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Messy Church Goes Wild

RM's Simon Mattholie caught up with the new Messy Church Ministry Lead, Aike Kennett-Brown.

Aike has been involved with Messy Church since 2010 when her children were small. She volunteered at her local Church, running the toddler group and creche. The minister challenged the Church to engage in a year of outreach across the various groups. Having been aware of Messy Church, Aike decided to launch one in her Church, leading to a call to retrain, leaving her career as an osteopath and following God’s calling into children’s and family ministry. Aike takes up the story:

“Over seven years, my Messy adventures included growing a team of Messy Young leaders, many weekend Messy Camps, taking Messy Church to the local Parksfest and hosting Messy Munch, an intergenerational small group. I joined the Diocese of Southwark in 2017, supporting parishes in their ministry with children, young people, and families. This included hosting Messy Celebrations at Southwark Cathedral exploring Messy Communion and Baptism.”

So, how did that lead to being where you are now?

“I knew Lucy Moore, and in October last year, Lucy rang and mentioned a job that sounded a lot like her current role. My initial reaction was to turn this job down, but I muttered something about praying about it. Whilst away on a family holiday in Cornwall, I prayed about it and was given two quite distinct bible passages. The first was Moses and the burning bush, and how Moses gave numerous excuses as to why he couldn’t lead the people, only for God to promise to equip him and be with him. The second passage is from Mark 5, where Jesus is asked to go to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter, but he is delayed. The consequence is that the daughter dies. However, Jesus’ response to her death was, ‘don’t be afraid, just believe.’ I sensed God was prompting me to go for the role, so at the end of the week, I applied, and here I am!”

Is there anything specific you sense the Holy Spirit asking of you in your new role?

“I believe God has given me three words; Sustainable, intergenerational and discipleship, and it is these three areas that I want to focus on.”

Discipleship is an interesting topic, as Messy Church has not been without its critiques, especially on this topic.

“Messy Church undertook a lot of research on discipleship; some of this was conducted pre-pandemic and others during the COVID outbreak. We discovered that a lot of discipleship happens with the core team. If you lead a Bible study with the planning team to cover the topic that week, it is surprising how much people take on board. Many of the people in my core team are now in significant leadership roles in other places; they all grew in their discipleship journeys through being part of the Messy Church team. I also did a lot of discipleship with the teenagers and got them to help plan the sessions. Some helped write dramas, coming up with different ideas, and helped co-leading even though they were still on a faith journey. Now many are either 6th formers or at university, where they are involved in preaching and worship leading. Messy Church can provide a great nurturing place to grow people in faith.”

Messy Church Goes Wild (MCGW) is the latest initiative, using outdoor spaces and nature as a focus. How did this come about?

“In 2013, we interviewed many parents of Messy Church children. We discovered that the unchurched people were keen on social action and environmental stuff, whereas with the churched people, their focus was on telling others about Jesus. So, we began to ask ourselves how we could blend things to bring the two together, as surely the gospel speaks to both. More and more people outside the Christian faith seem to want to engage with nature, and the environment and MCGW enable us to do just that, bringing the best of Messy Church to the outside. It allows the Church to hold a space where people can encounter Jesus, other than in the church building.”

It strikes me that those in the rural context could use our physical location better, which is where MCGW could help. Rather than seeing our location as a problem, it might enable us to see it as a great opportunity. Nevertheless, volunteering is often the biggest challenge for us; what advice might you be able to offer?

“If you are struggling with volunteers, think about how you might work with others in the community. It takes an intentional shift in mindsets. We are building God’s kingdom, not our own little domains, so there needs to be some purposeful ‘laying down’ of things. Think about how you could run MCGW with a community team; who are your people of peace where you live, and how could you draw them in? There are many keen gardeners, forest school people, as well as environmentalists who have become part of MCSW. Think about how we might do MCGW with you, not for you. It is a big culture shift.”

That is so helpful. What final advice would you offer our readers?

“Be bold and be brave to try something new; go out of your Church to a new space and engage with people there. You can still have a blend of indoor and outdoor, but part of our message is we need to think about greening up what we do. Use what is already around you; Messy Church doesn’t have to be hugely expensive to run. Food waste and single-use plastics are a problem; are there better natural resources we can use? Finally, don’t get hung up on the end result; the activities help us come alongside others; they are not to create an art instillation.”

Aike, thank you for your time.

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