Messy by design

At Messy Church, children learn and worship in many ways. Photo: Bradley Hebdon
At Messy Church, children learn and worship in many ways. Photo: Bradley Hebdon
Published October 1, 2013

This article first appeared in the October issue of the Anglican Journal.

The mess is spreading-Messy Church, that is. Across Canada, people of all ages are coming together to worship, learn, sing, play, talk and eat together in a family friendly style of worship. Messy Church “is springing up all over the place,” says Sue Kalbfleish, team leader of Messy Church Canada, which is a part of the Fresh Expressions team in Canada.

Kalbfleish estimates that there are probably about 100 messy churches across Canada, but she says it’s difficult to know exactly how many may be out there-people sometimes buy U.K. founder Lucy Moore’s books on Messy Church and start creating one without contacting the Canadian Messy Church leaders. There are now messy churches in every province, says Kalbfleish, noting that the U.K website has registered 2,000 messy churches, including some Canadian ones. “Most messy churches in Canada are either in Lutheran churches, Anglican churches or United churches, but there are some in Christian Reform; there might be some Baptists and Presbyterians…” she says.

Kalbfleish and her husband, Andy, who lead Messy Church in the Anglican parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hamilton, and the Rev. Nancy Rowe of St. George’s Anglican Church in Georgetown, Ont., have been leading workshops in this ecumenical movement for about four years. More and more Canadians are contacting them, says Kalbfleish, adding that they offer some Canadian Messy Church resources. Messy Church at St. John’s is typical and is designed particularly with the needs of young families in mind. Kalbfleish notes, however, that Messy Church is intended to be intergenerational, and seniors are welcome. “Children have to bring an adult, but adults don’t have to bring children,” she says.

Sunday services don’t work for many people, says Kalbfleish, so St. John’s holds its celebrations on the third Thursday of each month from about 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. “We look at the whole time as worship,” says Kalbfleish. “People come and go as they need to… It’s hard to get anywhere if you’ve got a bunch of kids to get somewhere on time, so it is very fluid,” she says.

Snacks are offered along with activities related to a biblical theme such as “the good shepherd” at about eight tables, says Kalbfleish. Table-leaders guide the discussion during the activities. “We just watch our language because Messy Church really strives to reach people who are not in churches.” She says many clergy prefer this informal role to presiding over the celebration that follows. “They all say that they have more real time with people,” she says.

Most Messy Church leaders are, however, lay people. Kalbfleish says one young mother was impressed that a lay leader was able to explain the notion of salvation to her five-year-old daughter while they worked on a table activity. Parents, too, she says, ask some “heavy duty” questions.

The celebration generally includes a talk, a story that is acted out, a skit or a video. “We try not to always do it the same way,” Kalbfleish says, adding that each occasion also includes prayer and music and a grace before everyone sits down to dinner . At St. John’s, organizers try to have something for everyone to take home-a reflection to read, recipes or activities for parents to do with children-something help bridge the time until the next Messy Church, says Kalbfleish.


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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