Jesus tells of the story of the mustard seed;
“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.’ (Mark 4v30-31)
This is how God works, both in the natural world but also through people and the church. It might be said to describe the journey of Messy Church. Starting from a pioneering experiment in one community in 2004, it has grown to nearly 4,000 Messy Churches in over 30 countries. It’s church, but not as you know it! With values of celebration, creativity, hospitality, Christ-centredness that shape its life – described by George Lings in “Messy Church Theology” (2013) as its DNA – it’s not a church where you sit still. Like creation, it is full of movement, joy, and mess all together expressing community with Christ.
The values of Messy Church connect with the Signals of Transcendence that Peter Berger suggested in “A Rumour of Angels” (1969) are hallmarks of humanity’s search for the divine. These include a propensity to play, connecting with the divine creativity found with creation, along with a desire for order in life, met in the welcome of Messy Church communities. And the near-universal experience of wonder in the face of the vastness and otherness of creation chimes with celebration focused upon Jesus through which the wonder of the creator is found. Perhaps these resonances are one of the reasons why this Fresh Expression of Church has connected with so many people of all ages, whether of faith or with no previous experience of church, providing a place to belong as they explore and live out the Christian faith together.
As with many church activities over the past 18 months of the Covid emergency, Messy Church has changed in the way it expresses itself. Some have gone online. Others have focused on home activities. Some have moved outside and begun to experience the wonder of creation and discover through it the wonder of the creator. And so a new project was born – “Messy Church Goes Wild”!
Messy Church Goes Wild responds to the experience of many through the Covid emergency who have re-connecting with their local environment, together with the growing calls from children and young people for a response to the climate and environmental crisis. This perhaps goes beyond anxiety for the future of their world. Research among primary school children by David Hay and Rebecca Nye reported in “The Spirit of the Child” (2006) suggests they often connect the natural world and spiritual experiences, a sense of the beyond, connecting with Messy Churches value of celebration. The natural world also displays divine creativity, which our own human creativity mirrors. The move outdoors to explore and express Christian faith within creation also provides an opportunity to share hospitality beyond the human community to the whole community of creation, which Richard Bauckham in “The Bible and Ecology” (2014) stresses humanity is a part. And beyond facts, figures, and science about the dangers of climate change to the whole community of creation, perhaps this sense of common sharing with the natural world is the key to transforming our behaviour as human beings to make more room for other species on the planet.
So, why am I sharing this with the JRI community? Messy Church Goes Wild has been given grant funding by “Scientists in Congregations” to develop Twelve Messy Adventures that will enable Messy Churches to get outside and explore their local environment. “Scientists in Congregations” is part of the wider “Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science” run out of St John’s College in Durham and encourages scientists in the Christian community to engage with science and faith issues within the local church.
The Messy Adventures will focus upon different topics which connect widely with environmental issues such as land, water, weather, plants, and trees, as well as the human experience of the environment. A key part of these activities will be exploring the environment and nature using simple science experiments that families can share together. Previously, Messy Church Does Science has used science experiments to help people who come to Messy Churches to see that science and faith do not have to be against one another but can work together to enable a greater appreciation of both the natural world and faith. This involves “Big Thinking”, introducing people to scientific concepts in an understandable way – we have found primary school and lower secondary school level enables a wide range of people to be engaged. And “Big Thinking” raises “Big Questions” that explore some of the “wondering” questions that science throws up linked to spirituality and faith.
This is where the scientific experience of JRI members, associates, and friends comes in. We are looking to partner with Messy Church Goes Wild in providing advice and development of the science element of the Messy Adventures. We already have some people who are helping as science advisors to the project and are open to more people joining and sharing their scientific skills and interest.
JRIs partnership with Messy Church Goes Wild is an exciting new opportunity to connect science, the environment, and Christianity in fresh ways that will widen the engagement of our community. It will also enable us to help to inspire younger generations, anxious about the future of their planet, to understand and connect with issues around the climate and environmental crises we face. Sowing small seeds that through the years will grow, enabling creation to provide a continuing home for all the community of creation, an expression of God’s coming Kingdom.
If you would like to explore sharing in the Messy Church Goes Wild project and the development of science activities for the Messy Adventures please contact, Dave Gregory, the Chair of JRI, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The session topics we are looking for scientific advice on are; Wildness and Wilderness, Water, Soil and Rock, Sand and Mud, Plants and Trees, Weather, Birds, Insects and Minibeasts, Animals and Fish, Human Beings, Movement, Energy, Stillness and Space and Change, Growth and Seasons.