An Update On Unlocking

On Sunday evening we had online communion together, followed by some time sharing news and updates. One of the things we talked about was our progress towards starting Sunday meetings in person again. In case you missed it, here are some of the key points.

What are we looking for?

Before we start meetings there are five key factors we are taking into account:

  1. Legality – are we legally allowed to meet?
  2. Safety – can we follow the Covid-19 secure guidelines and make our meetings (reasonably) safe?
  3. Quality – is the sort of meeting we are allowed to hold actually worth holding, and is it at least as good as the online experience?
  4. Children – can we give children an experience they will enjoy?
  5. Worship – can we genuinely worship God together and encounter him?

In addition we want to serve everyone, so this means we need enough capacity for all who want to attend in person, and still be able to serve those who are not able or willing to come to meetings in person yet by continuing online in some way.

We will no doubt hear of some churches starting meetings soon, and I know that Anglican churches are under particular pressure to do this. Churches are bound by many regulations at this time.

Here are some headlines from the guidance

Top of the list: we need to ensure social distancing at 2 meters. This seriously reduces our capacity, and would require us to hold a lot of meetings or for a lot of people to miss out. One church I know whose building has a capacity of 350 people have worked out that they can only fit 30 in under this guidance.

In addition to this: concept-of-covid-19-in-red-background-4031867

  • One-way routes would need to be laid out
  • We would have to ensure people did not interact with each other
  • Meetings would need to be concluded in the shortest reasonable time,
  • We would have to stagger arrivals and departures
  • There would be no food or drink served
  • There would be no singing allowed except by one person from the front, ideally from behind a screen
  • The volume would need to be kept so low that people could talk without raising their voices to avoid droplet spread
  • People would need to stay seated throughout
  • People in at risk groups, including people who are aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions), would advised not to attend
  • Children would have to be fully supervised by their parents
  • Once the meeting was finished people would have to leave promptly and not socialise

Additionally we would need to keep a log of every person who attends and keep it for 3 weeks. It only takes one person to develop a fever or cough following that meeting and everyone present is likely to be locked down at home for 14 days … which makes you think through how much you really want to be there.

For us this isn’t church

hands-with-latex-gloves-holding-a-globe-with-a-face-mask-4167544Church is built around our fellowship with Christ and with one another. The idea that we come alone, register our arrival, follow arrows on the floor to our seat, sit silently at least 2m away from others, hold onto our kids, not interact with others (since raised voices create droplets), listen to someone sing from behind a screen, hear someone else preach from behind a screen and then go home as fast as possible without interacting again … that’s not for us.

In summary, this doesn’t pass our tests.

Moving forwards

We will watch to see how things develop and keep everything under review. For July and August we will stay online, and will review again for September. I want us to be together as soon as possible, and the meetings have to be worthwhile when we are. We’ll also be looking at other ministries to bring them back as soon as we can.

In reality I wonder if we may still be some way off holding Sunday meetings in person, but we will watch closely as things change. In the meantime we haven’t given up meeting together; we’re meeting online and in other ways too. The Holy Spirit is not confused by the internet, even if we are sometimes.

What CAN we do?

Under current guidance six people from different households are allowed to meet up outside, and two households can meet together inside. Let’s make use of that as friends, as Lifegroups and on Sundays; let’s meet together in all the ways we can.

A final thought

The church is the body of Christ. Is it possible that in this time Jesus is developing different parts of it? With our excellent Sunday meetings we could become like a big torso with skinny legs and tiny arms. If so, this time is perhaps strengthening some other parts of the body.

So let’s keep loving one another, let’s keep on listening to God and let’s keep on encouraging one another; this situation won’t last forever.

Staff Change, Unlocking & Compassion

This Sunday we have our Welcome Church online Communion meeting, and everyone is welcome to join us. It starts at 6.30pm and all the information is in the picture below.

The communion part of the evening will run until 7.15pm, and will be followed by a short time of updates and information, finishing before 8pm.

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The communion will be led through by Tim Robertson from Compassion UK and will include updates on the projects we’ve supported in Togo. Please provide your own bread and wine (or suitable alternatives) and join us with all the family on zoom.

When Communion finishes I will share the latest news and updates for Welcome Church. This will finish by 8pm and will include:

  • Details about unlocking and how it affects our Sunday meetings going forwards
  • An exciting new staff change that will really bless our church

See you there!

And don’t forget to join us for Welcome Church online each Sunday at 9am and 11am, with kids work at 10am.

