WHEN my son was a teenager, he was in hospital after an accident. A friend sent him a Get Well card, and I opened it for him and read out the message: “Get messy soon!” I asked my son what this meant. Was it anything to do with making dens, water fights, or craft activities? “No,” he replied. “It means ‘Let’s go out and get drunk.’”
So, when I saw the title of this book, I thought, at first, that it was about teenage drinking. But it’s not that kind of messy.
Messy Church, an initiative that has been going for about 15 years in the UK, seeks to provide a church experience for families who have not found other forms of church engaging. It usually involves paint, glue, glitter, and other messy substances, as craft activities are set up to explore a particular Christian theme or message; and this book is Seriously Messy because it addresses a serious subject: death (Features, 18 October). Is Messy Church a format that can be used to do that?
The book is divided into three Parts. The first gives an overview of the topic and touches on some of the reasons that we find it so challenging to think and talk about death. Part 2 comprises five short theological reflections on how Christians talk about death: remembering; saying goodbye and hello; sleeping tight; being loved and finding safe spaces. Part 3 sets out five Messy Church sessions with suggestions for activities and “celebrations” that could be used as church services.
The first two Parts I found helpful, and the whole concept of encouraging intergenerational conversation about death seems a good thing. I struggled, however, with Part 3: some of the activities struck me as too much “fun” for the serious nature of the subject. I could not imagine doing them with someone still in the very raw and early stages of a bereavement.
None the less, I recommend the book. It sets out the theological framework that underpins our Christian hope — that death is not the end, that we do not go into that last goodnight alone, that love triumphs over death. And it encourages us to find ways both to hear people’s doubts and fears and also to bring hope and comfort.
The Revd Martine Oborne is Vicar of St Michael’s, Chiswick, in London.
Seriously Messy: Making space for families to talk together about death and life
Joanna Collicutt, Lucy Moore, Martyn Payne, and Victoria Slater
Church Times Bookshop £8.10