Adventures at the Messy Church International Conference

Contributed by: Cathy Brackin

I recently returned from five days in the English countryside immersed in the Messy Church International Conference. What is Messy Church? It’s a movement that started in the Church of England in 2004 and has spread to 30 different countries and many denominations. Children and adults together share the faith in a relaxed setting, while exploring a Bible story through crafts, games, worship, and a meal. All Messy Churches subscribe to five values: all age, creativity, hospitality, celebration, and Christ-centered.

I first wrote about Messy Church on this site last year, and if you’d like to know more about Messy Church at Holy Family Church, please read that story.

One hundred and fifty clergy and laypersons from all over the world gathered in Alfreton, England, united in our love of Jesus and all-age ministry. Our venue was the Hayes, a Christian conference center about 150 miles north of London. I was part of a delegation of six Americans, but the only one from the Episcopal Church.

The conference was as much a spiritual retreat as it was practical training. We started each day with “dwelling in the word” and teaching from Dr. Paula Gooder, a New Testament scholar and chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral. One of the themes that emerged was our call. Who has God called us to be thus far and who is he calling us to be now? The paradox is that God loves us exactly as we are, yet he has a vision of how we can become more Christ-like.

The attendees experienced Messy Church sessions. We had the opportunity to go around to each activity station and explore the Bible story just as the families in our local Messy Churches do. Then we had “celebration” time with the entire group together. Celebration is what we call our worship, as we hear the story and respond with song and even some dancing.

Breakout workshops were offered on topics such as storytelling, science, social media, and unleashing creativity in all age groups. Three exuberant teenage boys from the UK were full participants in the conference. They created a huge Leviathan puppet and paraded it around the room during the Job story celebration. Awesome! The young men even led a workshop on how to appeal to older children and teens.

The last two days of the conference were for the key world leaders. Each country gave its report on what God is doing in their Messy Church. Team USA presented our report and we heard from Germany, Sweden, Norway, South Africa, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK. Each group was lifted up in prayer.

The best part of the conference was forming friendships. I had only met the other Americans on Zoom prior to the conference. We will now have a bond from this shared experience. I shared meals with Swedish Lutherans, German Catholics, Norwegians from the Protestant Church, and our Anglican siblings, of course. The realization that our Messy Church at Holy Family is part of something much bigger had a profound effect on me.

The next conference will be in 2025. I plan to be there, God willing. Maybe you will join me. As you can tell, Messy Church is one of my favorite topics, so feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more.