Messy Togetherness: Being intergenerational in Messy Church
Church Times Bookshop £8.10
FROM the introduction: “This book focuses on the ‘all-age’ value of Messy Church. Why do more and more people advocate that the generations should develop their faith together, and what does the Bible have to say about it? . . . Is it really practical and possible to have an experience of church in which the youngest to the oldest share the same meeting space, service theme and time to worship? Messy Church is claiming that this can and does happen.”
So Martyn Payne sets out his stall in this — the fifth, by my reckoning — of the theory of Messy Church books that BRF is releasing to encourage users to understand and stick by the theology and values that underpin the Messy concept.
It is a super book to read. Payne has a light touch, and examples to illustrate the theory are plentiful, springing from his work visiting and encouraging Messy congregations. They are also encouraging to the reader, and sometimes challenge those of us who worship in less Messy churches.
As you would expect, Payne is very positive about the advantages of intergenerational worship. It is something that many dioceses are encouraging churches to engage with in these days when few or no children and young people come to church; and for many Messy congregations, this is the place where whole families come together.
But he is also very straight about the importance of not letting parents get away with what might be called a child-care approach, where the children join in while the parents simply sit round the edge. He thus emphasises the importance of training and support for the vast number of people needed to ensure that Messy is intergenerational.
And therein lies the nub of it: intergenerational worship is deeply challenging for many, and is costly in terms of preparation time and creativity. It also involves a sea-change in the way in which many churches regard children and young people and what they bring rather than what we give them — this is ministry with children and their families, not to, as we say in Canterbury diocese.
The last chapter gives three “how to do it” sessions, carefully chosen to represent the full canon. They are very good — maybe those of us who “do Messy” need to compare our offerings with these suggestions, and do a quick audit of where we let our standards drop.
Messy Church was created to be intergenerational. It is a poorer model of ministry if we cheat and take the easy way by removing some of the generations because of when, how, and where we offer it.
The Revd Ronni Lamont is Faith and Nurture Adviser for the diocese of Canterbury.