Moving Out Of Lockdown???

I love our church and I can’t wait to meet together in person again. I miss seeing people and I miss our corporate times of worship and ministry. Although we have a great online church, this time of Lockdown is not something I’m enjoying at all.

Yesterday announcements were made about the lifting of some of the aspects of Lockdown from Saturday July 4th, and part of this related to church. Naturally some people are getting excited and have even asked when we plan to start meeting again on Sundays in person.

Let me say that, although I love the enthusiasm and I share it, we must remember when announcements are made that we only get headlines; the full guidance follows in long documents. All churches are unique and need to individually assess what is safe in accordance with the guidance to be issued and our own context. The manner and timing of ‘re-opening’ will undoubtedly vary a lot from church to church.

The latest updates are a mixed bag, and during our online communion on July 5th we will bring you fully up to date with our plans as they stand.

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In the meantime, here are a few thoughts to keep you going for now:

Weddings are allowed again from July 4th … sort of

To get legally married people need to first declare their intent to marry a month in advance at the register office and then bring us their ‘blue form’ (this has always been the case – nothing new here). Sadly the register office is not yet open, so you can see the problem.

Weddings will need to follow Covid-19 Secure guidelines which mean that up to a maximum of 30 people can attend, all at a social distance. No singing is allowed so there will be no worship band. There will also be no food, no drinks and no party. Every surface will need to be cleaned afterwards. The toilets would probably have to operate a “1 in 1 out” system to avoid people coming into close contact.

In short, it’s mixed news and not straightforward. Despite these restrictions we look forward to seeing people legally married soon, especially James and Hannah, who’s plans have been delayed.

What about other meetings?

Meetings of up to 30 people will be allowed from July 4th … but only as long they follow the Covid-19 Secure guidelines. This means social distancing must be in place. It also means no singing, no handshakes, no hugging, and that all interactions with anyone you do not share a household with must be minimised. The points that apply to weddings also apply here (apart from needing a blue form 🙂)

In reality there are a lot more aspects to the guidelines as well, and we are probably still some way away from meeting together in person as a church for anything like a full Sunday meeting. I know this is frustrating and disappointing but remember:

Church is about more than our Sunday meetings; we are a family together

We are still the church even without being able to meet in our building.

So since two households are now allowed to get together indoors, you could take advantage of that to see people from church. You could even do it on a Sunday morning and enjoy online church together, but do bear in mind that you are still supposed to be socially distant, and you are not supposed to prepare food together or share utensils … and you shouldn’t really sing.

On days with good weather you can meet with up to five other people outside, and Life Groups could start to take advantage of this, but please remember that the same rules apply!

So how will we formulate our plans going forward?

Beyond  the official guidelines, here are some key factors we need to consider:

1. The quality of what we do

When we start Sunday meetings in person again, whatever size they are and whatever form they take, the total experience needs to at least be as good as we get online. Thirty people wearing face masks, keeping away from each other and not allowed to sing does not tick that box for us! It would also not bless those involved or help us reach new people at all.

In the mean time we are always looking at Sundays online to see how they can continue to be improved.

2. Children and youth

This is a huge factor for us as a church because we love our kids and youth and there are a lot of them! Before we do anything we need to know that our children’s work can be delivered in a way that the children will safely enjoy, that parents and leaders will be confident in, and which will comply with all the relevant guidelines.

3. Worship

One of the main reasons we come together is to join together in an act of worship to God, and at the heart of this is our sung worship time. If singing is not allowed we may decide that we are better off staying as we are for a while longer.

We do want to be on the front foot with this, but being on the front foot isn’t the same as rushing back to what we had before. Instead it means listening to and embracing what God is doing at every step of the way, remembering that God’s people have been in various types of “Lockdown”, many times before … like Jonah, Daniel, Paul, Noah, Joseph and the whole nation of Israel at times too. God is in control of all our days. Let’s be patient.

In the meantime online church continues, so does online Alpha, prayer, kids work, youth work and Life Groups and more, and please remember: the Holy Spirit is not confused by Zoom or by the internet! God can still work in us and through us, and we can still meet with him.

In short, we are not in a rush to make changes, but neither do we want to delay unnecessarily.  We will take all of these factors into account and make decisions in ways that are faith filled, sensible, legal, practical and will help us move forward together best as a church.

Please pray that God gives us great wisdom

For now, please put Sunday July 5th in your diary

That evening, at 6.30pm, we will have online communion together, led by my friend Tim Robertson from Compassion UK. This will be followed by a time of sharing updates and information from Welcome Church.

