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Catching little fishes through Messy Church

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At the United Church in Crowborough (URC and Methodist) a parent and toddler group has been running for many, many years, but it is only in the last four years that I have taken on the leadership. At the same time, the junior church folded and we needed to consider how the church could attract younger families and meet their needs.

The Messy Church model set up by Lucy Moore seemed worth exploring. We wanted the sessions to be available to the whole family and we wanted a ‘dialogue’ between Messy Church and the church family, so for us the obvious day was a Sunday. We finally decided to opt for first thing in the morning on the first Sunday of each month. That way, families still had time to do other things during the day. A good number of people told us that this would not be a popular time, so we said we would give it five years to see if it thrived. Now, four years later, Messy Church is still going strong.

Our team consisted of two retired teachers, one young teacher/lay preacher with young children, the previous leader of junior church and the minister. Oh, and my husband volunteered as chef. With a wide range of skills between us we sparked ideas off each other.

Where did our families come from? Mostly via our Little Fishes parent and toddler group! The key question I was asked was, “Aren’t my children too young?” My reply was that children are never too young to have some messy fun! Many of those children who first came as toddlers are now going to school, and we have also gained some older children too. This means there has to be a wider range of activities.

Our Messy Church sessions start at 9 a.m. with a cooked breakfast, table games and chat. One mother told me this was the only quality time she had with her children.  At 9.30 a.m. the children gather on the mat for an input of some kind and then go on to enjoy the messy activities. These include painting, sticking, cooking and other crafty things to do, with more challenging activities for the older ones. One dad said it was great to help his children and get to see what they do away from home. And grandparents, too, are now joining in the fun.  At around 10.05 a.m. everyone goes into church for singing, review and a prayer as the adult congregation gather.

I have now moved away and am not involved with Messy Church, although I still run Little Fishes. At the beginning of this year I attended the baptism of two more of our number, seen in the photograph. This was the fourth family to bring their two children for baptism and Messy Churchers were there to support them. It was truly a wonderful occasion for me to attend Messy Church again, before the baptism service.

There are some exciting ideas for developing Messy Church further. I certainly look forward to seeing what happens!

Ruth Dunn