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Messy Play – answering a deep need


When Parish Liaison Officer Kelly Houston told anglican focus about the popularity of East Redland Anglicans’ Messy Play, we asked the program’s clergy coordinator, Area Dean of Moreton Deanery The Rev’d Shan Vierow, to tell us how the program started and why it is so successful at bringing generations together


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I confess to a bit of a struggle with the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus, and many of the stories of healing and answered need in the Bible. This is not because I don’t believe in miracles of healing, but because I am saddened by the way those in need are sometimes shut down or ignored by the crowds and those closest to Jesus. I ache for Bartimaeus – so clearly crying out for help from Jesus, but rebuked as a nuisance.

We rejoice in the healing power of Jesus, but we fail to recognise our own part in silencing or ignoring cries for help within our own communities. Yes, sadly, we followers of Christ, are often guilty of blocking access to the healing, welcoming and compassionate hands of Jesus.

Recently, as I stood on the steps of a particular church, welcoming worshippers, two men asked permission to enter and to join us for our Sunday service. Neither one was sure of being welcomed. How incredibly sad it is that anyone would feel the need to ask permission to enter a church?

One of the themes of recent Gospel readings is the selfish, self-centred behaviour of so many who clamoured to hear the words of Jesus. The disciples tried to stop the children coming near to Jesus. The rich young man cared more for his wealth than the needs of others. James and John asked for the most important places in the coming kingdom. And, when Bartimaeus began to shout out and say, ‘ “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10: 47)’, many sternly ordered him to be quiet.

How sad, but how true of humanity, that far too often, we are unable to hear the cries of anguish around us, or see the face of need, above the clamouring of our own hearts and voices. And, sometimes, when we actually do hear a cry for help, we misunderstand and respond with what we think is appropriate rather than answering the real need.

We had a situation of this kind within the parish of East Redland Anglicans (ERA). The demographics of the Redland Bay area showed that a large proportion of the population was made up of young families.

Messy Church and Mainly Music had worked in other areas, but not in Redland Bay. So, we asked and really listened. What we discovered was that many parents of young children were displaced, for a variety of reasons, from their family of origin and community support. They didn’t need another structured or semi-structured program, but a place to come and make connections with other families – a safe place for their children to be socialised and cared for by ‘grandparents’, who would nurture and support the whole family.

We meet during school term twice a week from 9.30 to 11.00 am. Although, the families attending would like us to meet five days a week, including during school holidays!

The church, annex and shaded fenced yard are set out with various activities – floor areas with bean bags for babies, play dough tables, games, toys, books, sand and water play activities, painting and craft.

Taylah and her friend play in the sand while Emily watches on parenting duties

We sing our Grace and morning tea is supplied for all – fruit and healthy snacks for the children, as well as coffee, tea and something a little extra for mums and dads.

Parents and children help to pack up, but setting up and preparation are all carried out by a band of parish volunteers, both male and female. These volunteers also circulate, talking with parents and providing a listening ear or extra hands for any parent feeling overwhelmed by the needs of their children, as well as reading to toddlers, leading activities, and making coffee.

In quiet conversation, a need may be voiced. Someone may have a broken lawn mower, but needs to be ready for an impending rental inspection or there is a bereavement or a sick relative. In response, a mower is lent, another is mended and emergency meals are provided, along with emotional support. Sometimes there are questions about faith, prayers may be asked for or advice on parenting issues sought.

There is a gold coin donation for each child to attend, but no one is turned away. Morning tea is supplemented with donations of baking and one of our volunteers makes beautiful clothes from donated materials which, when sold for a maximum of $10, provides funding for craft materials.

Not all families come every time we gather, but numbers have grown so that we have between 30 and 40 children each day Messy Play is on, together with their parents and volunteers. It’s a noisy, crazy gathering of generations together and I am truly not sure who enjoys the interaction the most.

Five top tips for a running a successful Messy Play:

  1. Be mindful that Messy Play won’t work if it is imposed – it evolved in response to a deep need.
  2. Check your demographic – are there a lot of young families in your local area?
  3. Seek advice (from local council and community groups) about what is already available.
  4. Ask the target population what they need and really listen to their responses.
  5. Gather a happy willing group of ‘grandparents’ and let them use their unique gifts to build a safe and welcoming community.

Diana (parish volunteer) chats with Vivian and Emily while Samantha and Jayden oversee play doh activities with Ellie, volunteer Steve and James – with Charlene picking up a lost treasure

Volunteers Jenny, Diana and Maria are preparing the goodies for the morning tea

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