by Anna Kroehn
Messy Church in Waikerie in South Australia’s Riverland began in 2017 as a missional experiment. We were trying to create a Christian learning and celebrating environment to engage our children and the school families we connect with.
It has since become a preferred church community for many families in our region. Anecdotally, we know that some people call Messy Church their church and unapologetically do not go to Sunday morning worship anywhere else.
Now Messy Church is one of the greatest hopes our local church has for the future in terms of newcomer attendance at church, relationship building and discipleship.
In 2019 we had 125 people register at Messy Church, including helpers. These 125 people represented 28 families, nine grandparents of children in attendance, 67 children under the age of 14 – or 53 per cent of the total attenders – and 14 adult helpers who attended without a child.
Of the families, 10 are not worshipping members of any other church. Sixteen of the families have children enrolled at Waikerie Lutheran Primary School, while 15 either have previously attended or currently attend Mainly Music. Three Messy Church families come from other Lutheran churches in the Riverland region, while two come from the Waikerie Uniting Church.
Overall, approximately one-third of Waikerie Messy Church members are new to church or were not previously worshipping anywhere else, one-third are local parish members and one-third belong to other churches. Attendance month by month in 2019 varied from 47 people up to 71.
Every Messy Church is an opportunity for well-formed Christians to share their faith as they come alongside, befriend and do messy activities, like arts and crafts, with the families in attendance.
Each session has a theme and the activities explore a teaching – a bit like a sermon, but hands-on! We have 10 to 15 minutes of celebrating our learning from activity time, sing songs, watch a video, drama or reading of the story, and pray together. We finish by sharing dinner.
One of my favourite parts comes after the mess. During the clean-up we find the artwork, treasures and forgotten pieces people have worked on during the evening. Some of them are quite powerful. This is a reminder to me to never underestimate what God is doing in those activities! Sometimes children and adults will lay bare very honest requests at prayer stations or in self-reflection activities.
Some of my most treasured moments during Messy Church – and those of other helpers – are talking to kids at our stations about the evening’s story and topic. Once we discussed how they would feel if an angel appeared to them to tell them they were brave and mighty, and to not be afraid because God is with them, like God did to Gideon. I was talking to two young girls and they asserted that this probably wouldn’t happen to them because the Bible is mostly full of ‘boy stories’. I had the privilege to tell them that there were amazing Bible stories about God using women for mighty brave acts, too.
And that’s how we plan our sessions. We listen to the Holy Spirit as a team, discuss emerging themes and questions our Messy Church attendees have and then plan sessions to address them.
In 2019, we hosted holy communion for the first time at our post-Easter session about the Road to Emmaus and we will celebrate it again in 2020.
Waikerie Parish Pastor Lee Kroehn supports us to deliver these special parts of worship in appropriate ways for new or not-yet Christians, in line with our Lutheran beliefs and values.
Another huge highlight from the past year of Messy Church included a baptism at the school after the young person expressed his wish to be baptised. This was a gradual process of him attending Messy Church regularly, together with parish services at the school and worship at Waikerie Lutheran Church on some Sunday mornings. We are thankful for the mentoring and support provided through many people. The parish has also been able to support the further discipleship of this young person by sponsoring his attendance at Lutheran holiday camps – JC Life (Junior Christian Life) and Christian Life Week.
We continue to pray for those families who are coming to Messy church even though they do not necessarily profess faith but enjoy belonging to our community. And we look for practical ways to show love to these families. Most people new to Christian faith and communities belong before they believe these days.
We invite you to keep us, and the families we meet with, in your prayers. Please also pray specifically for our leadership to be sustained in energy and time, for the right helpers to be available and for the growth conversations we have each time about faith and life and God’s great love for us all.
Anna Kroehn is a member of the Messy Church Core Team, along with Alison Wurst and Melissa Pipikos, for Waikerie Lutheran Parish in South Australia. Anna is also chairperson of the LCA/NZ’s Committee for New and Renewing Churches.