Being Messy, Being Church edited by Ian Paul

07 July 2017

Catherine Pickford on Messy Church debate

THIS book is a collection of essays in which the authors explore what Messy Church brings to the wider Church, how it is changing and grow­­ing, and which questions re­­main as it takes its place as an estab­lished form of modern Christian worship.

The question that arises most commonly for the authors is expressed succinctly by Mark Rylands. He speaks of the expectation that Messy Church congregations have “stepped into the rubber dinghy but won’t properly be on the voyage until they have boarded the Sunday church ship”. The essayists, in different ways, challenge this assumption. In doing so, they address the fundamental questions what church is and what is it for.

Jean Pienaar’s chapter “Making sacred space in messy churches” is particularly interesting in the comparison it makes between the different types of sacred space in a monastery and in a Messy Church setting. She explores the way in which Messy Church, instead of being at the periphery of church, reflects in its format the core values and purpose of worship.

If Pienaar speaks of the way in which Messy Church is deeper than it first appears, Dr Irene Smale adds that its influence is wider than is often thought. She speaks of the relationships and pastoral contacts that go far wider than the monthly meetings.

The essayists are brave and unflinching in their enquiries of Messy Church, and dare to ask questions that we often fail to ask of tradi­tional church. Does Messy Church make disciples? How do we support those for whom Messy Church doesn’t “work”? Is it too messy, too expensive, not engaging enough for boys?

One criticism that could be levied at this book is that there are more questions than answers. On the whole, I think that is a good sign. The essayists, all Messy Church enthusiasts, are not overkeen to leap to its defence in the face of difficult issues. When necessary, they allow the questions to hang in the air in a way that is appropriately messy.

Karen Rooms thanks Lucy Moore for “giving away Messy Church”, so that it can be adapted and context­ualised for each parish. I finished the book excited about where Messy Church would go next, and its potential to play a leading part in the Church in the years ahead.


The Revd Catherine Pickford is Team Rector in the Benwell Team Ministry, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.


Being Messy, Being Church: Exploring the direction of travel for today’s Church

Ian Paul, Editor

BRF £9.99 (978-0-85746-488-0)

Church Times Bookshop £9

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