I think bringing children to Sunday services is great but would it be so bad for one hour a week to let the children know it’s not about them? Is it so hard? Is that lesson so shocking to the minds of children that even church services have to be about them?

Here’s the story about a service at a United Church of Christ that caters to children:

The special services, held the second Sunday of each month at 4:30 p.m., let kids cut loose and get dirty. While solemnity has its place, church also should encourage exploration and spur joy, said the Rev. Kerri Parker, who started the services in October and is a parent of a pre-teen.

“I want kids to know that church is a place of forgiveness and grace,” she said. “If, in the course of showing that, we get a few stains on the carpet or things get broken, it’s a worthy price to pay.”

Each service starts with Parker introducing a kid-friendly Bible verse. Last week, it was the parable of the great banquet from Luke 14, in which a rich man becomes furious when his friends are too busy and self-important to attend his fancy party. He instructs his servants to invite outcasts instead.

Parker, wearing a T-shirt reading “Prays Well With Others,” acted out the parable, dashing around the room as one of the rich man’s servants, ad-libbing lines like an improv comic. She is the former executive director of the Rock County YWCA and brings the enthusiasm of a fitness instructor to her work.

After explaining the story’s point — everyone is welcome at the Lord’s table — she unveiled the messy part.

For the next 45 minutes, the 15 or so children decorated colorful metal dinner plates with glitter, glue, gemstones and foam stickers. They created banquet invitations with ink stamps and painted a mural with their fingers.

“It’s better than regular church, I must say,” said Sean Fernan, 9. “It’s not so boring.”

Parents participated alongside their children, part of Parker’s goal to provide more opportunities for families to spend time together in informal settings. The parents I spoke with said they use Messy Church as their family’s sole worship service when it is offered, as opposed to viewing it as an add-on to a regular Sunday morning service.

“It’s hard for kids to sit still in church, and the sermons often go over their heads,” said Lisa Fernan, Sean’s mother, who likes how the hands-on, tactile activities drive home the Bible verses. “This breaks it down a little to a level they can understand.”

Parker said the Messy Church movement appears to have originated in the United Kingdom and has now spread to this country. She brainstorms some of her own ideas but also adapts ones that have worked elsewhere. There is usually paint or clay or glue involved.

Each service includes a kid-friendly meal. Last week it was tacos. Afterward, Parker invited the children and their parents into the sanctuary for the closing worship ritual — a recap of the Bible parable, a prayer and a hymn.

“It won’t be stuffy, I promise,” she told them.

*subhead*About the children.*subhead*