Messy Church brings celebration, food, crafts and service for adults and children

Marty Drake and Leyla Wagner went to England last year to hear about the mission of this thing called Messy Church straight from the founder’s mouth.

They had no idea the founder would pull them aside and ask them to take the movement back to America with the daunting task of building Messy Church USA.

Eyes popping, the two Huntington Beach women nodded their heads yes, sure, of course, yikes.

One year later, they are about to host the first Messy Church USA Conference. It’s set for Oct. 20 and 21 at the Community United Methodist Church in Huntington Beach.

“It’s kind of a white knuckle, grab-your-socks-Gertrude-we’re-going-for-a-ride,” kind of adventure, Bill Fugard said.

Two dozen churches from England, Scotland, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Arizona, Indiana, Nevada and Illinois are signed up to attend. They represent a variety of denominations: Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Episcopalian and Methodist.

The 3,786 registered Messy Churches around the world are rooted in the Christian faith. “Values are about being Christ-centered,” the UK website states.

How to describe the Messy Church?

It is a ministry for families. But it’s also a ministry for people who don’t like getting up early on Sunday mornings, or don’t like sitting still in pews for an hour or had a bad childhood church experience.

“It’s for people who the traditional Sunday church doesn’t work for them. There are lots of people out there who don’t like the institution of church and they’re miffed by it,” Drake said. “Lots of people have just moved away from church in general. Yet they have this desire to have some kind of spiritual connection. This is a way to do it in a nonthreatening and nonintimidating way. It’s church in a different way; it’s not ritualistic.”

Messy Church is held 5 to 7 p.m. the second Saturday of every month. Members gather on the campus of whatever church is hosting it. (Although once the Huntington Beach Messy Church met at the Shipley Nature Center for garden yoga, composting and clay art.)

It always begins with a meet and greet. Then it moves on to family creative activities based around a story from the Bible, such as the good Samaritan, “about when God calls us to take care of others, even those not like you.” Sometimes activities are centered around a theme, such as “love your neighbor” and “love your world.”

Toward the end of the evening there is about 15 minutes of “celebration,” or worship.

“It’s short, to the point and interactive,” Drake said.

They might pin up a map of the world so people can focus on where they want to send their prayers. Or create a station where members can light candles for friends and family who need prayers.

Always there is a service element to the evening. Recently the Huntington church made dog chew toys for a local animal shelter and blessing bags to hand out to homeless people.

There’s typically music. Not praise music or hymns, but songs of peace and God. The night ends with a family-style meal cooked by volunteers.

“The meal is where a lot of faith is shared,” Drake said. “You sit down and discuss life.”

Last month Drake and Wagner planned for 80 — and 120 showed up.

“These young families, they’re inviting their friends,” Wagner said.

Volunteers had to run to the store to buy more spaghetti so there would be enough for everyone to eat.

One big difference about the Messy Church is that it is led by lay people.

“We aren’t the experts,” Wagner said. “We’re kind of learning it all together. We’re on this journey together.”

While Messy Church is typically hosted at a church, there is typically no crossover.

“It’s kind of a gateway, but we don’t have an expectation that they will become members at our church,” Fugard said. “They may go off and become Baptists.”

Or nothing at all.

“It’s not a goal to have people graduate into real church,” Wagner said. “Messy Church is church.”

It was founded 14 years ago at a small church in England by Lucy Moore.

“In England, everybody has a Messy Church,” Wagner said. “They’re big.”

It’s called Messy Church, because “life is messy,” Wagner said. “You don’t have to wait until you have all your ducks in a row; God meets you wherever you are in the chaos.”

Drake heard about the movement four years ago while working at the Community United Methodist Church, leading the family and youth ministry.

“It’s different than anything we’ve ever done in terms of ministry,” Drake said.

When she and Wagner flew to the conference in England last year, they found only one other American in attendance: Roberta Egli. Egli, who lives in Oregon, is now president of the MCUSA Board. She will fly in for the conference. So will Moore.

There is still time to sign up. Anyone interested can call Drake at (714) 842-4461 or go to the Huntington Beach Messy Church Facebook page.

“We’re all messy,” Drake said. “So you’re all welcome.”

LORI BASHEDA is a contributor to Times Community News.

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