These updates will include the latest information relating to coming out of Lockdown, and also the details of an exciting staff change, and it will all be over by 8pm.

Don’t miss it!

But please know this: I do miss all of you.

 

 

 

 

Community and Racism

We’ve lived through some difficult days with the challenge of Coronavirus, but events took place in the USA last week, which for many have overshadowed them all: the murder of a black man called George Floyd by four white police officers on the streets of Minneapolis.

Protests, some of them violent, have erupted across the USA. Even in the UK there have been protests and anger. This event has become a tipping point, pushing people to speak out and take action.

Racism is not unique to the USA of course; it happens in the UK too and many here feel angry; many experience racism on a daily basis. I believe we can and must do better than that within the church; I believe we can be a shining beacon in our town and our world.

So this Sunday at Welcome Church Online at 9am and 11am, I’m going to talk about how we can build a community together where everyone can be included, regardless of their ethnicity or the colour of their skin, and where Jesus’ Kingdom values can shine through. Everyone is invited to join us online on Sunday to hear more.

There are also two important events happening for us as a church on Sunday evening:

First: online communion online

We will be holding our next online communion  on Sunday 7th June at 6.30pm, for about 45 minutes. This is a great chance for us to build community together and will be on the same Zoom code as the prayer meetings, so do join us.

communion

It will be a ‘Come as you are communion’, so do log on as a family and bring your own bread and wine (or Ribena or whatever). Please put it in your diary now.

Second: “Listening Together”, a chance to talk about race and the experiences of people in our church

listening TogetherWe celebrate and praise God for the diversity of cultures and heritages that make up Welcome Church. We are one in Christ Jesus. As a leadership team we’re very aware that we’re not a perfect church, and as we reflect on the shocking events and the damaging history of racism and prejudice in our world, it’s important that we make space to reflect on how these issues are relevant within our own church family.

This Sunday evening from 8pm to 9pm one of our elders Christopher Hawes, alongside one of our other leaders Nnamdi Anyaegbunam, will be hosting a conversation, which is open to anyone, with an emphasis on listening to those most affected by these issues. It’s an opportunity for us to grow and learn to love each other better, and to grow in our unity as a church family.

You are invited to join us on the usual Zoom codes. I’ll be there, and I look forward to seeing you.

In the mean time

I have resisted writing a blog about racism and our response, because other people have said it so well already. If you want some excellent reading about this, please check out these links:

And finally this video response from my friend Tope Koleoso who leads Jubilee Church in London:

Making changes, keeping things fresh

We have been living and we continue to live through unprecedented times. None of us have walked this road before; none of us know what’s ahead.

In order to serve people well as a church, in addition to our Welcome Church online Sunday meetings, kids work, youth work and Life Groups, we quickly introduced two new things when this situation began:

  1. A daily encouragement video
  2. Twice daily prayer meetings on Zoom

These have both been running for just short of ten weeks now. The positive feedback from the encouragement videos has been appreciated, and I’ve been amazed at people’s faithfulness to log on and pray faithfully, as well as at the many answers to prayer. We’ve also held online communion which has been well received.

Thanks to everyone who has taken part and to everyone who has worked to make these things happen – especially to Darren, to Ethan and to our subtitling team

As Lockdown eases – (and who knows what may happen in the next few weeks) – we want to make sure that what we do as a church stays fresh, is sustainable over the long term and serves people well.

We are all aware of changes happening in our country as more people are now going back to work and as the range of reasons we’re allowed out has been expanded. We are also more used to Lockdown, and no longer in a state of shock and panic.

Review

With all this in mind we’ve done a review taking into account a range of different factors including:

  • Changes in the level of engagement as people have gone back to work or have simply gone out more, especially on a Saturday (we have numbers and trends for every video and prayer meeting!)
  • A desire to keep things fresh and helpful (it’s always better to change things before they get stale and not to wait until after they do)
  • The reality of needing to do things sustainably over the long haul (and it may be some time before we’re free to meet together in person, perhaps not until next year)
  • A need to avoid burning out the team  (and it’s got too close for comfort along the way, in more than one case)
  • The fact that if we’re doing one thing with our time & resources, we can’t do something else with the same time & resources (this is called “opportunity cost”; put simply, sometimes doing something good can stop us from doing something great)

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As a result of this review we’re making some changes, and we’re also introducing something new …

A change to the Zoom Prayer Meetings

From Monday 25th May onwards we will be holding our prayer meetings online once a day, Monday to Saturday, from 8.15am – 9am. That’s a lot of prayer meetings every week, and my encouragement is for people to come to at least one each week if you can, and let’s expect to see God answer our prayers

This time can be made to work for the vast majority of people. I know that some will be disappointed to lose the 1pm, slot, but it’s worth bearing in mind that when we had that time, there where others disappointed by the lack of an evening slot!

