Some Summer Reading

As I’ve done on a couple of past occasions I wanted to mention some books you may find helpful. If you have some down time over the summer (or even if you don’t) why not give them a go?

Gentle and Lowly by Dale Ortlund

This book is about getting to know Jesus better and understanding his heart towards us. I read it one chapter a day alongside my Bible reading. Andrew Wilson (teaching pastor at Kings Church London and well known to many of us) described it as ‘the best book he’s read in the last decade’. So many different leaders recommended it to me that in the end I had to get a copy and it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read; it’s the sort of book I’ll be returning to time and again. If you want to understand more about how God really thinks of you, start here.

The Rise and Triumph Of The Modern Self by Carl Trueman

Over the past year the subject of gender identity has dominated large sections of the British media, and many well known public figures have fallen foul of this issue. But how did our society get to this place? How, for example, have we arrived at a situation where someone defining a woman as ‘an adult female human being’ can lead to accusations that they are causing harm and demands for them to be cancelled? Carl Trueman who is both a Christian and British, and is also a professor of Biblical studies at Grove City College Pennsylvania, has a lot of insights for us. Be warned though: this book is not for the faint hearted. It’s a long read, covering a tricky subject at an academic level, but it’s well worth the effort.

Everything Happens For A Reason (and other lies I’ve loved) by Kate Bowler

Kate Bowler, professor of divinity at a University in the USA, was 35 years old and had finally had a baby with her childhood sweetheart. Shortly afterwards she began to feel jabbing pains in her stomach and was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and was told she might not have long to live. How does a Christian face this sort of challenge? Do we lean into a property gospel that God will always heal us if we believe and pray hard enough? Or do we just surrender to fate? And how do we, as Christians, support people who find themselves with a diagnosis like this, without resorting to worthless platitudes such as ‘everything happens for a reason’? I read this in one sitting.

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin

Rebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and a degree in theological and pastoral studies from Oak Hill Theological College in London. In this book she looks at some of the toughest questions Christians face today, covering topics such as suffering, diversity, sexuality, slavery, heaven and hell, gender equality, science vs the Bible and more. The book shows how the best research from sociology, science, and psychology doesn’t disagree with, but actually aligns with claims found in the Bible and shows how these issues are not roadblocks but signposts to faith in Christ. This is a really helpful resource to answer both our own questions and those that may get thrown at us by others.

One Big Welcome Church Weekend

This Sunday, 25th July, we’re returning to something much closer to normal church life. Welcome Church will be meeting at 9am and 11am, with kids work starting again and absolutely no need to book in advance to attend – just turn up. I’m really looking forward to singing together in worship, instead of sitting down and ‘watching’.

For full practical details of how the meetings will run during this next season please follow this link here, especially if you’re still a bit nervous because of Covid. The link should tell you everything you need to know, including the measures we’re taking to keep everyone safe.

As well as church life getting back to something more like normal, there are three extra things to look forward to this Sunday:

1. We will be baptising people

We have four people due to be baptised at the 9am meeting and 7 at the 11am meeting, with more baptisms planned for the autumn too. If you’re a Christian and have not yet been baptised since you came to faith in Jesus it’s not too late for you to join them, just get in touch and talk to us about it on connect@allwelcome.uk

2. We have a guest speaker

Guy Miller, who leads the Apostolic team of our Commission family of churches, will be our speaker this weekend. He’s going to be continuing our ‘Words That Changed My World’ preaching series and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say

3. We have our Welcome Home Summer Social in the afternoon

This will be a great chance to connect again with the whole Welcome Church family and to eat and relax together. It runs from 12.30pm to 4.30pm at the Schifano’s field (a map will be available at the meetings this Sunday, or please email info@allwelcome.uk for details)

This event is completely free and includes food, drinks, bouncy castles, an inflatable assault course, a slip n slide, children’s games and more – just bring a chair, rug or something to sit on.

We will be keeping an eye on the weather of course, and if we do get rained off we’ll let you know and will reschedule soon. Events like this will be a key part of our Welcome Church Recovery Plan following Covid – make sure you don’t miss it.

