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!

New Creations

A Church of England reader and bereavement coordinator in Merseyside, Janet Cross, became aware of the need for some kind of support group for the bereaved.

She had the idea of a craft session as 'occupational therapy' and opened it up to anyone who wanted to come. Around ten churchgoers took advantage of the group, New Creations, which began in 1998, always opening with a prayer.

At first they focused on general crafts but soon gravitated towards making cards. A monthly 'God slot' centred on the theme of the cards being created that week – for example, 'leaves' and the idea of falling.

Through Janet's invitations to those she met in the course of her lay ministry in the parish, and through members telling their friends about it, the group grew. Now around 50 people are registered at New Creations, with up to 35 attending at any one time.

New Creations meets on Tuesdays. Since summer 2006, the sessions have started with two 'clusters' and thus become part of the cell format used by Janet's church.

The clusters are led by one woman each, with Janet mentoring and assisting. Both clusters meet at 11am in the church building, one made up of twelve previously unchurched people and the other of seven churchgoers.

'The people who weren't going to church would come to me with prayer requests, so I could see they were warming'

Just over an hour later they join for lunch in the restaurant attached to their church, after which the card making session begins.

Janet describes the 'unchurched' cluster as

a support group

in which members are beginning to open up to each other.

The people who weren't going to church would come to me with prayer requests, so I could see they were warming,

she says. A monthly cluster was offered at first, but this developed quickly into a weekly meeting in response to the enthusiasm of members.

We're looking for a vision to develop more,

Janet adds. A breaking of bread just before Christmas 2006

went down beautifully

and members have begun to pray out loud together.

Janet cites one lady who has openly expressed a sense that she now considers New Creations to be her church.

She is also considering an away day combining a morning of meditation and an afternoon of card making.

New people are coming each week,

Janet says.

If we carry on like this we'll need another cluster.

United Media Church

United Media Church in Kingswood recognises that people learn and engage in different ways. Adrian Wyatt explains why they describe themselves as 'the same, but different'.

In our Gloucestershire village, children and young people from the age of nine had become disenfranchised by the traditional Sunday church 'model' of doing things.

I became part-time pastor at Kingswood Congregational Church in May last year and I wanted to find out why the traditional Sunday School wasn't bringing in the children as it used to do. We are a church of about 30 adults and some research was urgently needed as to where all the children of that age group had gone. We found out by taking the remaining handful of youngsters to McDonalds and asked them, 'Why?', 'What sort of church would you like?' 'What do you like doing?' The answers revolved around eating, films and computer games.

United Media Church - car washIn February we launched a Monday church just for them. United Media Church uses film clips and computer games to teach the gospel message fortnightly on Monday evenings. These meetings, which include a short prayer time and all-important food, take place in an informal 'café church' environment. A variety of films are used and the same format has encouraged some to return to Sunday church as well.

We started the Sunday venture by watching Shrek the movie. That gave us the opportunity to discuss things like Do appearances matter? What makes good friendships? What makes a good king? Other topics on a Monday include what we learned from sport, Finding Nemo, Avatar, The Simpsons, and Friends. It really helps to keep us on our toes because they can choose to stop the film at any point and we then step in to give 15 minutes of Biblical teaching based on what they've seen and heard.

Part of my professional background is as a drug educator and some of our discussions have tackled substance abuse, alcohol and smoking but there is also a lot of fun. Plans for the coming months include a technology 'fast' for 20 hours when they will go without mobile phones and iPods etc.

WUnited Media Church - car washe now regularly attract up to 16 young people from the ages of 9 to 13, most of whom have been brought along by someone else in the group. That's very good news in that most of those children have not previously had a link with any sort of church at all but the challenge is that we outgrew our original room at Kingswood; it was simply too small for what we were doing.

We could have moved into the church hall but we felt that using the hall takes away from the special atmosphere of the place. In saying that we've now moved into the main church building because there is a big screen and a TV in the vestry room which means that some of the group can be watching a film while others are playing games or using the Nintendo Wii. We try to ensure that the film and the games reflect the same theme.

United Media Church - Africa projectThey are exploring their faith and the world around them in new ways and it includes things like supporting a youth project and families in Kenya, and sponsoring a child. They have raised quite a bit of money for their charity projects, a sleepover in the church raised more than £600. This is a way of being 'church' that our young people asked for. They also give into a collection every week because the adults do that in the main church and it's important to be reminded that we are part of something much bigger.

We have also started to develop a version of Messy Church and café church for those who would not come to inherited church and who are even put off by the word 'church' –  if not what it stands for. We're looking to build on an event which uses craft to explore a Christian message but without the insistence that parents stay. As the model develops, the parents will be encouraged to do so.

United Media Church - necklacesWe have always seen this as a fresh expression of church and not a church youth group and we need to keep that focus on being a different way of doing church. Otherwise it could easily become a youth club where you just come along and have a bit of a laugh.

In future I'd really like to see some of the older children coming through to become leaders themselves. It would also be good to see more people catch the vision and realise that this is far more than 'getting children and young people in'; it's about asking ourselves, 'What is their discipleship?', 'What is their Christian walk?', 'How is this Kingdom-building?'