Going wild

The Founder of Messy Church, Lucy Moore, shares our Reflection of the Month for April 2021...

We’ve sensed a movement within Messy Church over the last few years to do with making space to worship God through the natural world – something that comes naturally to many children and young people. It picks up people’s passion for caring for the planet and for understanding more through science, as well as enjoying experiencing the awe and wonder of what God’s made. We’re pulling it together in various projects and resources to encourage Messy Churches both to go outside more and to steward resources even better – all under the name of Messy Church Goes Wild: a name to strike joy or fear into the heart, depending on your outlook.

There’s also a movement of wilding (or rewilding) afoot in the church in this season. It’s a metaphor based on the principle of land management that deliberately backs away from artificial human control systems in order to encourage biodiversity. It’s a potent image to play with in church circles, especially for denominations that see themselves as a monocultural environment where innovation is strangled at birth, where structures cage in new life, artificial means are used to nurture one sort of growth but to suppress another, and where a human hand seems to have replaced the breath of the Spirit. What a far cry from the early church, with all their failings, who seem so light on structure, so responsive to the Spirit, so diverse in people groups, so quick to spread and take root and so centred on Jesus and his kingdom.

Messy Church is arguably one of the movements within the church in the West which behaves most like a wild weed, seeding itself in unlikely places (Trinidad and Tobago! Uppsala! Los Angeles!), championed by unlikely heroes (invisible, middle-aged lay women!) and ignored, patronised or despised by many in the very churches to which it brings new life and hope. The repeated regret voiced at training sessions among practitioners, who fill the building with new families every month, is, “People in my church think it’s not worth doing because nobody new has come to church from it.”

In the Messy network, we’re very conscious that we have the luxury of relying on the structural procedures maintained by the inherited denominations (safeguarding procedures, accountability, buildings!!!) While Messy Church at its best can burst out in uninhibited creativity, taking risks and failing without destroying everything around it, crossing denominational boundaries, giving leadership responsibilities to 8 year olds and 88 year olds, it’s harder for an inherited church to be as open to risk and, by definition, failure. 

I wonder if the perfect relational tension is one that pivots on celebration, a core Messy value? In the real world – one in which the wild and the familiar will need to co-exist for some years to come – can we not indulge in the discipline of rejoicing in the differences God sends our way? If the energetic hospitality of the new can celebrate the protective structures of the ‘established’ that enable it to happen; if the safe, solid and stable ‘inherited’ can celebrate the experimental liberation of the new, both working together to bring new people towards Jesus, surely this symbiotic ecology makes everyone a winner? And far more importantly, makes the Kingdom the winner.

Lucy Moore is the founder and team leader of Messy Church at The Bible Reading Fellowship and author of books about intergenerational worship and Messy Church, the most recent being a co-authored book Messy Discipleship (BRF March 2021)

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Read more on rewilding – Rewilding the Church by Steve Aisthorpe