“It’s like church, but for everyone.”: Schools, Messy Hospitality and the Eglise Naissant

Friday is the best day of the week in my job. Not because the weekend is close, but because Friday is my day for school visits. I try and fit three schools in. Collective worship, tour, conversation with the Head and Chair of Governors.

I never cease to be moved at the sacrificial way in which colleagues work for the children in our schools and give of themselves for them. I am also overwhelmed with the quality of the Christian experience children receive in schools and the engagement of parish churches and clergy.

Two weeks ago I was at Wargrave Primary in Newton-le-Willows. After a great act of worship – two Christian songs, prayer and a really excellent presentation by the Deputy Head; I was ready for the tour. The Deputy and I were led by three Year 5 pupils (it was the end of SATs week and Year 6 were enjoying a congratulatory cake).

It was amazing to see the thoughtfulness which had gone into the prayer corners in each room with a different means of concretising prayer in each: pegs, leaves, glitter shakers and more. It was this display that caught my attention though:


‘What’s Messy Church?’ I asked one of my pupil guides, ‘It’s like church, but for everyone.’ Was the telling response. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask more.

Messy Church, a brand run through the Bible Reading Fellowship is creating quite a library of books. I reviewed one here. The latest that I have read is Messy Hospitality by Lucy Moore the founder of Messy Church.

Lucy writes in an engaging style which is never dull. She uses rich, poetic language and imagery, this is a deceptive book. It needs mulling over, perhaps a bit like Messy Church itself which can appear deceptively simple.

I loved Lucy’s opening lines:

“Hospitality is where it’s at. Hospitality is where God’s at. It’s a key that opens the door to the kingdom.”

I referred to the etymology of ‘messy’ in my earlier review and Lucy goes into more detail on that in her introduction to this book. Sadly, she misses the link between ‘messy’ and Mass (Ite MISSA est) which would be a way in for so many Catholic Christians. This is even more sad in that she gets exactly, and it is almost a motif of the book, the dual role that Jesus has as host and guest, that host with its Eucharistic meaning. A further reflection on this would also draw in Jesus as Priest and Victim, and the strong sense in the Mass that what we offer has been given us, the double gift.

Lucy does not pull any punches on the costliness of hospitality; it is a risky business. Another theme of the book. This book epitomises the radical Christian inclusion which our Archbishops have called for. Are those who are ‘queer’, different, not of our tribe really welcome?

Lucy quotes Ian Paul’s blog on what radical hospitality might look like:

  • Seeking to understand
  • Authentically welcoming others and being glad to be with them
  • Caring curiosity
  • Beings friend even though its not your ‘job’
  • Accepting, no matter what
  • Profoundly relational
  • Something that takes time
  • Unnerving, surprising, and easy.

What a beautiful and helpful list.

On the facing page is an equally helpful list for preparing activities. The next list includes the wonderfully challenging:

“Is there any moment when Jesus would not be welcome at our table?”

I particularly like the way in which Lucy sets the scene, the need that the church has to do something different. The barrenness of Sarah at Genesis 18 and the parallel barrenness in too many churches without young people is very powerful.

There are good references to the tradition of hospitality in the monastic tradition and the Rule of St Benedict as well as to current hospitality in the new monastic communities and in some more traditional ones such as Hilfield Friary.

This is an immensely practical book. About a quarter of the book is taken up with very helpful examples of activities, the activities are given clear aims. The practicality also emerges in the  section on safeguarding and even on hygiene issues and the law. Each chapter ends with a  set of questions for discussion/thought.

Having spent the eight years of my headship living under a set of values that included ‘a place at the table’ I like these four tables of messy church:

Welcome

Activities

Celebration

Meal

Those same values included the importance of listening. Lucy stresses the need for “three-dimensional listening – listening to God, to each other and to the community we are trying to serve”.

Like any good teacher Lucy knows the importance of transition moments and of making sure that people are not sitting around waiting for things to start.

For me, the weakest chapter is that on hospitality at the Lord’s Table. Not helped by Lucy’s confessing to a deep phobia about well dressed altars which just seems unnecessary and raised my hackles a little – an uncharacteristically negative moment. But perhaps the real issue is that despite this chapter, and that by Philip North in Being Messy, Being Church, there is still more work to be done on the relationship between Messy Church and Eucharist.

Hospitality in a Messy Home (Chapter 5) is particularly strong because it is written with such humility. Many of us who would claim to embrace the concepts of hospitality and community struggle to do this at the most personal level – in our own homes. There is very good food for thought in this chapter.

This is yet another book from the Messy Church stable that must be essential reading. The community of priests I belong to is partly inspired by the Society of Mary, founded in the nineteenth century by Fr Jean
-Claude Colin, he writes about the Eglise naissant, the church being born. I have no doubt that Messy Church is part of the church being renewed, being born, in our time. In the diocese of Liverpool we are determined that our schools be part of this birth, with new worshipping communities and new opportunities for leadership. I can’t do better than quote Lucy Moore’s final sentence in this excellent book

“I dream of a church with hospitality in the heart and on the face of every member.”

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