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.

Sickness, Healing and Death

This Sunday at Welcome Church we’re starting a brand new preaching series called, ‘Sickness, Healing and Death’. This might not sound like the most encouraging topic to kick off the new season with, so why do it?

Firstly I would say it should actually be very encouraging since the gospel is good news for all of life, but beyond that there are three main reasons:

1. We have a number of people in the church who are ill right now, some critically

It’s vital we understand what the Bible teaches about sickness, healing and death so we can handle each situation well, respond with faith, and be ready to help one another and pray for one another.

2. We’re in the midst of a health pandemic as a nation

Coronavirus is still with us. From Monday the new ‘rule of 6’ began. Statistically it’s likely that some more of us will catch the virus, and some may become ill or die from it. We’ve been relatively unscathed as a church so far, and I pray it stays that way, but there are no guarantees. Either way, 100% of us WILL die at some point. Death and sickness are a fact of life, so we need to view these issues Biblically.

3. Most importantly: we need to move forward again as a church

We need to come ‘Back To Life’, as I preached on Sunday (click here to listen). Before too long we’ll start some ‘in person’ Sunday meetings. We’re legally allowed to do them (with some Covid restrictions) and it will mean stepping out in faith for some of us; in person meetings will challenge us to overcome fear and apathy. A Biblical view on sickness, healing and death will help us overcome fear, and release us into faith.

Let’s embrace this new season

I believe God has great things ahead for us as a church. As we step up and step out again, let’s do it with our eyes wide open and our hearts encouraged by what the Bible teaches on these hugely relevant issues.

Being Big Hearted

On Sunday we started our new Welcome Church preaching series: ‘Straight From The Heart’. During this series we’ve invited a number of people, some from our church and some from other contexts, to speak to us straight from their heart about the lessons they’ve learnt during these difficult days.

  • What truths are they’re hanging on to?
  • What has God been saying to them?
  • What are the things we really need to know during this season?

The first speaker in the series was me 😃. I talked about “The Hardest Lesson”, something every Christian needs to learn! You can check it out here:

Next week we’ll be hearing from Chris Kimbangi who leads Hope Church in Guildford. It’s a great message and I know it will bless you.

Caring for those in need

At the end of the talk I launched our new Hardship Fund, which is a chance for us all to show big hearted generosity.

We’ve walked through tough times lately and lockdown has been difficult. We’re now being warned that more hardships are ahead: a recession, job losses, financial cuts, service cuts  and more. There are likely to be hard times ahead for some people.

I’m already aware of some in our church who’ve lost jobs and others who’re unable to find them. Hardships are coming, and even if you and your family get through all of this unscathed, others may not. With this in mind we want to be on the front foot with generosity.

We have an amazing vision as a church to see lives transformed and communities impacted for good, and it’s only funded by our giving, so let’s stay generous.

As a church we already have a general fund and a building fund, and both are vital at this time, and this week we launched our brand new hardship fund. We are setting this up so we’re able to respond quickly to emergencies that come up, both within our church and among those we are connected to.

We’re asking people to consider making a gift to this hardship fund so that, when a need arises, we are able to respond. Making a gift to the fund is easy, just follow this link to find out more. Why not do it now?

Generosity is a call of God on all of us

silhouette-photo-of-man-leaning-on-heart-shaped-tree-744667Generosity is a heart thing. It’s rooted in the character of God because God is generous, and his generosity to us releases generosity through us. Generosity is about how we live AND about how we give. Christians are called to live generously and give generously in every way.  We have some wonderfully generous people in our church, why not become one of them?

And the real beauty of generosity is that whatever our current financial situation may be, we can all be generous in proportion to what we have. Let’s go for this with faith even in these challenging days. 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Compassion in Togo: Coronavirus update

Christians are called to care for the poor, and one of the ways we do that at Welcome Church is by encouraging people to sponsor children through Compassion UK, specifically in the African country of Togo. As a church we currently sponsor 141 children in one particular area of that country, and there is always room for that to increase – just ask me how. You can read more about it here.

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What is happening in Togo with coronavirus?

The government of Togo has taken preventative measures against the spread of Coronavirus in their country. Gatherings of more than 15 people are banned, travel is limited, borders are closed, and schools have been closed. The major cities are in lockdown, and a nationwide curfew is in effect from 8pm to 6am.

Although official figures for infection rates in the country are not high, there is very little testing going on in most developing countries. In reality the virus is spreading across Africa at an alarming rate, especially in the cities where many people live in poor and cramped conditions.

What about the Compassion project we support?

Across Togo, Compassion staff and local church partners are working hard to provide support to children and families wherever possible.  While many Compassion projects are temporarily closed to group activities, that doesn’t mean all the activities have stopped.

