Church 18-30 because my faith was at a really low point and needed strengthening. Church 18-30 helped me to rediscover my faith and strengthen my relationship with God having fun along the way with the most amazing people!!!

Helen, 22