See you at the weekend!

Theology For Life

One of the many benefits of being part of the Commission family of churches is the excellent theological training that’s on offer, from a basic level through to a full Masters Degree.

Due to popular demand Commission is running a Theology for Life course across 11 Saturdays over the next academic year. Whether you’re a brand new Christian eager to learn as much as you can about Christianity, or you’ve been a Christian for a while and would like to deepen your theological understanding, Theology for Life Course is a great place to start.

The sessions will be taught by some excellent teachers from across the Commission family of churches and will take place at Hope Church Winchester, starting on Saturday 11th September and continuing once a month through to July 2022.

The whole course costs £300, which includes all the training, access to an online learning portal and interaction with the course leader between sessions including both feedback on voluntary assignments and ongoing discussion relating to any questions raised by the teaching. Coffee and refreshments will be served on the days, though you’ll need to bring your own lunch.

Below is a video which tells you more about the course:

If you have any questions, please do check out the full course details here.

Plans For Sunday Meetings At Welcome Church From Sunday July 25th

On Monday 19th July we reach step 4 of the national unlocking plan and we’ll be getting closer to holding ‘normal’ Sunday meetings. Personally I’m excited and raring to go, and at the same time I recognise some of us will be more cautious, especially with rising Covid case numbers.

We want everyone to feel confident to attend, so to help bring reassurance where it’s needed here’s our plan for how things will work. This plan covers things we will stop, things we will start and things we will change. There are also some Covid safety measures listed at the end to help reassure people further. As always this is all subject to change if the guidance changes.

What stops from July 25th

Online kids work will not take place from that day onwards.

You will no longer be required to sit socially distanced from other people, unless you want to.

You will no longer need to book to attend or register on arrival; just turn up.

What starts from July 25th

In person kids work, including creche, restarts that day, with Sunday youth work to commence from September.

You will be free to stand up and sing during the worship … at last!

You will be free to pray for people and to be prayed for as appropriate.

Breaking news:

We will create a specific ‘socially distanced’ seating area for people who would like to use it, where face masks will also be worn. This will be situated at the back, near to the car park doors, and you will be able to enter and leave that way to avoid getting close to too many people. For everyone else we recommend using the front doors, as we did before the pandemic.

What changes from July 25th

Instead of one meeting at 10am, we will have two meetings which will be at 9am and 11am. These will each be around one hour in length.

The livestream will operate for the 9am meeting only, and will no longer have a chat feature. This means that for now you can still choose to watch online if you need to.

Children will stay in the meeting with their parents during the worship time, before going out to their groups, giving them a much shorter time in kids work or creche than before the pandemic. We will register your kids on arrival at the meeting so do try to arrive in good time if you can and please use the front doors and not the car park doors for this.

Face masks will no longer be legally required, however government guidance recommends they are worn in crowded indoor areas. With this in mind we encourage you to wear a mask on arrival, on leaving and when moving around the building, such as going to the toilet or collecting your children. We will not be policing this, so our encouragement is that we each seek to be responsible and to care for others where we can, remembering that face masks are mainly worn to protect other people and not ourselves. Once you are seated you will be free to remove your face mask or to continue wearing it as you see fit, except in the socially distanced seating area where masks will be required.

Some Covid safety measures

There are several things we’re doing to help keep people safe:

1. Our heating and cooling system has been set to ‘extract’ mode and is not recycling any air. This means that we will be sitting in a flow of new air, and what we breathe out will be slowly drawn upwards and out of the building – this has been the case since meetings restarted.

2. Our hand sanitisation stations will remain in place and we encourage you to use them.

3. The meetings are shorter than they would be in normal times, reducing your exposure time to others.

4. There will be a longer gap between meetings leading to less crowding.

5. Despite reduced numbers being expected as many people will be away during the summer, we are holding two meetings in order to create as much space as possible and avoid overcrowding.

6. We will not yet be serving refreshments, so bring your own tea, coffee or water – this will avoid crowding around refreshment tables.

