Work your tail off all week.
On Sundays, put on your best and go to church.
Life could be fairly straightforward in the USA of not so long ago. Today, with all of the demands on one’s time, things are a bit more frantic. And for many, one casualty has been the Sunday, go-to-meeting part of the script.
But there’s a church movement out there recognizes the untidiness baked into the 21st century pie. Not only that, on the second Wednesday of each month, one congregation in Auburn has been, well, positively festive about it.
No surprise, they call the 2½-hour evening gatherings, “Messy Church.”
“We’re messy people; everybody’s messy,” explained Crystal Goetz, Children’s Youth Camp and Family Life Ministries director for First United Methodist Church at 100 N St. SE in Auburn. “We have messy lives, things that make us imperfect. But this is a place where everybody’s accepted, everyone is loved, everyone is welcomed for this mess. There are 2-year-olds playing next to 80-year-olds. And we welcome that chaos into our atmosphere.”
Messy doesn’t mean show up with a grease spot on your overalls, or don that joke tie with the gravy stains or meatballs dangling from it to get in. On the other hand, they won’t send you packing for being untucked, either.
Whether folks are single or partnered, young or old, kempt or unkempt, questioning or not, Messy Church throws its arms open to all.
The basic components of the worship program, Goetz said, are fun, faith and food. Volunteers great all comers with snacks, then “explore God’s world” through hands-on activities, building, painting, even eating things – not the same things, of course, yechh! – diving feet, sometimes face first, into the experiential.
“The thing about messy church that’s cool is we’re all coming at it from the same place,” Goetz said. “Everybody’s learning together.”
All ages gather for activities, crafts and games that bring a biblical story to life. Following the activities and crafts, people gather for a short celebration with an interactive Bible story, music and prayer. Each Messy Church session wraps up with a delicious meal, at which people share stories of their own real, and messy, lives.
The program began at a small church in England in 2004. Today, there are close to 4,000, laity-and-clergy-led Messy Churches throughout the world, from Episcopalian, Salvation Army, United Methodist and Presbyterian to Baptist, the United Church of Christ and so on.
Goetz said Messy Church has about 35 regulars at the moment.
Turns out, it’s not to everybody’s taste, and that’s just fine.
“When we first started, we did a trial with our regular Sunday church folks,” Goetz said. “And we kind of put away some things that didn’t work too well. We’re starting to bring some of that stuff back now because we’re finding that the people who come to church on Sundays don’t necessarily work in that Messy Church environment too well. They’re so used to traditional church that Messy Church is far beyond their concept of what worship can be.
“But for people who do come to Messy Church, it’s an eye-opener,” Goetz added. “We have people who go to three or four churches, and Messy Church is their favorite thing. They come, and they’re like, ‘I’ve never really felt as close to God as I have here at Messy Church.’”
There are five principles of Messy Church, Goetz said, and the most important of them is that it be Jesus-centered, Goetz said. Everything must come back to the man from Galilee.
That is, far from being the sort of “social gospel,” many evangelicals deride for its watered-down version of Christianity. Goetz said, Jesus remains at the center of Messy Church, even as people “shake off the world” a little bit, get into the fun, swing into the regular activities.
At the close, a 10-minute message celebrates the conversation that has been going on about the night’s theme.
“It’s come as you are. If you have a stain on your tie, you’re just as welcome as somebody showing up in their shorts,” Goetz said. “Sundays just don’t work for everybody, Not everybody can sit still for an hour or two. This is about getting messy, getting in there, making mistakes.”