Messy Church Mix-Up

On Sunday 3 May, 10.00am, in Busselton, something really mixed-up was happening at Bryant Memorial Uniting Church. This was not normal.

The usual crowd for a Sunday morning service  were all there, but this was not what they were used to; it was not Sunday church as they knew it. For a start, the music was different – instead of the usual piano and organ, there was a band –  and look, are those our ministers with the guitars? Yes, Rev Brenton Prigge and Rev Andrew Broadbent are both up there in the band, and those  are Andy’s boys, Tom and Ned playing with them.

But that’s not all – there was no sermon; there was a Godly Play story instead. And then there were all these other wonderful young families who usually only go to church once a month on a Saturday for Messy Church. Maybe this service had been planned just for them? Maybe this was a typical Messy Church?

But no, the Messy Church people were also finding everything a bit  mixedup. There was no craft, for a start, and the whole thing was happening in the sanctuary instead of using the hall as well. And there were just pews; no tables and chairs. Not only that, but there was much more singing than at Messy Church and so many more wonderful ‘Granny and Grandpa’ type people… and after  the Godly Play story that was all about the ‘Table of the Good Shepherd,’ they had this wonderful thing where everybody was actually invited to gather around the table, just like in the  story. That never happens at our Messy Church!

Why the mix-up?

Well, for once we can say that all the mix-up was quite deliberate. Our Messy Church has been running for just over three years now, and from the very start we have quite intentionally considered that expression of worship to be as valid as any other congregation in our parish. They are very much ‘part of the family.’ However, in all this time, there has never been an  opportunity for the whole family to worship and celebrate together. To be honest, we have always been quite nervous to try, because the two gatherings are so different that we always feared  that a mixed gathering was bound to leave one or the other side of the ‘family’ feeling uncomfortable or out of place.

Godly Play storytelling at the Messy Church Mix-Up: The Good Shepherd and World Communion.

Godly Play storytelling at the Messy Church Mix-Up: The Good Shepherd and World Communion.

So, it was with some trepidation that we took a leap of faith and committed ourselves to advertising a worship gathering that was intentionally going to be a mix-up. We very deliberately  publicised it as something that was not going to be familiar to either Messy Church folk or the Sunday congregation, but at the same time would incorporate elements of both. Messy Church on  a Sunday – Sunday church that is Messy. Expect the unexpected.

But what if the Messy Church families didn’t turn-up? What if the Sunday congregation hated the messiness of such a dramatic departure from their usual Sunday pattern?

Behind our exuberant promotion of the ‘great family gathering’, we feared we were setting ourselves up for a family feud. The hour of reckoning arrived, and so did the people – both sides of the family. The service kicked off with a song familiar to our Messy Church people, Welcome Everybody, but it was played live with guitars and drums, which was unusual for us all. We had elements which were familiar to both groups, like the Lord’s Prayer, and the benediction – but the Sunday congregation got to learn the actions that Messy Church use for these prayers.

Messy Church were exposed to elements unfamiliar to them; like taking an offering, sharing the peace and gathering for Holy Communion. There were Godly Play elements too. Both groups  have had some exposure to Godly Play, but this time they heard more than the story – they also had the Christ Light lit in a Godly Play style at the start of the service, and then at the end of the  service we ‘changed the light.’ As the snuffer rose from the place the flame had been we saw the smoke spread out to the words: “See how the light is changed. See how it spreads out through the  room, getting thinner and thinner until we can’t even see it. Just because we can’t see it, does not mean it is not there. The light that was once only in one place at one time, can now be  everywhere, at every time.”

Then we handed out tambourines, drums and shakers for our final song, a joyful and noisy rendition of We are Marching in the Light, to which we literally marched up and down the aisles and in  and out of the pews in a great big conga-line. That in itself would have been a truly fitting end to a wonderful celebration, but that was not the end, because the service was followed by the  greatest of all family traditions – a sit-down feast.

And in the midst of the laughter and the buzz of conversation, of all the questions that could have been asked of such a Messy Mix-Up, one question was asked more than any other: “When can  we do this again?”

Brenton Prigge

Top image: (l-r) Tom and Ned Broadbent, Rev Brenton Prigge and rev Andy Broadbent lead the joint congregation in song.

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