Messy Church to start at Cunningham United Methodist

By Page H. Gifford

Cunningham United Methodist Church is starting a program known as “messy church.” Many will wonder what exactly is messy church and what is included in the program.

“Messy Church is an intergenerational “come as you are” congregation, exploring the Bible with creativity to find joy and deepen our relationship with God and one another,” said spokesperson Carla Lee. “Messy Church is a non-traditional model of being a church that is particularly suited to families but is welcoming to everyone. Every child is accompanied by an adult, providing opportunities for all types of families to have fun and learn about God together.”

According to Lee, it is very informal; a departure from the formality of church in the past decades when everyone had to sit quietly, adhering to the religious rituals. It was expected of past generations and the children who grew into adults accepted the somber and reverent traditions of the churches they attended. But in many churches, some of the past rituals have been dismissed as too strict, opening the door for a much different way of learning and teaching religious education.

Lee describes a typical visit to a messy church.

“As people trickle in, you’ll get a warm welcome and snacks at the check-in/registration station. You’re invited to play games or start at the activity stations where there will be different activities to do. You might want to do something together as a family or as an adult/child pair, or you might join with others while you chat and get active and creative. It’s a very free and easy time.”

 She adds that at the end of the activities everyone moves into the sanctuary for a short 15-20 minute celebration, singing worship songs, hearing Bible stories, and to pray. Then everyone sits down to enjoy a meal together.

The Messy Church program started in the United Kingdom but has spread to the United States. It began in 2004 at a local church in the United Kingdom with one of the original team members, Lucy Moore. As Messy Church grew, Moore helped the Christian Charity BRF (Bible Reading/Fellowship) become the home of the ministry when training and resources began to be needed for other churches to start their Messy Church. Messy Church has since spread to almost 30 countries and across denominations.

Pastor Amy Grant was aware of the program and several of the CUMC Cunningham UMC became interested in starting Messy Church in early 2020. A small group visited a Messy Church in Williamsburg to get an idea of what it was like and would it be a good fit for them.

  “Unfortunately, we had to put our plans for Messy Church on hold when COVID came to the area but feel that now is the time to start getting messy,” said Lee.

The catchphrase for the global Messy Church movement is “Church, but not as you know it.” The purpose is to help people of all ages learn and explore the Bible with creativity and joy while deepening their relationship with God and one another. It differs from traditional church activities in several ways: It is informal—no dressing up required, It keeps all ages together through all activities, instead of segregating them by age and It is more active and participatory than most traditional services. Talking and movement are encouraged in messy church. The most notable feature is it is not held on Sunday mornings.

All this is a departure from church services of the past, exercising strict fundamentalism. Although Seventh Day Adventists and some Catholic churches have services on Saturday, it is not unusual. Palmyra United Methodist had worship services during the week for those who could not attend on Sunday because they had to work. It is about accommodating a new way of living for those in today’s society.

“The program is open to everyone but will particularly interest people who are interested in

exploring being part of a church family, but don’t find the traditional Sunday service fits into their life,” said Lee. “People looking to grow in their faith together as a family while having fun and people who are interested in learning more about God as well as parents and other adults who’d like to get to meet and interact while doing activities with their children or grandchildren.”

CUMC may be presenting a program that will serve as a model for many area churches and the future of church services in the future. Some may view it as sacrilegious, but in today’s generation with so much happening so fast, this may be the new wave of religious experience that brings people together in a way most of us are not used to but has many benefits and still preserves worship in the church.

CUMC will hold Messy Church on the 1st Tuesday of the month, from 5 -7 p.m.  beginning Dec. 7.  For more information and to pre-register visit  For more information, contact the church office at There is no charge (although a donation to the cost of the meal and activities is always welcomed.)

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