At the project where most of the children we support are based, the group activities are currently on hold, and our letters and gifts may take longer than usual to be delivered.

In the mean time staff and volunteers are providing much needed information to children and their families about hygiene and disease prevention as well as distributing food packages to the most vulnerable.

Individual home visits are also continuing for Child Survival Programmes, helping pregnant  mothers and their babies. 

One of the strengths of the way Compassion work, and one of the reasons I appreciate them so much, is that  the local church directly implements  the programme in their own community; it is not a programme run by ‘experts’ or ‘saviours’ coming in from outside.

Because it is all delivered by the local church, they are uniquely positioned to provide support, and don’t depend on an ability to travel in order to ensure children and their families receive the love and care they need. Many churches in Togo are also providing hand-washing facilities to serve their community.

Should I still write letters?

During this time communication will inevitably take longer, but please keep on writing.

If you’re struggling to know what to write, Compassion have put together a few tips, including how to ask appropriate questions about COVID-19, how to be sensitive to the situation, how to encourage your sponsored child and how to pray. You can read that by clicking here.

How can I best pray for my sponsored child?

  • Pray for protection from the virus for all the children registered with Compassion and for their families, especially the child(ren) you sponsor
  • Pray for the church (Lumière Espérance), and for their staff and volunteers
  • Pray for the health and safety of all of the staff in the Togo office
  • Pray for children still longing for a sponsor to be encouraged, loved and cared for during this long wait
  • Pray for sponsors and their families who have been impacted by the virus

If you want more information, click here for some frequently ask questions

Finally: A Big Thank You

Here is a short video from Justin Dowds, the CEO of Compassion UK, specifically thanking us at Welcome Church for what we do:

George Varney: he’s a community hero!

Welcome Church‘s very own George Varney has deservingly won a fantastic award, and we could not be prouder of him.

The award has been given by Christian Nightlife Initiatives Network (CNI), who are an umbrella organisation for around 130 local projects working predominantly to serve people within the night-time economy, and this include Woking Street Angels.

aIMG_6734-1638x2048Because of George’s outstanding work as a Street Angel, where he is both a trustee and team leader, along with his most recent venture, The Useful Wood Company, George has been chosen as a community hero by CNI.

This is a Nation Wide Contest so George has done really well. You can read all about his award by clicking here – you may spot a few other familiar faces in the photos too.

Alice Potter, a Trustee from Woking Street Angels said,

“George has always been the person to step in the gap when we have had holes in our Duty Rota. He would be out until 4am in the morning and still turn up for an early start at church a few hours later. He has always gone the extra mile. He stands out in our Team and I am proud that he is part of our Church.”

Serving the poor and those in need is a key aspect of the Christian faith in action, so it is also central to us as a church. You can see lots more of what we do in these areas by checking out our Welcome Works initiative.

Staying Connected

During this unusual time when we can’t meet together in person, there are a number of ways we plan to stay connected with each other as a church. I want to encourage you to make the most of these opportunities, so no one ends up feeling lonely or cut off. Let’s also be on the front foot to invite other’s to connect with us too.

For some people this may mean learning to use technology that’s completely new to you, but go for it anyway! 🙂

Daily Encouragement

Every day at 4pm (Mon to Sat) we are posting a video to help encourage us all during this crisis. It can be found on our church website, and will also be posted to our Welcome Church Facebook page (not the group!) I may blog some of these posts as well, but it would be best not to rely on that. Please be proactive and look on line at 4pm each day, and do let us know of it’s helpful to you.

Life Groups

Over the next few weeks we were due to refresh our Life Groups, with the chance to start new groups or sign up again for existing ones. In order to provide the best connection and care for us all during this crisis, that process has been postponed and current groups will continue for the time being. We’re encouraging people who are not already in a group to connect to one, and if you need help to do that, please contact Dean Guy.

We’re also encouraging all Life Groups to set up a What’s App group chat so people can easily keep in touch. We know that some groups have also started having virtual meetings using Zoom too – what a great idea (more info on that below).

Welcome Youth

Welcome Youth had their first online experience yesterday evening. Despite one or two technical glitches games were played and encouragement was given. Look out for more on that as the weeks progress.

Alpha

Alpha will be going on line via Zoom. They already had a planning meeting online this week. More details will follow in the days ahead.

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The Alpha Planning Meeting on Zoom

Sundays

Sunday meetings cannot take place in the usual way at the moment. This Sunday at 10am there will be a Sunday preach available on the church website, and also on our Facebook page (not the group!) It will also be available as a podcast.

To make this more interactive I will set up a WATCH PARTY starting a few moments after 10am that anyone can join. To access this on the day, be on the Facebook page and ready to go at 10am! The beauty of a watch party is that people can comment and interact together as we go along. (Can I hear an Amen?) I hope lots of us will join in.

