Messy Church

Fresh ideas for building a Christ-centred community

Australia diary

Posted by Lucy Moore on 17 Aug 2012 (0 comments)

Friday 17 August

Why am I cursed with travel sickness? How can a grown person be sick seven times en an otherwise uneventful route from London to Sydney? The mercy was that I had three seats to myself from Singapore to Sydney, so I could stretch out for a bit in a lumpy sort of way, but oh, the ignominy of going greeny-grey in public... so many times... Praise the Lord for airsick bags! I shall take one with me everywhere.

Met by Robyn and Stephen Pullyn at the airport: 'It IS you! Your hair's shorter!' and drove up to their friends' house in the countryside near Morisset. Robyn is children's adviser and a deacon, and Stephen is archdeacon, so we had lots to talk about. After toast and tea they graciously packed me off to sleep for a few hours and woke me at 4.30 - so more than a few hours as it turned out, and we headed off to see the church where the conference will be tomorrow and to go out for a lovely meal with the clergy from the church. Funny how familiar the countryside feels, with the pale ghostly eucalyptus forests lining the roads just like last year. I do like Australia. And Australians. Or is that racist?

I was expecting the Anglican Church to be bound up in tradition, but if Stephen and Robyn are anything to go by, there is a whole treasure trove of faith, hope and love and a determination to bring about change for the good of the kingdom, even if that might mean the death of some of Christendom. It'll be interesting to see what questions tomorrow brings.

Saturday 18 August

Full day at the Messy Church conference at Morisset, with a lovely warm group of about 55 people. In the morning, there was worship, then Messy Church, with the afternoon on community engagement, all-age worship and Godly Play, followed by an evening of storytelling from me. The church building was cold but the feeling was warm and enthusiastic with a lot of active listening. Interestingly, nobody asked about money! Nobody asked, 'How much does it cost?' which I hope is significant. Sue ran a bookstall and seemed to be selling plenty of our resources. She'd packed and left, sadly, before people could hear and want to buy the stories from The Gospels Unplugged, but still, lots of resources are finding their way out into churches. And terribly glee-inducing to see they're priced around $24, which makes them feel oh so important!

Kathy and Steve talked about Bateau Bay Messy Church, which started in December 2011. After the Parramatta conference in 2011 they visited Belmont Messy Church, took a few months to decide on publicity, invitations and team, so that the team knew what they were doing and who they're doing it for. They had 30 people at the first Messy Church and have done eight Messy Churches since then. They plan in three-monthly blocks, send phone/email reminders every month and publish photos to keep the parish informed. The parishioners now drag visitors over to the display in church to talk about 'our Messy Church' even if they don't help at it themselves. 'It's the best thing we've ever done.'

Narelle from Belmont talked about their Messy Church, which began in Easter 2010: 'One of the hardest things is to get a team together. For me it is church for people who don't relate to church as we know it. It's a very relaxed way of doing it. One of the greatest parts is the celebration time.' A nine-year old granddaughter said, 'I do believe in God but I also believe in science.' The meal is so important - it's communion. 'It's great to get involved in something that's actually working. It's working for us in our parish.'

Roxanne from Gosford Uniting Church said that they recognise that when children are between one and seven, that's a potential family crisis time. Families with older children start taking on a leadership role.

Linda from Dapto talked about making it fun to be on the team, giving team members afternoon tea and sending 'thank you' letters to the them, and always having a team photo. A lot of team building is done from within the congregation - for example, big Pete started doing carpentry when he saw it was needed. It often gives a place to new members of the congregation who haven't yet found a ministry.

I survived most of the day, but crumbled halfway through the afternoon, collapsed in a corner and slept for an hour on the floor, which meant I could keep going right to the end of the evening. Bed was very welcome that night.

Sunday 19 August

Robyn, Stephen and Glen led the morning Eucharist as an example of all-age worship, with me doing the talk on 'I am the bread of life' and including a packet of smuggled rice cakes - smuggled because I couldn't face explaining to customs that I had food in my baggage, what it was and why I had it. How do you say, 'It's the nearest I could get to manna to which nobody is allergic'? Certainly the children enjoyed hovering up the manna from the church floor wilderness as we thought about what Jesus meant with his strange words. The rest of the day was the conclusion of the Morisset conference - my contribution was a session on discipleship and a Q&A session. The same question being asked as back home: what do we do next? Out for a Thai that I could have taken or left at setting-out time, I was so tired, but it was hugely welcome and delicious in the event.

