Q&A: Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore was part of the team that set up the very first Messy Church in Portsmouth. Now, she is Messy Church team leader and responsible for developing the work of Messy Church nationally and internationally. Co-editor Sam Donoghue caught up with Lucy.

SD: How are you seeing Messy Church developing?

LM: There are lots of people who have heard of Messy Church but don’t know what it is. There’s a long way to go. A lot of people have started because it sounds like a good thing and they think they know what it is, and then have to revisit when it doesn’t quite work – they realise what they’ve been missing by not doing the values or because they’re doing it for children rather than all ages. A lot of people are getting very confident about it which is fantastic and they’re seeing that it works and letting the practice of doing Messy Church change them. A minister emailed me this week and said something along the lines of, ‘Thank you for making me rethink my entire philosophy of ministry!’

SD: Recently you wrote that you might have got some things wrong early on – the idea that an adult wouldn’t come to Messy Church without a child?

LM: Yes – a church can’t be a church if adults can’t come to it on their own. So, yes, it’s a developing thing. We didn’t start out knowing all the answers. We didn’t start out to be a movement. We started out as a thing for our particular parish. It’s not surprising that we’re learning as we go.

Our actions come out of our attitudes

SD: How do you start to solve that problem?

LM: All of us, however long we’ve been doing Messy Church and however well we do it, are learning, adapting and developing all the time. You need that humility to say you’re in a position where you need to change. If you’ve been doing it for children and you’ve suddenly realised that being all-age is really important you can make incremental changes that don’t cost much. Things like the language you use, how you address people (and who you address), the way that people sit in the celebration… are you asking the children to come and sit at the front therefore excluding the adults? We need to say, ‘Sit with the person you’ve come with.’ It’s stuff like that that brings people together and gives power back to the parents. At the activity tables, provide the activity for adults as well as for children. If the adults don’t want to do it, that’s fine. They might want to help their children. But, assuming that they want to do it is very powerful.

Look at your publicity and think about what you’re saying and the way you say it. For example, many churches put Messy Church on their website in their children’s slot. That’s fine but is that where it belongs if you’re trying to be for all ages?

We hear things like, ‘We had 36 children at Messy Church this month.’ But it turns out that there were adults as well but they don’t count!

SD: What’s in your thinking right now? You’ve just written on Messy hospitality: is that fresh in your mind?

LM: That’s something I’ve become very interested in and passionate about – not just for Messy Church, but for all expressions of churches. I think it’s one of the fundamental principles of what the gospel is about. It’s at the heart of who God is. We see Jesus as this amazing host who made himself vulnerable as a guest and then was exalted back to being a host again. Have we got the understanding that we’re actually guests at God’s table, rather than the hosts at our own table?

SD: As a children’s leader what are the things I need to learn about hospitality?

LM: The illustration I use in the book is the mythological character Procrustes. He’s a fabulous character, a real bad guy. He welcomes strangers and travellers into his lonely house and offers them hospitality. Then he straps them to a bed and he insists they need to be the right size. If they are too short, he stretches them on a rack. If they’re too tall, he cuts bits off them until they are the right size – it’s horrific! It’s a myth about the exploitative possibilities within hospitality: ‘This is my house – you’re going to fit into my way of doing things and become the person in the shape that I want you to be.’ There’s a benevolent side of that in children’s work, but there’s also a sinister side.

I think it’s a power thing that we need to be very careful of in our children’s work. We need to be good hosts like Jesus. He was prepared to receive from the people he sat with, that was the exciting thing. In feeding the 5,000, who was the host? In a way you could say Jesus was because he fed them bread and fishes, but you could say it was the little boy. He provided the food in the first place. The little boy comes up and says: ‘Here’s what I’ve got. What are you going to do with it?’

A church can’t be a church if adults can’t come to it on their own

I think I’m learning something about being in an attitude of receiving from the outsider, as well as trying to be both the lifeboat crew and the person who is served. Belonging in a church is about feeling that you have something to give. If you’re always being given to, you just become a consumer. It’s the same in children’s work. Do we sit down and make space for the children to provide for us? Or are we always the host with the most who provides everything?

SD: How do you receive those gifts?

LM: I think hospitality takes space and time and an attitude of listening. Rather than busting in with answers all the time, let’s ask questions and believe that the other person’s opinion is just as valid and might actually teach you something. That’s what Jesus did with the Syro-Phoenician woman and the Roman centurion. He was surprised by these outsiders and he delighted with them. He made space for them to demonstrate to the religious people and the disciples what the reality of the situation was. I think that’s something our children can do for us. We should listen, make space and want children to share their viewpoints and their stories, accepting that they have something to offer.

SD: How does that work in Messy Church?

LM: Externally, you’re welcoming families, providing the best you can offer and making space for them to feel the abundance of God and God’s provision. But I think you can do Messy Church badly! You can tick all the boxes, but there won’t be a breath of God’s Spirit within it, because it’s just doing the mechanics. We have to seek to bring that attitude of hospitality into every element of Messy Church. Am I being hospitable in the conversation that I’m having as I pass a family in the corridor? It’s the spontaneous, serendipitous moments that show who we are and what our community is, rather than the big, planned out things.

SD: It’s 13 years since Messy Church was launched. Where do you think we might be in 26 years?

LM: I think what it will do more and more is help people to see a different way of doing church, and that hospitable attitude will have a knock-on effect in the rest of church services. I hear people saying that they feel close to God in Messy Church and that they’re serving other people, worshipping God in themselves and helping others to worship him. They feel they’re getting that in Messy Church in spades but they’re not getting that from more traditional church. People are very loyal to their local church and want to stick with it, and I think that good will filter through, but there will be a change of attitude as new people take on leadership in the Church. I don’t ever want it to be a conflict between traditional church and Messy Church.

It’s not that you’re doing Messy Church to get people to come on a Sunday but for the Sunday congregation to say that they need to change for the sake of the gospel and for the outsiders who need to hear more of the love of God. We’re still so far from that in many churches. Not every church, but so many churches seek to do church for the people who are already there, rather than deciding to be church for people who aren’t yet. There are so many exciting directions.

It would be lovely to have more opportunities to learn from the Messy Churches overseas, and in different denominations and how they are bringing their skills to bear. The blokes doing Messy Church and reaching dads and granddads and boys… and the women with all their hospitality and service and warmth… Learning from each other and with each other. Teenagers would be an exciting thing to spend more time on.

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