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Greenbelt - mess in the long now

Posted by Lucy Moore on 01 Sep 2009

Where do I start? The fun of coming together as an all-age team from across the UK armed with bags and crates of sparkles and cardboard, flowers and snacks, pitta bread and candle wax? The excitement of seeing the queue form outside the marquee and the Messy Church Full Up sign go out? The rather sheepish admission from the stewards that there were probably around 250 people squeezed in, on and off, during the hour?

So many memorable moments: twelve-year-old Duncan taking his responsibilities for serving drinks so seriously. The God-given venue managers who run Messy Church in Bristol themselves so who were more than supportive. The silent preparation for the Messy Communion as the previous activity was still going on in the venue. The babble of excitement: 'This is GREAT!' 'This is AMAZING!' 'We do Messy Church too!' 'This looks just fantastic!' 'How do we start one in a deprived area? A well off area? In Australia? In the States? In Sweden?' The stillness of the 200+ people of all ages sharing communion together. The toddler sitting in the middle of my craft space wallowing in the packaging noodles while all around him families devised symbols for their families out of the same material. Three-year-old Molly wrapped in a Messy Church apron from head to foot treating this bizarre Messy Church full of strangers as she would her own and calmly taking herself round all the crafts while her parents led their own craft table. Gloating over the fact that we were doing something to serve God together as a (nuclear and a church) family and enjoying it.

Infinite Crafts supporting us with generous sample packs of craft materials. Clearing up spilt raisins on hands and knees while the Bubble Man set up shop. Delivering Messy Church at high speed and collapsing over a cup of tea afterwards. The one or two people who said thank you... The glee of the music group that they can now add to their CVs that they have played at Greenbelt!

There were minor tragedies of course: the treasured craft that was cleared up with the rubbish by mistake; a misunderstanding about the craft being for everyone to do, not just the children; the person who wanted a seminar rather than to get her hands dirty; latecomers desperate for the Messy Church goodie bag, stocks of which had long since gone; people from our own diocese who couldn't get in because there was no room; some people leaving before the end without the full experience of the celebration and food as well. But these could all be kept in proportion against the huge swell of goodwill, appreciation and excitement at what God is doing through Messy Church.

I had been feeling uncomfortable about all the time and energy we had been putting into an event which is, after all, mainly for Christians, while Messy Church is for people who don't yet belong to another form of church: was the whole Greenbelt Messy Church a waste of time? I don't think so. It was a showcase, a modelling, an inspiration that may well have been for Christians - but many of those for Christians may go away and have the confidence and impetus to set up Messy Churches in their own areas to reach those who are missing out on church at the moment.

It also shows that you can keep to the Messy Church principals of hospitality, celebration and creativity even in difficult circumstances: if you want to eat together, you'll find a way, even if you have no cooker, no running water nearer than 100m away and no fridge. If you don't have much set up or clear up time, you will find a way of doing it if you have to. If you don't know your team very well at first, you will, by the grace of God, soon find a way of working together.

I ache from the tension. And the car still needs emptying. And my teenagers are exhausted and grumpy. And I fear I've lost all the important email addresses that people from all round the world pressed into my hands as they left. And I'm sad that I didn't have the courage to buy myself an outrageous hippy hat. But more than anything I'm honoured that Greenbelt gave us the opportunity of bringing together such a calm, serene, efficient and supportive team to showcase Messy Church and give so many families a small taste of what it's all about.