Thursday, 1 April 2010

It’s always been messy

I’ve been reflecting on a comment from Bishop Christopher’s sermon at the Chrism Service this morning in Chelmsford Cathedral. He pointed out that Messy Church is not some recent initiative for outreach and worship coming from the pages of a glossy magazine; it’s what the church has always been called to be. God, in Christ, engaged with the world and it was a messy business. The messiness of slopping water from a bowl as feet are washed; the messiness of the blood, tears and earth at Golgotha; the running, stumbling, breathlessness, confusion and garbled exclamations of Easter Sunday. The church runs the risk of treating messiness as an inconvenience and an embarrassment, when it should be a characteristic of what we are called to in proclaiming the Good News and engaging with the world around us.

As +Christopher spoke I remembered a Maundy Thursday service at Waltham Abbey where I served in the early 1990s. The then Bishop of Chelmsford had come to preside at the evening service and as part of the liturgy there was a foot washing ceremony. The chairs were carefully set out by the vergers, preselected members of the congregation came forward with their feet already scrupulously clean. Shoes and socks were carefully removed and the bishop, in a spotless purple cassock with a perfectly ironed clean towel tucked in his belt, knelt before each and washed their feet. I confess that before the service I had been tempted to tell those chosen for the foot washing to run barefoot around the field next to the Abbey church and tread in some nicely maturing dung. The whole experience was of an expertly choreographed ritual embedded in the liturgy. Was this really what Jesus was about? One of my colleagues commented that a more powerful action would have been for the bishop to go and make the tea for the refreshments after the service and then wash up!

If we follow the example of our Lord then things are bound to get messy; they always have. Messy Church is something we should embrace and rejoice in, not shy away from or try and tidy up.


Tim Goodbody said...

my oil stock leaked into my jacket on the way home so that was pretty messy. Washing feet tonight at Great Saling; anticipating mess!

paul said...

A sermon that started out feeling very cosy and clerical, and then became by turns more and more inspirational. Yes, messy is good, messy is gospel!

BanksyBoy said...

I keep trying to suggest our Maundy Day service should offer to clean peoples shoes, especially after walking through our churchyard!

Shoe shining is one of the humblest of jobs... I totally agree, a planned foot washing (get this, just SINGLE feet in Mersea!) misses the point, it should be about the meaning and not just the ritual.

I rest my rant!