A change to the Daily Encouragement videos

The current run of daily videos will be ending on Monday 25th May, after almost ten weeks. Thanks to all who have made them possible and thanks for the feedback.

From the week commencing Monday 1st June we will begin ‘Encouragement from Welcome Church’ as a twice weekly video, probably on Tuesdays and Fridays at 4pm.

These encouragement videos will be a mix of news and Biblical encouragement. Don’t miss them if you want to stay up to date and encouraged!

And now for something completely new

From the week starting Monday 1st June I am delighted to announce the launch of a new ministry called:

Forerunners

female-and-male-runners-on-a-marathon-2402777Forerunners is our new ministry aimed at anyone from age 60 and upwards. It is intended to help people build friendship and connection with one another and to grow in God. Some aspects will be social, many will be more ministry based.

Forerunners will be led by Tony and Pat Hewatt, along with a team, and they have a desire to release people into all God has for them in this season of life. They will say more about their vision and plans in the weeks ahead.

Pat and Tony want to be clear that, although this is aimed at people from 60 and upwards, all the meetings are open to anyone of any age who wants to join in.

Initially Forerunners will start online on Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunchtime, so bring your lunch and be online ready to eat, chat and pray. The exact details and timings will be communicated in the coming days.

I’m so pleased that we’re able to kick this off during this time of Lockdown, and I know that there are a good number of people in our church who will appreciate it, including some who will miss the 1pm prayer slot.

Please feel free to invite other people to join in too, wherever they are from. This is not exclusive for Welcome Church: all welcome; come as you are.

Don’t forget

Welcome Church online continues each week at 9am and 11am. Welcome Kids is at 10am each week. Youth is on Friday evenings. Most Life Groups are also meeting every week.

If you are looking for connection to people and to God there are many places to find it so no one need miss out.

One last thing: communion online

We will be holding our next communion online on Sunday 7th June at 6.30pm, for about 45 minutes. It will be on the same Zoom code as the prayer meetings, so do join us.

It will be another ‘Come as you are communion’, so do log on as a family and bring your own bread and wine (or Ribena or whatever). Please put it in your diary now, and I look forward to seeing you online.

Welcome Worship Online

Our online Sunday meetings have been well served with worship songs recorded by members of our Welcome Church worship team.

Some of these tracks are now available for you to listen to online via Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube. Please click here to access them.

Enjoy the worship, and don’t forget to follow us. More of the tracks we’re producing as a church will be added soon.

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Special thanks (so far) goes to to Simon Field (for filming the videos), Jo Petch, Owen Petch, Steve Tait and Sophie White (for making the music), and Owen again for mixing the sound.

More people will be getting involved in the weeks ahead, so look out for that too.

 

 

 

Calling all Welcome Church Life Groups!

Life Groups have been key for us at Welcome Church during this time of Lockdown, so I went to say a massive ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ to all our group leaders for taking their group meetings online so seamlessly and faithfully.

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Different groups have been taking different approaches during this time:

Most have been meeting weekly and some fortnightly. There have been quizzes, competitions, sing-a-longs, breakout groups, Bible studies, prayer meetings, encouragements, worship times, fancy dress, reflections on the Sunday preaching, drawing competitions, poetry, things for kids, virtual meals and a whole lot more.

The most important thing is that people have  connected to caring community during a time of isolation

There are three things I want to say to and about Life Groups:

1. I want to recommend a book and encourage Life Groups to study it together in the weeks ahead.

51ELoj+49hL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The book is called “Spiritual Feasting” and is written by Jenny Sanders. It has 17 chapters, and each chapter ends with three application questions that groups can work through together. I would recommend looking at just one chapter each week.

I know this will do us all so much good, whether you’ve been a Christian for years or are still just exploring the faith.

The book is available on Amazon by clicking here. At the time of writing it’s on pre-order for a reduced price, but don’t hang about; it’s released on Friday (the 15th May) and will be a little more expensive after that. There’s a kindle version available too.

The book is all about the reality of living life to the full with Jesus, even though we walk through challenges and difficulties. It’s well worth the time and effort to read and will serve us so well. If you’re hungering for a greater spiritual reality with Jesus in your life, this will do you good.

