Welcome Church, The Future – Part 1: Looking Back

On Sunday (May 8th) we had our Welcome Church Vision Evening looking at ‘Where we’ve been, where are now and, most importantly, where we’re heading in the future‘. This week I’ll be blogging about some of the key items we covered. This is part 1 of 5.

The pandemic created some big challenges for us all, both personally and as a church, yet we’ve known God’s blessing all the way through; He has done great things for us!

In the run up to the pandemic a lot had changed for us as a church in a short space of time, including a new name and logo, a new website, a new vision and mission statement, a new culture being outworked, a new approach to outreach, a new approach to belonging AND the launch of our brand new purpose built building in the heart of Woking. In some ways the pandemic could not have come at a worse time for us with Lockdown closing our building just a few weeks after it opened!

Despite this God has blessed our church beyond all expectation

We’re now back meeting together in person across two meetings each Sunday morning with kids work and youth work, and we’re seeing new people come and join us regularly. To encourage you, here are some Welcome Church statistics from the last couple of years:

  • 4 people have joined our staff team: Christopher Hawes (Preaching and Discipleship), Uti Anyaegbunam (Ops. Manager), Hannah Oliver (Ops. Assistant) and Juliet Bauermeister (Comms. Manager)
  • 147 have attended an Alpha Course
  • 123 have attended our new Learn Groups (Bible Course, Prayer Course, etc)
  • 457 signed up to attend Life Groups in the January refresh (plus there are a whole load more who we know attend but didn’t actually sign up … so cheeky!!!)
  • 104 have attended our various CAP courses (Fresh Start, Job Club, Life Skills, Money Course)
  • 79 people have been baptised
  • 46 children attended the Welcome Kids Weekend Away
  • 192 people attended our last 2 Newcomers Lunches (both since Lockdown ended)
  • 96 people have attended our ‘Belong, Believe, Become’ course in 2022 alone

Additionally your generous giving as a church has beaten all expectations throughout the pandemic. We beat our budget in both 2020/21 and 2021/22, so on behalf of the Eldership Team and the Trustees let me say a huge THANK YOU!

We’ve also given lots away to some key causes over the last two years:

  • £19,000 was given in 2020 to help feed people in need through our Commission churches in India
  • £36,000 was raised in 2020 to support Your Sanctuary
  • £33,000 was given just recently to help our churches in Ukraine serve their communities during the ongoing conflict there
  • £19,000 was given to provide buildings for some of our Commission churches in Bangladesh and to support some of our other works in that part of the world too

In fact, as well as financing what we do as a church, we gave away over £158,000 last year alone, including to support both the work of our Commission church family and some other excellent local causes including Woking Food Bank and Woking Street Angels.

These are all good signs that God is at work in and through our church. We have a lot to be thankful for, so let’s be on the front foot to give God the glory for all he’s doing, even as we face some sadnesses, some sicknesses and some losses amongst our church family too.

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” Psalm 126v3

Where do we go from here?

Looking back at God’s past faithfulness brings great encouragement, faith and hope for the future. Tomorrow I’m going to blog about our brand new vision statement as a church which will now begin to shape where we go in the future.

New Year, New Challenges

It was great to start our New Year as a church yesterday by gathering together for worship. The sermon was about “Being a worshipper when times are tough and life is not what you expected” (which may be a key message for us all this year as we face so many unknowns.) The sermon itself was a last minute message pulled together because the scheduled preacher had a positive PCR test for Covid on New Year’s Day; let’s hope it’s the only time this happens.

One thing I’ve found challenging during the pandemic is that so much rapid change and uncertainty makes it hard to plan ahead and cast vision for where we’re going as a church. For example, as we approached the Carol Services this year the biggest question in my head was not ‘Will they go well?’ but ‘Will they be allowed to go ahead?’ Instead of hoping people from the church would bring guests, I was just hoping people from the church would turn up themselves. Some did 🙂.

It’s hard to plan with so much uncertainty, and with that in mind the “Vision Evening” planned for Sunday 9th Jan will now be delayed until we know that our plans will actually be allowed to be delivered. This week we’ll be away for a few days as an eldership team (minus one due to Covid!) specifically to pray for our church and hear from God for the year ahead; please keep us in your prayers.