Welcome Kids

This Sunday at 9am our first Welcome Kids online experience will be available on the Welcome Church website for you to enjoy with them at home. They have a great plan including craft, worship, games and teaching. This will also be accessible through the Facebook page.

Prayer

As of Monday morning we will be hosting prayer meetings online through Zoom. The plan is to pray from 7.30am – 8.00am, and then again from 1pm -1.45pm. For each prayer meeting we will post an access code in the Facebook group (not the page!)

Please use these codes to join us and pray. We did one on Friday as an experiment and it went really well.

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Pastoral Care

If you have a pastoral need during this time, please do communicate with your Life Group. We also want to pray for people as a whole church when needs come up, so please use the email care@allwelcome.uk to keep us informed. These needs will be prayed for during the Zoom prayer meetings, so get your requests in.

In terms of practical care for those required to stay at home (shopping, getting a prescription, walking a dog etc) we need to use real wisdom! Life Groups and other contacts across the church can do a certain amount, but as this crisis grows we are unlikely to be able to meet every need. Additionally this is a moment to connect well with our community. On this basis there are some things to consider:

  1. Let’s remember to connect well with our own families and neighbours; they may also need our help.
  2. Let’s get involved with the many local volunteer groups that are springing up. Jo and I are involved with our local one in Send, which is being expertly organised by a woman called Ruth. I am now a ‘volunteer coordinator’, and leaflets are going out across our area today. This creates a great opportunity to meet new people and show them love and care.
  3. Practically speaking, most help given in this season is going to need to be done locally, especially as travel becomes restricted. 

An increasing number of Welcome Church people, of all ages, are being confined at home. We now have confirmed cases of Coronavirus amongst the church, and we have others who have symptoms that are as yet unconfirmed. Our first serious hospitalised case is in a relatively young person with young children and no pre-existing conditions.

If you’re helping someone else, or you’re receiving help, please don’t take unnecessary risks or ignore the need for social distancing. To use an  example, this would mean leaving shopping on the door step and not going inside.

Using technology

Technology is a wonderful gift from God. Let’s be grateful for it and embrace it at this time. You may have noticed that there are some specific technologies we are using at this time to help people connect, so please let’s all consider doing the following:

  1. Sign up for our regular emails – you can do that by clicking this link.
  2. Keep an eye on our websiteInformation and updates will be posted there
  3. Install What’s App on your mobile phone. This is a free messaging service that allows you to set up group chats with people. It also allows you to make totally free audio or video calls to friends who have the app, even to people in other nations.
  4. Sign up to Facebook (Yes! Seriously!) Even if you’ve never done this before and swore you never would, now is the time. Once you’ve joined send me a friend request. Also like & follow our Welcome Church page, and join our Welcome Church group. You may have resisted doing this all your life, or you may just prefer Instagram or Twitter or other social media. In simple practical terms, Facebook offers the level of flexibility and interaction that we need right now, so our focus will be there. You can always quit when this crisis is over.
  5. Sign up to Zoom. This is a free app that you install on your laptop, phone or tablet. Sign up for a free account and you can join in everything we do on Zoom. A free account lets you set up meetings of up to 40 minutes length (though you can join ones that last any length of time). If you want to set up long meetings of your own, you can upgrade to a paid account as I’ve done. Zoom offer lots of online videos and tutorials to teach you how to use it, so why not use some of your time to learn? We used it for our elders and admin meetings this week and it was great.
  6. Follow this blog. This is your one stop shop for staying up to date with the church during this crisis. You can click a button to subscribe to it.

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Staying together as a church

Please be encouraged to embrace these specific technologies to help you stay part of the church community during this time. They are a gift from God for us right now and I thank God for them all.

Even if these things are new to you, or you’re someone who thinks “Facebook is so last year”, please join in. Simply put: let’s all be in the same place.

Including everyone

There are always a few people who are unable to connect in the ways I describe above. Perhaps they have no laptop, email or internet (there are a few people in this position), or the internet where they live is just too slow to stream things.

If you have friends in this position, please do phone them and check in with them regularly. In fact, why not do that with lots of people regularly? If we all made just 1 or 2 phone calls a day just to check in with how people are, what a blessing that could be.

 

Coronavirus and Welcome Church: what happens next?

It’s been a momentous 48 hours!

On Sunday we were together for two encouraging morning meetings. Our Encounter meeting in the evening was superb too. I spoke during the morning about living with Contentment in this time of crisis.

For the first time we videoed the preach, so it’s available to watch. The podcast is also available as usual here, but for those looking for the full experience, here is Welcome Church online (be warned – subtitles are still being worked on and amended – there are some howlers in there right now!)

The situation has changed a lot since Sunday

I said in my preach that it could be the last time we were together for a while; sadly that turned out to be true. On Monday afternoon Boris Johnson briefed the nation on the latest measures the Government would like us to take to help manage the national Coronavirus situation.