Monday 20 August

We packed and left our country retreat with regret - so still, so quiet, so beautiful in the morning sunshine. After diving briefly into the school where Robyn is chaplain, we headed up to the diocesan office for a meeting with the senior staff: Bishop Peter, Bishop Brian, archdeacons Stephen and Arthur, and members of the CEY (Children, Education and Youth) Committee: Richard, Stuart, Sonia and Robyn. The meeting was - how shall we put it? - formal, compared to what we had been doing in previous days, and a case of setting out Messy Church, then talking about what the diocese might want to do to support its Messy Churches.

Some ideas I threw in were affirming and supporting Messy Church leaders simply by encouraging them, perhaps offering a service of commissioning/blessing, featuring a drip-feed regularly in the diocesan newspaper and knocking on the head anyone who says Messy Church isn't a congregation. Networking across the diocese, Australia and the world - perhaps a local Regional Coordinator, maybe Robyn to organise Messy Fiestas, meet-ups, weekends... starter grants and resources to borrow.

We had lunch together, then Sonia took me back to her house in Morpeth and settled me into the wonderful ex-kitchen building in the garden, from the days when you had to have a separate kitchen so the house was less likely to burn down. It's now a great little flat and a lovely base for me. We had 15 minutes downtime, then set off for Raymond Terrace and the next event: the church's first Messy Church, which began at 4.00. It was fun to be part of - a very brave thing to do, to have your first Messy Church and invite a bunch of conference delegates to observe it. I 'helped' by leading the celebration, although I think they would have done it better themselves, as late afternoon is rather a jetlaggy time for me still.

In the evening, the conference began and we had an hour of 'Lucy Moore, her story' at Robyn's request. So a bit about me and the 'body' story to get us thinking all age, with a 'wondering' discussion that was wonderful indeed - really reaching into the difficult areas of what it means to be the body of Christ, especially when some body parts might be dying off. Home with Sonia and a very welcome glass of wine to wind down the day.

Tuesday 21 August

Hmmm. Thought I'd cracked the sleeping thing by now, but possibly thanks to the jolly possum party on the roof of my flatlet at 4.00 a.m. I was wide awake far too early for my liking, especially given the length of the day ahead of me. How I sympathise with the ex-archbishop of Melbourne who spent his spare hours waging desperate and vindictive war on the possums in his garden.

The conference, with about 70 delegates, is a repeat of the Morisset pattern. I think I got a bit bogged down in the 'values' session this time but people were very kind. One lady had obviously been struck by the power of asking good questions in leading churches into change.

Fun evening storytelling (Martha, Mrs Littlebottom and the good Samaritan, with homegrown TV programmes of Bible stories from the group to mutual hilarity).

Wednesday 22 August

Breakfast on the verandah after tap-dancing possums at 5.00 a.m. and a parrot AND kookaburra in the garden - what is there not to like (5.00 a.m. maybe)?

Liv, Janine, Diane, Tony and Doug from New Lampton:
Tony came to Parramatta intending to come for one session and ended up going back for the whole thing. 'Listening to Lucy can be addictive'(!) Tony shared the idea of all-age church and encouraged the delegates to think, share and plan, not just plonk the programme down. In the middle of thinking about mission-shaped church, they decided to give Messy Church a go. Bought books and DVDs and used the internet to inform the team. Planned to start in the New Year, in February. There is currently only one regular child in the church. Lots of new people came to the Christingle, which was an opportunity to publicise Messy Church. They produced a brochure, chatted, put up a banner, creating a follow-up brochure, handed out brochures at school 'to let people know what's happening in the community'! He continued: 'I must confess that I felt just at that moment a little bit of doubt: would we have enough things? Would anyone come? We were ready by 4.00. I could have fired a cannon down the street at 4.20 and not injured anybody. Then people trickled in and we jumped on them with enthusiasm. It was great and they had a terrific time. We had a terrific time. We felt very encouraged. Next time it will be bigger and better. One scripture teacher promised to bring her children. Over the next few months we've continued to have great activities, great feedback from those who come, but sadly no growth. My question to you: we have used word of mouth, brochures, 1800 at one stage, we have tried what we thought would work. We changed the day after consultation with those coming, from Saturday to Sunday. We haven't lost people who come, but we're not growing. I'm just wondering if there's something we're missing. One little girl said to her grandmother as they stuck and pasted together, 'Are we going to go in and sing the songs and hear the story soon?''

Rev Mandy and Jan:
Working together as a family it how we get things done. In Merriwa we have to work together as Anglican, Catholic and Uniting churches. Catholic school has decided not to help. So we're Anglican, Uniting and a nun, a network of scripture teachers and people who lead Mainly Music. The deanery provides fabulous ideas and we help each other with ideas.