A challenge for 2022

As 2022 begins it’s not too late to take on the challenge of reading through the Bible in a year. It will do your faith so much good! It’s not something I do every single year, but this year I’ll be going for it again. You may have done this before. You may have tried it and failed. It may be a completely new idea to you. How about giving it a go in 2022?

“But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” Psalm 1v2-3 (from the NLT, which is a really readable translation)

If you fancy taking on this challenge here’s a link to a pdf of a great reading plan. It covers the whole Bible over 52 weeks. You can bookmark it, download it or print it from this link. This is the plan I’ll be using in 2022.

I like this plan because it has readings for five days each week, rather than seven, something that works better for me. You could even read all five days in a single session on one day each week if that works best for you. Or you could tackle the Old Testament readings on one day, Psalms/Chronicles on another day and the New Testament readings on a third.

Bottom line: I love the lay out of this plan and, although it’s already Jan 3rd, you’re absolutely not too late to start (though of course you could start at any point during the year!) If you do go for it, let me know how you get on. It really will do you good.

The Winter Warmer: another challenge

One last thing to mention in case you missed it is that our Winter Warmer, scheduled for Friday 7th Jan, has been postponed to Friday 1st April. This event will involve dancing and sharing food and we felt it could be unhelpful right now with Covid levels as high as they are.

Here’s the challenge: we’re going to need a new name for the event.

Suggestions so far include ‘The Easter Extravaganza’ and ‘The Spring Spring’. Can you do better than that? All suggestions welcome. Winning suggestion wins a free ticket. Seriously 😃.

What’s God been up to in YOUR life?

On Sunday 9th January we’re looking to have a ‘Testimony Sunday’ at Welcome Church. This will be an opportunity for some of us to share a short ‘testimony’ of what God has been doing in our lives over the last two years during the pandemic. We did this on a previous occasion before the pandemic and it was a huge blessing and encouragement; we need to do it even more now that we’ve lived through this challenging time of loss and separation.

So, if Welcome Church is your church and you have a short testimony (2 – 3 minutes) of God’s faithfulness during the last two years – His presence in times of challenge, an answer to prayer, some way He’s spoken to you or worked in your life or provided for you – we want to hear from you!

We’re looking for a few people to share in each meeting so we can all be encouraged together and give glory to God. If you want to volunteer then please get in touch with Dean Guy by emailing care@allwelcome.uk. We’re really looking forward to hearing from you.

Psalm 145v3-6: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts”

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.

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.

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.

Showing God’s Heart Of Compassion

Proverbs 19v7: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed.” 

I hope you enjoyed our Welcome Church Carol Service with Compassion UK.

As a church we love partnering with Compassion UK to see children lifted out of poverty in Jesus’ name. So far as a church we’ve sponsored over 140 children in a part of Togo in Africa. You can read a bit more about what we do by clicking here. People from Welcome Church have also sponsored children in other parts of the world too. You can see many of their pictures here:

If you would like to sponsor a child all you need to do is follow this link here. The link will take you to a specific page where you can view the children who are available to sponsor right now today, and how are all based in the project in Togo we’re already connected with. For £28 a month you can completely change a life; what a great gift to give this Christmas!

Togo is one probably the least developed country in Africa, and that’s against some tough competition. Sponsorship is one of the best kingdom investments you will ever make.

Please, in Jesus name, go for it!

Isaiah 58v10: If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

Some Sad News

I’m very sorry to report that Alan Hunwicks died in hospital late on Saturday evening after a long battle with Covid-19.

Although many of us have lost friends to this disease and others amongst us have suffered with it, Alan is the first person within Welcome Church who’s died from it. He will be greatly missed.

Alan was an amazingly faithful man with a strong Christian faith. He was a part of Welcome Church for 36 years, and for 17 of those he served as an Elder. He was also a Trustee for many years.

Alan was kind, gentle, diligent and loving, and he never sought the limelight; in many ways he was an unsung hero. He was only 77 when he died and the hospital reported that his fight was a long one because, apart from the Covid, he was strong.

Beryl and Alan had been married for 50 years, and celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary this summer.

Alan Hunwicks (20.8.1943 – 28.11.2020) & Beryl Hunwicks

Please keep Beryl and the family in your prayers in the weeks ahead. Beryl has an important role in the public eye as Mayor of Woking, and carries a lot of responsibility. She will need our support and prayers more than ever, and I know we will be there for her.

