8 December 2023

Church Messy but fruitful again

St Nicholas’ Mordialloc plans to get Messy church full again. Picture: St Nicholas’ Anglican Mordialloc.

Jenan Taylor

14 June 2022

A Mordialloc church’s Messy program has some new faces and for organisers it means their plans are bearing fruit.

St Nicholas’ Messy church service ran like a well-oiled machine before COVID and that’s how organisers see it working again.

Parishioner Karen Hayden says St Nicholas’ started the Messy effort in 2019 to revitalise the congregation with a more youthful membership.

Ms Hayden said they also wanted to look at how they could attract people who simply could not make it to church on Sundays.

“Their lives are so busy, and they have so many other things on. Sometimes it’s their only rest day, sometimes they’re doing sports with their kids. So, we looked at what we could do,” she said.

The Messy concept originated in the UK as an avenue for people who wouldn’t traditionally attend to experience and grow their faith.

But behind the fuss-free façade there’s a lot of careful planning, she said.

The Mordialloc Messy service runs only once a month, starting late afternoon and finishing by early evening.  It would begin with an activity that usually involved some art and craft or cooking classes. That was followed by 10 to 15 minutes of reflection and then conclude with a shared meal.

Ms Hayden said the program was a success at St Nicholas’, attracting around 20 children to each service, prior to COVID.

She said when they reopened the circle was considerably smaller than it had been, and initially the Messy team worried about not hitting their mark in terms of getting people in.

However, when they reviewed who was coming, they soon realised that the people who were starting to attend were the unchurched grandchildren and children of parishioners, she said.

It gave them some encouragement to think harder about the concept and what they wanted to achieve, and now the team believe they’ve found a way to move ahead.

Ms Hayden said it includes meeting with Messy Australia leaders and following more closely the suggestions in their communications, comparing notes with other churches, and being more deliberate about promoting the initiative within the church.

She said one tactic is to simply scatter the art and crafts that the children work on during the Messy services through the church for the following Sunday, the idea being to get older worshippers curious about what transpires, so they would tell their families.

The regular congregation might, for instance, arrive to find themselves surrounded by artwork depicting pillars of cloud and fire, as they did one day recently.

Another approach was to focus on promoting Messy Church through their regularly updated website and Facebook pages, Ms Hayden said.

“We actually got a new parent through our webpage, so that was very encouraging. It’s one person, one child, but it makes us feel that it’s growing and that’s an encouragement.”

She said the third approach was borne from the lesson of humility that COVID itself has brought – to be more flexible.

For Mordialloc, it means telling participants that they don’t have to stay until the service finished and didn’t have to be there when it began either.

“They just come and go depending on their needs. Sometimes, they can make it and sometimes something happens, and they don’t get there. Sometimes, they don’t get themselves sorted until just before we’re going to start the reflection. But that’s okay. That’s why it’s called Messy church,” Ms Hayden said.

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