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Holy knitters take Christmas story to Liverpool shoppers ... with sheep

Messy Church team member Jane Leadbetter noticed that Jesus was being squeezed out of Christmas in her city centre, and she had an idea ...

How one woman, some knitters and their woolly creations helped to bring baaack the real message of Christmas to Liverpool’s streets

Messy Church team member Jane Leadbetter (pictured) noticed that Jesus was being squeezed out of Christmas in her city centre, and she had an idea.

With Liverpool’s culture of city trails, could she use knitted sheep hiding in stores to introduce the nativity story and the real meaning of Christmas to families as they shopped?

She explains: “I love working with different organisations and invited a key person from the Liverpool Mothers’ Union, a city centre Pioneer minister, the Diocese of Liverpool churches and various knitter-natter groups to join the project.

”We then started negotiations with Liverpool One, the city’s premier shopping centre. The management team loved the idea of shoppers hunting the sheep hiding in the department stores, recognising the trail’s potential to increase the number of visitors to the centre.”

Soon 12 large knitted sheep were placed in 12 stores.

“From the start they caused quite a stir,” says Jane. “Staff named them in various ways, including after their store founder or by holding in-store competitions.

“Some sheep ‘wandered’ around the store all through Advent.”

Children and adults were encouraged to rediscover the first Christmas through trail questions and stores offered vouchers for a weekly prize draw.

Jane says God blessed the project with prayer support and resources.

“It was when I returned in the New Year to collect the larger knitted sheep from the stores that I realised how a humble sheep can capture people’s imagination in a big way.

“Shop staff used health and safety excuses to stop me removing their sheep from the store. Staff cried and waved to the sheep as I left one store!

“I was asked for a similar Easter trail. Could the sheep have their own website?

“I realised that Jesus was baaack in town.”

Messy Church began in a Portsmouth parish in 2004 and is now a worldwide phenomenon which creates Church for the 21st century. It uses fun, food, crafts and worship that bring all ages together, creating a fun-filled exploring community outside traditional Sunday worship.
For more information about Messy Church, visit


  • Pray
  • Plan well in advance of Advent – get thinking now for 2013
  • Choose family-friendly shops to approach
  • If the shops are part of a shopping complex, contact the complex managing staff for a meeting to share your idea
  • Emphasise that you will be doing all of the work and that you just need permission to work together
  • Emphasise that the shops will hopefully benefit financially, as the trail will encourage people of all ages to enter their shop and increase their footfall during the Advent period
  • Explain that the Nativity story will be printed on a trail leaflet. Don’t try to hide the fact that this is a Christian project
  • Taken, with permission, from Jane Leadbetter’s book Messy Nativity (BRF, £4.99) which outlines three different ways for churches to bring the Christmas story right into the heart of the community. And it has those all-important knitted sheep patterns!


We have 5 copies of Messy Nativity by Jane Leadbetter (BRF) to give away this month. Simply send your details to by 18 December 2012. Competition open to UK residents only.

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