7. We encourage you to use the outside areas to socialise, including the car park, the area outside the front, and the areas between the two buildings.

Full steam ahead?

We are hoping this is now full steam ahead on the road to normality but we must bear in mind two things:

  1. We don’t know if there will be future restrictions put in place if cases rise or new variants emerge, especially as we head into the autumn
  2. No specific guidance for churches has been issued this time. If that does come out it’s possible we’ll find something that affects our plans; if that happens we will let you know.

It’s been an incredibly difficult time for us all during the pandemic and there have been losses along the way. We’ve also been warned that the pandemic is ‘far from over’.

With all this in mind let’s enjoy this new freedom as much as we can and as responsibly as we can. I’m excited to get back to worshipping God together in person again and I hope to see you all there.

Football, Failure and Racism

Many of us watched England play on Sunday evening and although the result was not what we hoped for I’m sure we all feel like the team did us proud by getting through to the final of an international championship for the first time in 55 years. And let’s remember: it’s just a game.

For the five who took penalties for us it would have been a testing moment; you’d have to have nerves of steel not to feel the pressure. Sadly we lost the penalty shoot out and the match; it was a moment of failure for the team.

Failure tests our character

Failure tests our character. It shapes us. It reveals things about us. For the team and the manager it was great to see how they supported one another in that moment and afterwards. Gareth Southgate has stated that he takes full responsibility for it all as manager, and those who know their football history will realise that he knows what it’s like to miss a crucial penalty. Seeing him give Bukayo Saka an extended hug after that final missed penalty was both poignant and powerful.

But it wasn’t just the team who had their character tested by failure on Sunday.

As a nation we ALL had a moment of disappointment and our response reveals something about us. Sadly one of the things revealed was an undercurrent of racism in the UK which came to the fore because the three players who missed penalties were all black.

Within minutes people were using Twitter to post racist comments about these three lads, and since then a mural of one of the players has been defaced with racist graffiti. The beautiful game brought out the ugliness of sin. It’s shameful to us all to see this happening and I was glad that the Prime Minister spoke out about it yesterday. It also reveals that, despite much progress, we still have a way to go to deal with racism in the UK.

Christian faith

As Christians we should have zero tolerance for racism. This means both not being racist ourselves and also actively speaking out against racism, and that’s why I wanted to write something on my blog today. I wanted to say on behalf of our church that we stand against these sorts of actions.

I know most people in our church will know this already – you’ll take it for granted – but let me clearly say three things on behalf of us all at Welcome Church:

  1. We are saddened, disgusted and angered by the racist comments that have been made, knowing that those amongst us who are black will have felt it most personally

2. There is no room at all for racism in our church and, especially as Christians, we should not tolerate it in any area of our lives

3. To those in our church who are not white and British (and there are many): we love you and support you, and we’re delighted that you’re part of our church family. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

Something in common

In case you missed it we also have something significant in common – beyond our shared humanity – with two of those penalty takers who missed: two of them have a Christian faith.

To quote Marcus Rashford who grew up as a practising Christian, “It’s impossible not to have faith in God and all he does for us”

To quote Bukayo Saka who was also raised in a Christian home, “I hold onto God’s promises. Before every game I ask God to help me play well, help my team and try to score a goal or assist a goal and he answers my prayers so this is why I point to the sky to thank him”

And let’s not forget Raheem Sterling, another black player on the team who grew up attending church with his mother and who – although he didn’t take a penalty this time – scored for England during the tournament: “Every match day I put faith in God. I pray at home the day and night before. I pray most days.”

We are a family

The church is God’s family; his household. We are all one in Christ Jesus regardless of our race or skin colour. With that in mind let’s be on the front foot to love one another, to support one another and to gently challenge one another where it’s needed. Let’s make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

And if you’re white and you’re friends with someone in church who’s black, why not ask them how they feel about what’s happened and (if appropriate) give them a Gareth Southgate style and Covid safe hug.

