November 4, 2023
KINGSTON — If you want to see a “messy church,” head to Kingston Congregational Church.
The inside is quite clean, by the way.
And that’s the paradox — it is part of the “Messy Church” movement that for some services sheds routine and almost anything goes. Call it messy.
At one service, Rev. Reverend Jan Gregory-Charpentier brought some dissolving paper to the service dedicated to this off-beat ministry that aims to snag the interest of those staying away from traditional Sunday services.
“I told the biblical story of Christ walking across the water and his disciples were really frightened,” she recalled, pointing out this was aimed at children and is also non-denominational and open-to-all-ages program.
“We talked about fears and how they affect us, scare us,” she said. “We said a little prayer about strength and then each person wrote on the paper some fear they had,” she said.
One child, who had just come from the Washington County Fair, wrote “ferris wheel.” She laughed and added, “I think he was still afraid of that and it stuck with him.”
Next, they dropped them one by one into a bowl of water. The paper with their fears started to dissolve in it.
“It showed them that with some prayer, fears can diminish or go away,” the pastor said. It’s not exactly a routine part of Sunday services, but in a “Messy Church” this hands-on or experiential involvement — for children or adults — can make learning about religious faith exciting and fun.
Searching for a Faith Community
Kingston Congregational Church’s description of that kind of service aims for a group of people searching for a faith community and wanting something different than the traditional.
“If you have attended church for a long time, Messy Church may not look like church to you. At Messy Church, all ages meet together to learn about Christ through games, crafts and activities, music, and storytelling from the Bible,” it says and is posted online on the church’s website at https://bit.ly/kingcongmessychurch.
“A foundational ingredient of Messy Church is to gather around a table for a snack or meal and build relationships with each other, God, and the world,” it says.
Gregory-Charpentier said that the program run for the last year is still in its proving stages. About 10 people are trying out the program and some other church members have attended the sessions.
“It is really an experiment. It has an unknown outcome at this point. We don’t know yet if there’s a lot of people looking for a faith community outside of the Sunday service,” she said.
“Our hope was that this would be for those who don’t have one,” she noted, adding that the church is attempting to get more publicity to make people aware of it.
Shelley Monahan and her daughter have attended this unique service.
“I chose to go to Messy Church because my daughter loves going to church school at King Cong,” said Monahan.
“We love the crafts and activities at Messy Church and it’s also nice to have a meal together with everyone who attends. We will definitely be going back. We hope that more people can hear about the program and attend too!,” she said.
“The church I was trained for is not the church I am serving,” said the pastor who went to the seminary in 1988. It’s become incredibly clear that organized religion in our place and time is dramatically different.”
It means some house cleaning and re-arranging, such as having a “Messy Church” is apt to happen, she said.
“Every 500 years or so churches have had a yard sale, all the trappings are put out, picked over and re-organized,” Gregory-Charpentier said. “What is good is that we have a beautiful model at the center of our purpose when we are at our best. We are falling away from the super-structure church.”
New Ideas and Approaches
It means that new ideas, different approaches and a wider — perhaps beyond just the denomination served — community-oriented focus is developing.
Various other local churches, including St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea in Narragansett with the food pantry, Peace Dale Congregational Church with its twice weekly dinner table, environmental sustainability missions and newly started thrift store and St. Thomas More Catholic Church with its knitting and food ministry for the poor, are among many congregations in South County engaged in community services.
The next KCC “Messy Church” session is scheduled for Nov. 19 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the church, located at 2610 Kingstown Road in Kingston.
The program is affiliated with Messy Church USA, a nonprofit ministry of the All Age Faith Formation 501c3 nonprofit.
Its website notes that it supports local leaders and congregations by providing training and resources for intergenerational disciple formation in Christian-centered, hands-on exploration of faith based on creativity, hospitality and celebration.
Gregory-Charpentier said Kingston Congregational wants to use this to “meet people where they are. Perhaps they don’t have time for church on Sunday mornings, or that as a family they have other activities or sports they do.”
The message for those interested is: “We want to ‘get to know you,’ is the message — you are our community and we want to serve your real needs that are meaningful to you,” she said.
On a church mission level, it’s also direct.
“How do we become a partner in the wider community for the people we live with,” she asked and then answered by pointing to this program and others.
This past week, it sponsored a Halloween “Trunk or Treat” by bringing the community together in which community members decorate the trunks of their cars with festive Halloween decorations. Children in their costumes went around and collected treats from those participating.
In addition, this last Sunday the church held its monthly community dinner. Everyone in the community is welcome to attend.
“We always look forward to offering warm hospitality to anyone that would enjoy a free meal and it’s all about eating together.
“Our goal isn’t to get more members for our church, it’s to feed people. It’s not a soup kitchen. That is something different,” she said, noting that nearby University of Rhode Island students in need of a meal and others attend.
“By partnering with everyone in these different events, we share hope. It feels like win, win, win,” she said.
Write to Bill Seymour, a freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at email@example.com.