Messy Church and lockdown
A group of Baptist Messy Church leaders met recently via Zoom to reflect upon the experience and practice of sustaining Messy Church throughout the UK Government’s lockdown and social distancing programme. Sandra Crawford shares more
Part of a Messy Church practitioner’s DNA is to be creative and the sudden lockdown definitely brought out that creative streak. There are a myriad of ways Messy Churches have been trying to keep in touch with families through lockdown:
Messy church at home, Messy Church in a bag, Messy Church in an envelope – all containing crafts, activities, stories, and prayer ideas.
Messy Church online – via Zoom and/or YouTube
Emails, mailchimp, WhatsApp, texts, Zoom, Facebook groups, doorstep visiting
It has been difficult to discern the level of engagement with Messy Church at home, and for many leaders it felt like resources were being sent into a vacuum with little feedback. The limited feedback that has been received has been positive, with families doing activities together, and some families being pleasantly surprised that although the church building was closed they hadn’t been forgotten.
However, families also acknowledged that both children and parents were overwhelmed by the whole homeworking and homeschooling scenario and the Messy Church packs were just something else that had to be done. One 13 year old commented that she had a clash every Sunday morning as there were Zoom activities being offered from church, gymnastics, a school friends group, and synchronised swimming all at the same time (and you thought church via zoom was complicated – what about synchronised swimming?).
After the first three months some had found the way they had chosen to keep in touch with families was too labour intensive and although it had worked for a few months it was not sustainable going forwards.
Some churches have seen the crossover of various groups and congregations within the church as people have accessed online services; prior to lockdown these groups operated in separate domains. Many groups have begun doorstep visiting and expressed how valuable this has been for engaging with parents as well as children.
The opportunity to personally deliver Messy Church In A Bag and hearing from families what’s happening in their lives and the impact of Covid, whether bereavement, loss of income, mental health struggles, and also beginning to see the socio economic differences of many families who haven’t got access to the internet or craft materials at home. Conversations on doorsteps have caused some workers to begin to re-evaluate what Messy Church was trying to offer and how relevant it was to families' lives.
Christ at the Centre
We reiterated what most of us already knew: faith at home is an important area for families, and some of us thought Messy Church engaged well with that and provided creative ways for praying together, exploring the Bible together.
However with some disappointment through this lockdown period we have discovered that they don’t appear to have been established to any degree at home and Messy Church families seem to be reliant on the once a month gathering as the real place to meet God, everything else is second best. One Messy Church leader commented it appears we are paying others to christianise our children rather than going on a discipleship journey together. Once again this causes us to evaluate - are we providing an opportunity to experience God within Messy Church or just presenting entertainment?
What about the way ahead?
This is not just a conversation for Messy Church teams. It feels like Messy Church workers are beginning to feel isolated, exhausted and overwhelmed; it has been a huge challenge and steep learning curve to create some kind of lockdown alternative. Along with this many Messy Church teams have been decimated as people are either juggling homeworking and home-schooling, or shielding, and some have just seen an opportunity to step back and take a break.
Many of us felt the priority of the Messy Church community seemed to be secondary with the primary focus of the wider church being on keeping the traditional Sunday worshipping congregations going. Some expressed Messy Church felt like an afterthought and was still being viewed by many as an activity or an event rather than a church or congregation and therefore it wasn’t a problem if it was stopped, for some Youth, Children and Families Workers they were immediately furloughed.
Messy Church as we have known it is going to be a long way off. Most Messy Church practitioners I’ve met are activists, ideas people, creatives; but maybe we need to stop and reflect, sit at the feet of Jesus and be still and listen.
What does creativity look like in this space?
What does hospitality look like in this space?
What does celebration look like in this space?
What does Christ at the centre look like in this space?
What does all ages look like in this space?
Is God about to do a new thing (Isaiah 43)? Are we just trying to hold onto what we know, chomping at the bit to begin again, or are we making the most of this inbetween space and waiting on God?
If you are a Messy Church practitioner in a Baptist setting feel free to connect with us here Facebook group ‘Baptist Messy Church Conversation' (as well as the Messy Church BRF group of course).
Sandra Crawford, Pastor at Leyland Baptist Church and Wigan Baptist Church
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts via our letters' page.