Our Messy Church has been publicised by fliers and we sat at the church hall one day for the first one, and nobody turned up and the lady who was doing the crafts at the time didn't turn up either. Then children started to trickle down from the primary school, then the craft lady turned up with all the stuff. That day we had about 15 children. There was a pair of twins who couldn't come for a couple of sessions and were very upset so a leader went to get them. The after-school club came at the same time - ten extra children! The twins raved about it to everyone at school and told them to come. The children in Merriwa go to different schools and don't see each other. At Messy Church they meet up with other friends they haven't seen in the town for weeks: it's a really good bonding thing. We know everyone in the town so we give people jobs to do and they do them. In one family, a father, grandmother, kids, aunties and cousins come from one family. We average feeding 50 people. It's fun, everyone in the kitchen come out and eat with us. Fridays at 3.30, we've got netball, horse sports, dads getting in from work. Get into the minds of these young families, use SMS and Facebook. I invited along a mother I saw and she came with two friends. Then the mum told someone else on Facebook who asked what it was, and she told her, 'You've got to go - it's fabulous!'

Rhonda from Terrigal:
We've had three Messy Churches. We got together from pure necessity. What we were doing was clearly not working, so we got together and spoke about Messy Church, so with the encouragement of our minister we had a meeting and decided to do this thing. One of the first reactions was, 'I don't like the name!' But we stuck with it. We couldn't go on as we were: this had to be the answer for us. We visited Bateau Bay Messy Church who were very encouraging. They gave us little hints we've used and moved on with. We told the parish about what Messy Church is, what its values are and why we feel we need to do it. The Rev Ann did the Good Shepherd and we did the talk the same way as we would do at Messy Church. We played a DVD clip, then closed with a call to rally for helpers. Miraculously, they came out - we have such a pool of talent! We have a really vibrant band. From humble and small beginnings we started by word of mouth and fliers dropped in letterboxes. Our format is the same. Because lots of people commute, we chose Sunday afternoon 3.30 p.m. - 5.30 p.m. We drew on everyone who had talent and put them in the right places. We meet afterwards to say what people liked and didn't like and that really helps. The welcome is so important. We decided we should have changes of clothes. At apple bobbing we ran out of apples: one child had seven! People love talking about their craft. The church is decorated for the celebration. We had a really beautiful celebration for 'light'. We have two fantastic fathers who do the barbecue. We tend to have a lot of boys come, so one of our dads brings balls and when they want to do other things they go out and do ballgames together.

Thursday 23 August

Rather wistful farewells to Sonia, my host, and to Robyn this morning, as they put me on the train to Nambucca Heads. I hope we meet again. The trouble with trips like this is that you meet such wonderful, inspiring people and have to say goodbye to them just as you're getting to know them. A magnificent train trip, partly owing to Sonia's thoughtfulness in getting me some travel sick pills and partly because of the incredible scenery going up the coast. It's a bit like a train trip through the Lake District - miles after mile of wilderness, hills, mountains, woodland, creeks, dams (well, we would say ponds) and paddocks (aka fields). Best moment: three KANGAROOS hopping about in one paddock! Another ambition realised.

A sense of drawing one leg of the trip to a close, leaving the Newcastle Diocese with a huge amount of work to do and, I hope, encouragement to go into the future with hope, not despair. My Bible reading this morning was from Mark, about the man who goes on a journey and leaves his servants behind without telling them when he's coming back. I read it for the first time thinking about the man going on his journey rather than the ones left behind and was struck by the fact that 'it's not about him, it's about the people left behind'. This trip isn't about me, it's about the people I leave behind.

Friday 24 August

The Sawtell Fiesta! I stayed with kind hosts Lisa and Mark in Nambucca Heads, where Lisa is rector, and their family of dogs. Lisa packed the car with craft materials to drive me and Lorraine from her team up to Sawtell for the Fiesta day.

Nice to find myself moving furniture to set up the day - made me feel quite at home. The church is a lovely hospitable group of people and has a usable, approachable building, and we were made very welcome. It was most pleasant to sit for morning tea on the decking in the sun and chat in the open air. In winter. Am seriously pondering emigration. A warm, open, generous group of about 50, I think. I always forget to count in the excitement. At the end of the day, Gail, the archdeacon, gathered me up and drove me up to Ballina via her home in Grafton. (I think it was Grafton. It had kangaroos. I was rather seeing double by this stage.) We picked up Anne from Grafton and went up to Robert and Margaret's, my next long-suffering hosts, and I had the evening with them and one of their church members, John.

