High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom (UK) has provided Christian hospitality for over 90 years. Set in 40 in acres of lawns, parkland and woodland it was a wonderful setting for those of us attending the Messy Church International Conference.  Over 200 delegates from all parts of the world including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA, Sweden, Norway, Isle of Man, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Hungary, Croatia, South Africa and the UK attended. We were amazed to learn that Messy Church in its relatively short life span has spread to over 30 countries around the world.

Waiapu delegates included Bishop Andrew Hedge, Alex and Jocelyn Czerwonka. We were joined by another three New Zealand delegates, Richard and Diane Stevens from Lower Hutt and Mary Addison from Putaruru. Richard is the chairperson for the Messy Church National Team, of which I am a member. Mary is an amazing lady who has been running Messy Church in Putaruru along with her team for over 5 years now.  Her team surprised her by sending the Conference organisers a video to honour the work Mary has done with and through Messy Church in Putararu, reaching families in need and providing pastoral care and nurture to many.   

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From Left – Richard & Diane Stevens, Mary Addison, Jocelyn Czerwonka, Bishop Andrew Hedge & Alex Czerwonka

Messy Church was founded in 2004 by Lucy Moore and there are now over 3,500 registered Messy Churches spread around the world. Lucy was one of many speakers and reminded us that Messy Church is not named because of the ‘mess’ we make at church, but rather because our lives and world are messy, it is a place where people can discover the transformational love of Christ in this messy world.  

Another speaker, Claire Dalpra reported back on a 2 year study of Messy Churches in the UK entitled ‘Playfully Serious –  How Messy Churches create new space for faith’.   Between 2017-2018 the Church Army’s Research Unit in the UK was commissioned by the Archbishops Council to look at the effectiveness and challenges of Messy Church in England.  Playfully Serious shows how Messy Church is not just a bit of fun, but how it reaches people who were previously not attending church.  The report highlighted the significance of Messy Church for discipleship and developing lay leadership.  It showed the Messy Churches that are most effective are those set up as new ‘congregations’ and develop as church together, rather than some that set up Messy Church as an outreach with the hope it will grow their traditional church.  It is a place where people are accepted just as they are.  The report is a valuable read for vestry’s and churches considering or already doing Messy Church.
Copies are available here.

It was interesting to talk and share with people from all over the world who encounter the same critical comments about Messy Church, such as ‘when are people going to start coming to real church’ or ‘it’s not really church’.  However, Messy Church is a fresh expression of church that is reaching today’s generations. It is a church where baptisms and confirmations happen.  It is a church where people gather, break bread together, hear the word of God and learn to be disciples.  It is a church where lay people grow as leaders, where the gospel is gossiped, and where older people learn from younger people and younger people learn from those older.  It is intergenerational.  It is a church securely based on the 5 values of Messy Church:  Christ-Centred, Creativity, Hospitality, All Age, Celebration.  

The conference wasn’t just about reports and presentations, there were numerous workshops to attend, creative prayer spaces, ‘bring and share’ opportunities, celebration times, messy crafts, games and activities.  Most importantly there was time to talk and share with many about the challenges and successes of Messy Church around the world.  
The Aussie and Kiwi delegates met together to discuss how we can further develop trans-Tasman Messy Church relationships, supporting each other and sharing resources.  We hope to work towards a Trans-Tasman Messy Church Conference one day.  

Other highlights included the ‘celebration’ times and the amazing Bible reflections led by Martin Payne (author and co-author of many Messy Church publications) and the music led by Stephen Fischbacher.  We loved seeing our Bishop playing his imaginary trumpet as we all sang “May we have peace, May we have joy…”  ‘Fischy Music’ is available online and well worth paying the annual subscription to use.  

International delegates were invited to stay on for an extra day sharing reports from our own countries, discussing support from Messy Church UK and the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) and how we grow and develop as Messy Churches in our own places.  It was a hugely valuable experience and I would recommend those who are interested to start planning for the next international conference in 2021. In the meantime, you can register your interest for the New Zealand Messy Church conferences next year.  Details are in Upcoming Events on our website.

Having said our goodbyes we all left so much the richer for the experience and the knowledge that we were part of a world-wide Messy Church family that is making a huge impact sharing the gospel in many different countries.  For me, the greatest message that came across very strongly was that ‘Messy Church is working!’  

Article by Jocelyn Czerwonka – Regional Coordinator and Messy Church Advisor to the Waiapu Diocese of the Anglican Church. 

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