2. I would love to encourage group members to say “thank you” to their Life Group leaders

I suspect lots of people have done this already, but if not please let your group leaders know how much they are appreciated. Why not sent them a thank you?

3. If you’re not in a Life Group and would like to try one, you can

To arrange it, please email us on connect@allwelcome.uk and let us know you want to try a Life Group. Make sure you include your contact details so we can get in touch.

Let’s all be part of a caring community at this time.

UPDATED!!! Building Community Together

DETAILS FOR SUNDAY EVENING’S ONLINE COMMUNION HAVE CHANGED BECAUSE THE PRIME MINISTER WILL ADDRESS THE NATION AT 7PM – SEE BELOW FOR UPDATED DETAILS

Coronavirus, social distancing and lockdown have created challenges for us all, including a sense of isolation. I’ve certainly had some ‘down’ days along the way and I know others have too.

There will be things we’re each missing, and one I’ve heard mentioned often is that people are missing meeting together in person as a church community. In response I want to highlight two things we’ve got planned to help us connect together.

Evening Communion

This Sunday (10th May) at 6.00pm (please note new time), we will hold ‘online communion’ together. Everyone is invited to join us for a ‘Welcome Church, Come As You Are, Online Communion’.

We will do this on Zoom, and all the details are shown in the picture:

communion

 

Everyone is welcome. Come as you are. Come as a family. You don’t have to be part of Welcome Church to join in; just bring your faith and an open heart.

At the end of our time together we’ll take communion, so please be ready with bread and wine (or Ribena or grape juice or whatever you’ve got). Please don’t worry too much what it is or put yourself at risk to get something.

The items that we use are always symbolic of a greater reality; what counts is being together as one body of people with Jesus at the centre. Jesus is the ‘bread’ we all share. His death for us is what we remember.

This is a great way for us to be together in the presence of Jesus

Virtual Coffee

Community is so important to us that as well as being able to post comments and to share “hearts” in the chat area during the meeting itself, we’ve now introduced “Virtual Coffee” after both the 9am and 11am meetings, for about half an hour. Please do grab yourself a drink and then come and join us online for a ‘Virtual Coffee’ and chat.

Everyone is welcome to join in – just log on and be friendly. If you’re new to our church or connecting from another town or even another country, you’re welcome too. Come and say hi for half and hour or so, and let’s build community, get to know one another and have virtual coffee.

Again, the details are in the picture:

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Good Friday: come and join us

This coming Friday, the 10th, is known as Good Friday. It’s a day when Christians all around the world remember the death of Jesus on the cross.

As a church we don’t tend to follow all the events of the traditional Christian calendar, but this year especially we want to mark Good Friday, and we would love you to join us for that. We have a simple plan:

At 10am we will pray together online for about an hour

  • One of my friends, a pastor from a church in India, will join us online from Mumbai and lead us in prayer. The challenges in India right now are huge, as I shared in my talk on Sunday – you can listen here if you missed it
  • On Friday we will pray for the church in India and for our own nation too
  • At the end of our time we will take communion together, so please be ready with bread and wine (or Ribena or grape juice or whatever you’ve got)
  • Please don’t worry too much what it is or put yourself at risk to get something. Remember that the items we use are always symbolic of a greater reality; what counts is being together as one body of people with Jesus at the centre. Jesus is the ‘bread’ we all share. His death for us is what we remember.

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You can find the details of how to access that meeting on our Welcome Church website.

That day there will also be a daily encouragement video out at 4pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday is a good day to do that on, because on that day Christians remember one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith: the death of Jesus on a cross. God himself came into our world in Jesus and he died for us to open the way for us to know God.

ALL CHANGE FOR SUNDAY! DON’T MISS IT!

Because we really value community and want to improve how we meet together online each Sunday …

We are launching WelcomeChurch.Online

There will be no more Sunday meetings through Facebook. Instead you need to visit welcomechurch.online

This is a completely new platform for us. As you watch you can comment on the message, you can ask for prayer and more.

The biggest change is this:

Sunday meetings will broadcast LIVE at 9am, 11am and 6pm

Because it’s live you can’t rewind, pause or fast forward, so put the time in your diary!

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If you do miss it, you can watch or listen to the preach from Monday onwards through our church website.

Welcome Kids will be live at WelcomeChurch.Online at 10am each Sunday.

If you miss the kids slot it will be available afterwards through Facebook as before.