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Concept built around activities for all ages and shared meals at Newberg First United Methodist Church

Messy Church originated in the United Kingdom as a way to engage those who bristle at the prospect of organized religion or who have become disillusioned with traditional church.

That includes children and families, especially in Europe, where secular culture has pushed Christianity toward the fringes of society.

American churches face similar issues, which is why Newberg First United Methodist Church is launching a Messy Church program this weekend.

"We just thought that nobody else was doing anything like this. We have a lot of families that don't do traditional church in our neighborhood, so we thought we'd try it," Pastor Cathy Davis said.

Newberg First United will host Messy church once a month from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays from September through May.

Each session includes family-friendly activities, like arts and craft projects, a worship session of about 15 minutes and a shared meal. For the first year, NFUMC's Messy Church will follow the theme of "Jesus' I am" sayings, beginning with "I am the vine" this weekend.

"We're going to do a lot of things with grapes and vines," Davis said. "In some of the activities you actually make your own dessert, so we'll use things with food and the kids and the families will make what they're going to eat for dessert. There will be opportunities to learn songs for karaoke for older youth. There's prayer stations and all sorts of activities that have to do with the theme."

Messy Church has published three books of activities, but once the program takes hold, leaders and volunteers tend to brainstorm and create their own activities.

And Messy Church is family friendly, it certainly isn't exclusive to them. It's simply part of its larger relational approach.

"It's supposed to be intergenerational and bring people together in that vein," Davis said. "It's for all ages: grandparents, parents, kids, singles, young adults and it's supposed to connect people. I think that's what's amazing, connecting people with one another and with God."

Davis also stresses that Messy Church is not a side activity, but an alternative form of church meant to meet people where they are rather than the other way around.

"It's not just Bible school or craft club," Davis said. "It is church and it introduces to Jesus and helps people understand God's love for them, people who haven't done religion or who are disenfranchised with institutional religion."

Including shared meals was quite intentional, as eating is one of the most intrinsic ways that people bond and the idea is to carry over conversations started during the activity or worship and reflecting back on them.

"You get to know somebody sitting beside them and you eat together," Davis said. "A lot of it is done buffet, but some of it is done family style, so it does give you an opportunity to talk to people."

Davis was introduced to the concept by friend and colleague Roberta Egli, who formerly served as pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Eugene but now serves as a liaison for Messy Church's Greater Northwest region.

She travels to churches to provide training, including one at Newberg First United Methodist that hosted representatives from four other churches, and mentor program leaders as they get things off the ground.

Davis said that its marketing campaign has already attracted seven families to sign up for the first session Saturday, and several others from NFUMC have also expressed interest.

"Our church has been wonderful with people who want to see new things start or are donating items," Davis said. "We have a budget for Messy Church. For the first year or so, there's no offering taken. But after we start to see who comes, then we start talking about that and why we give an offering and what our money would go for. It's kind of a family decision, not just the decision of the pastor or the people in charge."

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