Saturday 25 August

The Ballina Fiesta! It was a repeat of the day before, but of course different because of the different people. A real joy to have with us some of the team from Osterville (Austerville? Haven't worked it out yet) and a parish near Brisbane who are both running Messy Churches and could share their stories. Trent, from place with the name of doubtful spelling, talked about one dad from an indigenous Australian family who had been coming to their Messy Church: he said it had made him want to get his life back on track and be a better dad to his children. I think about 70 people were there. Very funny to have the entertainment of trying to make the AV system work... some things are the same the world over.

Pam and Barbara kindly drove me back down to Yamba, a delightful little town at the end of a peninsula at the mouth of the Clarence River. The Star of the Sea conference centre is a comfy and friendly place with views to kill for. The LLMs (Local Lay Ministers) were having a conference with Anne and myself as a couple of the speakers and Bishop Keith and Archdeacon Gail running the show. A genial group of people, several of whom I had met at events over the week, which was good. Sadly, my sense of direction let me down as I tried to find my way back to my room at the end of the day, and I found myself in a Spinal Tap-like series of corridors and fire escapes, with doors that closed impenetrably behind me, and when I finally escaped and found myself on the wrong side of the front door, could I get my key to work? Still, I made it back to my room in the end and slept solidly and in great thankfulness not to be doing so on the doorstep.

Sunday 26 August

Suddenly it feels as if I'm nearly at the end of the trip. After the Eucharist I presented Messy Church in two slots for the 40 or so LLMs and enjoyed allaying some of their fears and listening to their excitement about the idea. There is still a lot of angst about what people back at the church will say: I am put in mind so often of the Good Samaritan, and the religious people who probably longed to help the poor injured man but felt that they couldn't for religious reasons: religion getting in the way of compassion.

It was rather poignant to have my own reading for this morning as Mark's version of the Lord's Supper and to read: 'all over the world Christians are celebrating the Eucharist today...' My own church and family and colleagues feel a long way away and in a different time zone.

After lunch I escaped for a blissful couple of hours paddling and mooching around on my own among the rocks, feeling very overdressed. Had a few hours in my room sorting out the remaining talks and reading some of the essays in the first draft of Messy Theology and wishing I was as clever as the people who have contributed to it. Out for dinner with Bishop Keith, Gail, Greg (two archdeacons) and Anne. I am being well looked after.

Monday 27 August

I hope my Bible reading is not prophetic in any way for today: it was Jesus hauled up against the chief priests before his crucifixion. I'm speaking to clergy this morning. We shall see.

Later: well, not in any sense a crucifixion but by no means the liveliest gig I've known. Still, they now know from the horse's mouth what Messy Church is and can support or dissuade their parish lay people from an informed standpoint.

A quick lunch and Greg drove me up to the airport at Ballina. Plane to Sydney, plane to Melbourne and gratefully met by Chris (Barnett) to get me over to the Centre for Mission and Theology, where Judyth and Kaye were already staying, and to bed for 12.30.

Tuesday 28 August

Quite a full-on day organised in Chris' inimitable style, efficiency and from his vast networks of contacts. People from WA, QLD and Tasmania there as well as the Victoria crowd. A keynote of stories based around the values (Christ-centredness: Martha and Mary; creativity: house on the rock; hospitality: Zacchaeus; celebration: the lost coin and we would have done the Body if there had been time). Then a couple of electives on Messy Church and discipleship, while Judyth and Beth covered the Australian context and resources. Then finishing off with a 'what next?' keynote with a discussion to end with. It was a good day with a lot of vitality and hope.

A pizza with Beth, Judyth and Kaye, then back to the airport, which seemed strangely familiar, for a midnight flight home via Singapore. I think I get back on Wednesday but how long I spend in the air is a great mystery. But I am armed with drugs and suspect after this trip I might just sleep solidly for 24 hours anyway.

7.00 a.m. following morning - Wednesday, 29 August, I think - Singapore Airport

Posh shops! Koi carp pool! Fern Garden! Butterfly Garden (sadly dark so all butterflies snoozing out of sight, but very wacky anyway.) Am completely bewildered as to what time it really is, though I think it's now the same day in my head as it is at home. Ambitions to add to list: to drive a little airport cart taxi thing; to be upgraded spontaneously; to know I could get on Wi-Fi wherever I was; to be briefly so wealthy that I could stroll into any of the designer shops and buy something that took my fancy (but unworthy ambition and anyway I would make tremendous taste faux pas, although it would be fun for a short while).

It's been a great trip. Very packed, with not a day's pause, but in a way that meant there wasn't time to worry about the upcoming events - I just got on with them. A sense of being carried throughout and of prayers from home holding me to some extent, and a sense of it being a good time for many of the churches I met to get going with Messy Church before it's too late for them. New friends I would love to see again or welcome to our home. A lot of hope brought to a lot of people. I will be glad to be home again but it has been huge fun.

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