“The words ‘Messy’ and ‘Church’ do not usually go together!

When I came across this statement at the beginning of an advert for Messy Church Family Fun Days at a small parish in rural Wales, I was immediately transported back in time to my early days as a Unitarian Universalist.

When I first heard the Rev. Jim Robinson say, “life is messy”, I breathed a sigh of relief. This humble statement offered assuring affirmation that things in life were just as they should be. Like so many others, I was chasing that ever-illusive state of normalcy. After all, the predominate message I had become accustomed to left me believing only my life was complicated. My worldview changed as I adopted this new mantra for life as it is.

With this simple, yet profound wisdom, I answered the call to ministry, whereupon, I quickly learned, not only is life messy, but the work and business of the church is also messy.

All too often people arrive in the pews, halls, and offices of church expecting to find the complicated nature of being human in relationship magically dissolved. We naively assume church must have this aspect of living figured out, so when disputes surface between the ‘righteous’, we observe the unfolding havoc with dismay.

At such times, it is common to hear “I come to church to be uplifted, find peace, and experience God’s grace, I didn’t sign up for this.” Despite thousands of years of dispute and division and denominational splitting, we are utterly disappointed when conflict, tension, triangulation, and splitting arise in the ‘holiest’ of places.

Still, all hope is not lost. Church life is messy and human grace can be experienced in the midst of such turmoil. With healthy church leadership and the willingness of the people to be still and listen, to sit with discomfort and to engage with humility, and lean in curiously, the opportunity for spiritual growth is plentiful.

Indeed, all hope is not lost. God’s grace and human transformation can be found in the work of unpacking conflict, witnessing stories, and discerning resolution. This is the work of church. This is ministry. This is the messy business of walking alongside humanity.