Lockdown stories: creating connections in Messy Churches
To mark the anniversary of Lockdown 1 on 23 March, representatives from across the BRF ministries are sharing their stories: the ups and downs, the highs and lows. Today we're sharing the story of Nicky Worrall, Messy Church leader a St Mark’s, Grenoside:
As I write, it is now more than a year since Messy Church at St Mark’s last met. It was St Valentine’s Day and I wasn’t able to be there as I was attending a funeral. The next Messy Church would have been 20 March, the week where everything started to close. Suddenly each group that I was due to run simply didn’t. On 23 March I collected my daughter from university and we got home to the announcement that we were in lockdown and must stay at home.
I think of Lockdown 1 as a time in which I was thankful for so much. We had a garden that was coming to life, the weather was lovely and I enjoyed the daily walk from home and having my daughter with me.
My job description expanded overnight as everything went online and priorities changed. For our Messy Church, the first thought was to make contact and let everyone know we were still there for them, the second was to find a way to do it from home. This birthed Messy Easter online where all the usual up-front content was filmed in our back garden. My daughter filmed me and the usual range of activities ideas were emailed out. Although daunting at first, it was fun and engaged our families who sent in photos of their crafts and Easter gardens. There was a real sense of ‘we can do this!’
With Messy Church, the spring and summer passed with Messy Church @home sessions being sent monthly and checking in with families in between.
The new school year and no sign of returning to in-person Messy Church brought a new challenge. At times over the whole period I have felt like I was sending words into the ether without knowing if anyone was engaging. I was really inspired by Rachel Turner’s talk at the Playtime Conference when she spoke about being salt and this helped me to re-evaluate priorities. I felt that preserving relationships was our focus and this was backed up by the idea that content didn’t matter so much as contact.
I realised that Messy Church in a Bag would provide the opportunity to connect with our families in person. Over the autumn and winter, we did a Messy Church in a Bag, Light Party in a Bag and a Nativity Trail with goody bags. Each of these gave an opportunity to bless families and an opportunity for the team to be together, in a distanced way, to pack bags or help at collection points. For those who couldn’t collect we did doorstep drop-offs. We all appreciated seeing each other and those brief opportunities to catch up with our families.
For the last few months I’ve not worried too much about content so much as making everything an opportunity for connection, not just with Messy Church families but also baby and toddler group families, church families and the wider community.
Points of light in the darkness? We gave out double the number of bags for the Nativity Trail than we’d given for the Light Party reaching many families in the wider community. The description from one of my team of hearing a child shout ‘I’ve found Jesus!’ was priceless. Doorstep visits, chats in the woods and on the street have all been highlights. We were involved in a local Christmas tree trail and seeing families enjoying the trail around the village was wonderful. Speaking to people and realising that they’ve appreciated the emails and contact has been so encouraging.
If I’m completely honest, right now I’m tired and some days feel especially hard. I really feel the loss of in-person contact, especially as so much of my work is about relationship. However, today I opened an email from one of the mums who brought her son to baptism, has been to toddler groups and was part of Messy Church. Contact has been limited over the past year but she wanted to let me know that they are expecting a new baby in April and can’t wait to see us all. Those are the things that are special. God is good and God is faithful. I find encouragement in knowing that new life continues, our families are still there and they are ready to come back when we can safely reopen.
Nicky Worrall is mum to one daughter, now at university, and loves walking and generally being outside in green spaces. She was a primary school teacher for 28 years and is now a full time Children and Families Worker at St Mark’s, Grenoside, leading a Messy Church and various groups for children and families.