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.

Live Meetings Return!

Welcome Church begins in person Sunday meetings from Sunday 18th April and the booking system is now open – click here for the link.

You will be able to book for meetings two weeks before they happen. Please book in as a whole bubble/household with one person leading that booking, rather than having different individuals within your bubble/household do it separately.

Kids/youth are welcome to come with you as long as they can sit with you quietly all the way through the meeting, including the preach – there is no kids/youth/creche yet. If you are bringing them please do include them in your booking so we can make sure you all have a seat.

Places all gone?

It’s perhaps not a big surprise, but all the places for our first in person Sunday meeting were booked in under a minute, however the reserve list is open and is well worth using for several reasons:

  1. We will fit in everyone we can, so you may hear from us
  2. We will be looking to make sure we give priority to people in week 2 who missed out on week 1 – registering your interest now helps us prioritise you later
  3. People may get Covid symptoms and need to cancel, or may cancel for a whole range of other reasons – if that happens we will be filling spaces from the reserve list
  4. Registering your desire to attend helps us work out the real demand and informs our thinking as we look to see if we do the meeting more than once

The available spaces will hopefully grow as Covid restrictions loosen for churches, and as we work out in reality what’s possible in our building.

Don’t forget, until we have space for everyone who wants to attend to do so and until children’s work is up and running again, we will also be Live Streaming each week at WelcomeChurch.online

I’m so looking forward to when there are no restrictions anymore

Some Plans For Good Friday

This Friday (2nd April) is Good Friday, when Christians from around then world remember the crucifixion of Jesus.

On Good Friday last year we held our very first ‘online communion’, and we were joined by Rahul who leads one of the Commission churches in Mumbai, India. Rahul talked about the challenges they were facing in India due to the way Lockdown was imposed and about the work being done to feed people, especially from the rural churches, who were facing starvation.

In response we had the opportunity to give to this, and Welcome Church people contributed £19,000. This was added to money given from some other UK Commission churches and was used to literally save lives during the pandemic.

This year we have a ‘return visit’ from India to bless us

As a church we’ve recently been seeing a lot of people dealing with cancer and other life threatening illnesses. With this in mind, on Good Friday this year we’re being joined by Vinu, who leads the Commission Church family in India.

The plan is for Vinu – hopefully with some others from India too – to pray for those amongst us who are affected in this way. They already have a list of names and have started to pray. As a church let’s gather together on Good Friday, online, and ask for Jesus to pour out his healing power on those who need it.

We will gather from 10am, and all the details are in the picture. Don’t forget you’ll need your own bread and wine/ribena/grape juice/whatever for the communion part of the meeting.

See you on Friday.

Meeting Up In Person 🙂

As of this week we are allowed to meet outside again in groups of up to six people (or any number from a maximum of two households). We can do that in public spaces or private gardens. As a church let’s make the most of what we’re allowed to do together.

Meeting in person is good for us in so many ways – mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, socially and more – so this blog is simply an encouragement for us to start meeting in person as and when we can. Life Groups especially might want to take advantage of this (when the weather is good enough) or there may be other friends from church you want to see.

Spring is here. Summer is coming. Warmer, drier days are ahead. Let’s meet up when we can.

Obviously we’re not encouraging people to break or exceed the guidance, and social distancing is still recommended when we meet but, as and when we can and feel ready to, let’s start to make up for some of what we’ve missed as a church over the last year. Let’s all be ‘devoted to the fellowship’ (Acts 2v42).

And don’t forget: this Sunday, during the online meeting, we’ll be letting you know how to book in for our first in person Sunday meeting which will be on April 18th. You can join us here – live at 9.45

Part Of A Bigger Picture

Welcome Church has been meeting online for a year now, and this week I’m publishing some blog posts to talk about where we’ve been and our thoughts for our future. The first one can be found by clicking here. This is part 5, the last part.

We’ve talked about the challenge of the complexity we face, we’ve considered the place of online church for us going forwards and we’ve talked about the need for us to count the cost of returning to in person meetings. Today I want to point us to the bigger picture we’re part of.

As we restart in person meetings, let’s remember that our meetings are not an end in and of themselves; they serve a wider purpose. When we consider the effort involved in meeting in person again, and we ask ourselves how we feel about it all, let’s remember one thing:

It’s really not about you!

We are part of Jesus’ church; we belong to Him. When we gather it’s for His glory and not our own convenience or comfort. If we were only concerned about ourselves we might feel less motivated to make the effort, but God has a bigger role for us to play in the wider world as individuals and as a church.

Let me highlight the bigger picture in three ways:

1. We are part of a local community

It’s been said the church is the only organisation on the planet that exists mainly for the benefit of it’s non-members. Whether that’s accurate or not is a matter for debate, but it’s certainly true that our church is not just about us; we have a mission both to the town we live in and further afield. Jesus loves Woking, and so should we; His mission should be our mission.

As we start to gather in person again, our meetings are not just about being together and worshipping – although that is important – God actually has a role for us to play as a church in Woking, and a role for each individual to play in the places where they live and work; a role that goes way beyond our meetings. A key part of gathering together is about equipping people for the wider calling they have – the call to ‘love your neighbour’.

The last year has been challenging for our nation and people have been impacted in a lot of different ways. Challenges to health, finance, emotional wellbeing and more won’t disappear overnight and we may find that all sorts of situations of need are brought to our attention; let’s be ready to respond in faith and to help people across our community.

I’m especially looking forward to seeing each of our Welcome Works up and running again, remembering that we’re here to do good and to bring the kingdom of God to people. I’m also looking forward to seeing new people making a commitment to follow Jesus and getting baptised. I’m looking forward to seeing our children being taught and having fun together at church again. I’m looking forward to seeing more leaders raised up and released to serve our church and further afield.

2. We are part of the UK

One thing we need to do as we come back together is pray for our nation. Let’s pray for God to move in renewal and draw many people from across our nation into His Kingdom. We don’t know what God might do in the months ahead, but let’s pray for Him to use what’s happened with the pandemic for His purposes. Let’s pray for him to build his church in every town, city and village in the UK.

I have the joy of meeting (currently online) with leaders from our wider family of churches across the UK, as well as with church leaders from across our town. Every church is now considering how they unlock and at what pace, so it’s a journey we’re all on together, supporting and encouraging one another along the way.

Let’s pray for the church in our nation to stand on it’s feet again and find its voice again. Our nation needs the gospel right now more than ever, so let’s be praying that every church will play its part, whatever the cost, remembering that we’re all on the same team. Let’s pray for a revival.

3. We are part of an international family of churches

We belong to a family of churches called Commission, with churches in 14 different nations including the UK, Europe, South Asia, USA, South America, Africa, East Asia and the Middle East. Let’s remember that we have a part to play in that as well.

To highlight our belonging to an International family of churches there’s a one hour event this Sunday evening (28th March) at 7.30pm called Commission Global. I want to encourage as many of us as possible to join in.

You can register for this event using the link above, or it can be accessed via this video link:

Enjoy!