An Invitation To Pray

We’d hoped by now to be at stage 4 of the National Unlocking Plan, and to be free to meet more normally on Sundays as a church, with kids work and freedom to sing again. Sadly this has been delayed for four weeks and (whether we agree with it or not) it’s frustrating for us all 😮

During Lockdown we regularly used the first Sunday evening of each month to hold an online communion meeting, and these have been great. This Sunday – 4th July – we’d planned instead to have an in person “Encounter” worship evening, where we’d be free to sing, worship and pray for one another again. Sadly the delay to unlocking means this can’t go ahead as planned because restrictions are still in place.

We could have put an online communion meeting back in the diary, but rather than hold another online meeting I will instead be opening up the Welcome Church building this Sunday evening for prayer, which is something we are absolutely allowed to do.

I’m going to be there from 7pm to 8.30pm to pray and I want to invite you to join me. I don’t really have a formal plan for the evening, just a deep desire to get before God to pray for our church, our town, our nation and for revival, starting by asking God to do his work of revival in me/us. I also want us to listen to what God might want to say to us.

2 Chronicles 7v14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I hope some of you will join me to pray.

Technical Difficulties!

Sadly on Sunday morning (27th June) we experienced a technical difficulty that affected the live-streaming of our meeting. Some people found it kept cutting out or losing words. The problem was at our end and hopefully won’t happen again, although these things can never be guaranteed!

In case you want to listen to the talk without interruptions here’s a link to it without the glitches:

This is a great reminder of the incredible value and importance there is to be found in being at church in person if at all possible. You can book for the next three weeks by following this link here. And remember that from Sunday July 25th – assuming our national unlock goes ahead as planned on July 19th – we’ll be back to two Sunday meetings again at 9am and 11am, with kids work and no need for anyone to book.

Our New Operations Manager

In case you missed it on Sunday morning …

I’m delighted to announce that we have appointed a new Operations Manager for Welcome Church: Uti Anyaegbunam.

Uti has been part of Welcome Church for around 17 years and will be well known to many in the church. She is married to Nnamdi and together they have two children. In her spare time she likes to play tennis and is also a fan of Korean soap operas 🤔

In case you’re unsure, Uti can be pronounced either as ‘You-Tee’ or ‘Ooh-Tee’. She really doesn’t mind which way you say it, but goes for ‘You-Tee’ herself.

Uti comes to us from a successful career as a trademark lawyer with a firm in London. In her new role she will become part of the Senior Leadership Team of the church, working alongside Darren Forsdyke, our Director of Operations. We are really looking forward to her starting with us full time from 1st August.

As lockdown ends and we return more fully to ‘in person’ church life and open up the offices and the building again, we expect to carry our more recruitment for our operations team. Do watch this space if you’re interested.

Unlocking – Our Revised Plans

On Monday this week the government announced a delay to the national plan for unlocking, with step 4 being delayed from Monday 21st June to Monday 19th July. Whatever we each feel about the delay, let’s be praying for our government as they make difficult decisions in the face of competing pressures on all sides.

Our original plan as a church had been that from Sunday June 27th we would return to holding 2 in person meetings each Sunday, at 9am and 11am, with kids work included and no need to book. The delay to step 4 impacts on these plans which now need to be delayed and adjusted.

Our new plan

For the next five Sundays, up to and including Sunday 18th July, we will continue just as we are. We will have one in person Sunday meeting at 10am each week, which will also be live streamed. Booking is now open for all of these Sundays, and you can access the booking system by following this link. Why not book right now to attend them all?

Remember, we can now sit in groups of six people, or groups of two households, so feel free to find someone else to book in with. Maybe you could encourage someone who hasn’t attended in person yet to come with you and sit together; you may be just the encouragement they need.

From Monday July 19th the church offices should reopen. We haven’t opened them yet because the official government advice is still ‘work from home if you are able to’, and most of the time we can. When that advice changes we will change and we expect that to be from July 19th as step 4 is reached.