Although this is sad news let’s remember that Alan had a deep faith in Jesus which shaped his whole life. All through this illness he was at peace, remaining steadfastly confident in his faith and in God’s loving care for him in both life and death. He is now with Jesus.

Helping People In Need

I’ve loved seeing us put our faith in action as a church to help people in need recently. For example, during the recent half term holidays, we helped a number of families in need here in Woking. These families get free school meals for their children in term time, and we were able to give them some much needed vouchers to feed their children during the holidays too. It was greatly appreciated and made a real difference.

Two situations

We’re also helping out financially in two situations where we have direct connection to churches in other nations. I shared about these during our recent online communion meeting and invited people to give.

The first is in Izmir in Turkey, where an earthquake and tsunami killed 115 people, injured more than 1000, and left many homeless bringing down buildings and making others unsafe to use.

A church in Izmir who we have direct connection with are providing food to people in need and to rescue workers. They’re meeting the needs of many who’ve been left homeless who are living in tents as the weather gets colder. Amongst other things they’re providing food, heaters, firewood, hats, socks and thermal clothing. They’ve also been able to share God’s love with people.

As a church their funds to do this ran out, but (along with some others) we’ve been able to send them money to help the work continue.  

The other situation is in the Philippines where two typhoons in rapid succession have hit the region of Bicol with winds of up to 225mph. Commission has a church plant starting in a home in that area, but the home was totally destroyed, along with the homes of some other church members. This level of destruction of people’s lives is replicated all around the area and comes on top of crops being destroyed by a volcano recently, and the impact of Covid.

The Christians in our churches there are often incredibly poor, yet incredibly joy filled. Again, as a church, we’ve been able to send money to help them survive and rebuild.

It’s not too late to help

It’s not too late for you to give to either of these situations, and the good news is the money will go directly to the church there; we know the people and we know how it will be used. If you want to help please give a gift to us as a church and mark it ‘crisis’. You can do that through our website here. We will pass on every penny including the gift aid if it applies.

So far just under £6000 has been raised, which is being split between these two causes. We sent the initial amount out last week, but it’s not too late to grow that amount so more can be sent.

Remember: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.” (Proverbs 19 v17)

Some High Quality Reading and TV

On Sunday we started our new Welcome Church preaching series called ‘fruitful’. You can listen to the first talk here about ‘Love (and why it wears a mask)’it’s a highly topical subject right now!

I recommended two great books to go with the series, one was about our personal walk with Jesus, the other was about our church’s calling and purpose; we want to be fruitful in both these areas. Buy them. Read them. Give them as gifts for Christmas.

The first is called ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ by John Mark Comer. It’s great for helping us draw close to Jesus and renew our life in him, which is key in this challenging time of pandemic; it speaks to our personal fruitfulness.

The second is called ‘Disappearing Church’ by Mark Sayers. It speaks about the church getting back to it’s Biblical calling, staying faithful to Jesus and being fruitful for him in all circumstances. Again this book is a word in season as we find our whole way of ‘doing church’ is being challenged.

They’re both easy to read, I loved them, and if you buy them from Origin Books in Woking (the Christchurch Book Shop) they will give you 20% off either or both if you say you’re from Welcome Church.

While I’m at it, I also wanted to wholeheartedly recommend some great TV to help while away the dark winter evenings. I would love it if everyone in our church took the time to watch these two things.

First is a film called ‘American Gospel: In Christ Alone’. It’s available on Netlifix, or you can pay for it on Amazon Prime (or buy the DVD). I don’t want to say too much about it, except that this film is well worth watching. Jo and I loved it. There’s a sequel called ‘American Gospel: Christ Crucified’. I haven’t see that yet but I’m told it’s even better

Second is a TV series called The Chosen. This series depicts the life of Jesus in a truly beautiful way; the best I’ve ever seen it done by miles. It truly captures the heart of Jesus for lost and broken people, and will ignite your love for Jesus too. I would encourage everyone to watch it, with your kids if you have them. It will boost your faith for sure.

The good news is … you can watch it for free. The way to view it is to download a free App to your Phone, iPad or Tablet. The App is called ‘The Chosen’. You can then either watch the series through the App on your device, or connect your device to your TV.

Once you’ve viewed it you will be given the chance to ‘pay it forward’ by buying it for someone else to watch for free, as someone has already done for you. I did that, but it’s completely up to you if you want to.

These are four great resources for us. Please let me know what you think of them once you’ve watched or read them.