From Sunday July 25th, the first Sunday after step 4, we will commence a plan to hold 2 in person Sunday meetings each week, at 9am and 11am, with children’s work included and (unless some official guidance says otherwise) no need to book. Our hope is that as step 4 is reached we will no longer be required to wear face masks and that we will be able to stand and sing together.

July 25th will be a special day for us

Obviously July 25th is the first Sunday of the school holidays, so in some ways it’s not ideal for making any big change. We know that some people will undoubtedly be away. Despite this, July 25th will be a special Sunday for us as a church for several reasons:

1. We will reopen fully as a church that day

It’s been a long time coming, but I can’t wait for us to be back together. Over the summer the meetings will be one hour in length, with a one hour gap to allow people to chat and socialise. We will hold two meetings each week to make sure we’re not too crowded when we get together, which may be important to some who have felt nervous about returning in person. Our live stream will continue during this time as well for those who need it.

2. We will restart our children’s work that day

Our kids have missed out on so much over the last year and they now need to be a high priority for us all. Starting children’s work will help to make church meetings more accessible for those with families and it will be good for our children. When we start the children will join us in the adult meeting for a short worship time together before they go out to enjoy a shorter children’s work together.

3. We will have baptisms that day

These baptisms will be a great celebration of what God has done over the last few months. If you’re a Christian and haven’t been baptised since you came to faith in Jesus, baptism is for you. If want to know more then please get in touch here. We would love to chat to you about baptism.

4. We will hold a ‘Back to Church’ Summer Social that afternoon

On the afternoon of July 25th, from 12.30pm to 4.30pm we will hold a fun social event for the whole church. This will be an open air event with all food and drinks provided free of charge, along with bouncy castles and games for the kids. This will be a great chance for us all to get together and catch up with friends after such a long time. All you will need to bring is a chair or blanket to sit on. Details of the venue and how to book will be out soon.

Making the most of this time

This latest delay is disappointing for us all. It means we all have longer to wait for normality and it means we’re now restarting our fuller in person church meetings, with children’s work, just as the school holidays begin, which is a traditionally quiet time of year for us as a church and not a great moment to begin anything.

Despite all of this let’s do what we can to make the most of the season we’re in. Remember that you can meet indoors with six people or two households, and outdoors with groups of 30. Why not make the most of this to catch up with people in person? Why not meet in person as a life group too?

As we do this let’s not forget our Welcome Church Recovery Plan for 2021, of which this is just one small step. You can read more about that here.

And let’s all bookmark Sunday July 25th if we can.

Congratulations to Alice Potter

On Maundy Thursday this year Alice Potter received an incredible honour: she was chosen to receive the Maundy Money from the Queen.

Earlier this year Alice received a letter from Buckingham Palace, signed personally by Her Majesty The Queen, notifying her that she was a Maundy recipient. Normally Alice would have been invited to meet the Queen in person during a service at Westminster Abbey that commemorates Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper. This year, due to Covid, the Queen sent Alice the two special purses containing the Maundy Money along with a personal signed letter.

Each year the Queen distributes the Maundy money to people who have done great work in their local communities. The tradition goes all the way back to 600 AD and you can read more about it here or here.

This is an incredible award that recognises Alice’s ongoing service to the local community in so many different ways including as a Chaplain with Surrey Police and her volunteer roles with Welcome Church, along with her involvement with Street Angels. In fact she has done so many things that this award is well deserved!

The red purse contains the traditional sum of £5.50. In the past this was ‘an allowance for clothing and provisions’ (though it wouldn’t go far today). This year the £5 coin commemorates Her Majesty’s 95th Birthday and the 50 pence coin portrays the 50th anniversary of Decimal Day in 1971. The white purse contains Maundy coins: silver pennies, twopences, threepences and fourpences, totalling 95 pence, corresponding to The Queen’s age.

Jo and I had the joy of sitting in our garden with Alice on a dry but windy day last week to have a look at it all. She told us that when she first received the letter she thought it was a scam! We’re delighted that proved not to be the case, and I’m sure many of us would want to join in congratulating Alice on this well deserved honour; she is an amazing wall building hero in God’s kingdom.