Amongst other things it was said, “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and non-essential travel” and that we should avoid “all social gatherings and social contact”. He has also asked people to work from home wherever possible.

In order to comply with this guidance, with immediate effect Welcome Church has postponed all meetings including Life Groups, Welcome Youth, Welcome Crew, Welcome Tots, Alpha, all courses and prayer meetings, and we’ve closed the office until further notice too.

This does not mean that church life has ceased!

Church is a family, not a meeting, a building or a ministry. Church is us; the people! We are the church!

Over the next couple of days we are looking at how things develop and what it will all mean for us as a church. We are also, right now, developing ways for us to function together as a church using online resources and strategies. I am so grateful to God for the existence of the technology that makes this possible.

Here is the first of our online video updates and encouragements. Please watch and enjoy. More will follow in due course.

This situation is not going away any time soon and it will get worse before it gets better. Let’s all get our hearts right and our expectations right. Let’s not give in to fear, but stand firm in faith.

We are here to be a blessing to our town in this challenging time, whatever may happen. God has a purpose for us in all of this.

And remember: God is never taken by surprise. Let’s not be fearful;  He has us safe in the palm of His hand. Even if we die, we live.

The church is made for a time like this!

 

Covid-19: 12 steps for our church

On Sunday at Welcome Church I spoke about our response to the current Coronavirus Pandemic. This is a moment unprecedented in most of our lifetimes, but moments like this are nothing new historically; many disasters, plagues and viruses have come and gone over the years.

In 1854, the preacher Charles Spurgeon found himself pastoring a congregation during a cholera outbreak in London. You can read about his response during that time here. We need a response to this current crisis too.

Here’s our 12 step plan as a church:

1. Let’s have faith:man-walking-on-gray-stairs-677971

As I’ve said before, this is not a time to panic (read more here). The church is made for a time like this. We are people of faith and we will trust Jesus. We will trust him that our lives are in his hands, and we will trust that He will do good things in and through our church and our lives at this time.

2. Let’s make informed decisions:

We will listen to wisdom and follow official advice, combining that with our local knowledge of the state of play in our own town and church. We won’t be making changes simply for the sake of appearances.

Presently (2pm, 16th March) we’re allowed to meet together as normal, so we’ll continue to do so. If the official advice changes, we will change too. In line with official advice, if you have a new constant cough or a high fever – however mild – please self isolate, and do let us know so we can pray for you.

3. Let’s continue to meet together:

We need to seek God throughout this challenging season. If a point comes where the official advice is to cancel our main Sunday meetings, we’ll meet in other ways and by other means as appropriate. This could include smaller meetings, Life Groups, Facebook live, video recordings, podcasts, blog posts, links to worship songs, email updates and more. Make sure you connect to as many of these things as you can.

Obviously there are some who may need to limit social interaction, on the advice of health professionals, or due to underlying health conditions, but let’s not withdraw simply out of fear, after all – this could go on for some months.

Currently we have decided not to pass an offering basket or take communion. Let’s also be wise in how we greet people or pray for them. Beyond that, we plan to carry on with our diary as planned, in line with the current official advice. But because this crisis is likely to get significantly worse before it gets better, let’s be ready for changes, even at the last minute, and let’s be flexible when they happen.

*** UPDATE ***
This afternoon,
Boris Johnson briefed the nation on the latest measures that the Government would like us to take to help manage the national Coronavirus situation.

Amongst other things it was said, “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and non-essential travel” and that we should all avoid all social gatherings and social contact.

He has also asked people to work from home wherever possible.

In order to comply with this guidance, with immediate effect Welcome Church will be cancelling all meetings, including Life Groups, and closing our office until further notice.

Over the next couple of days we will be looking at how things develop and what that will mean for us as a church, including using online and other resources.

As soon as we have further information we will issue an update via email, social media and our website, so expect to hear from us soon.

Let’s all be on the front foot to care for one another wherever we can.

Remember: none of this is taking our Heavenly Father by surprise.

He can use this time for His purposes in our lives, our church and our nation.

 

4. Let’s pray:

belief-bible-book-business-267559Let’s seek God for his protection on our church, our town and our nation at this time. Let’s pray for wisdom for our government, and strength and endurance for NHS workers and emergency services. If someone is sick we’ll pray for them in whatever way we can as well; just let us know the situation. Please also pray at home and in Life Groups.

We are Christians, not fatalists! We believe in prayer!

Right now the official guidelines tell us to wash our hands often, for at least 20 seconds. If you want to time 20 seconds, try praying The Lord’s Prayer; it works in more ways than one. 😃 We believe in the power of prayer, we also believe in the power of soap.

5. Let’s reject selfishness:

It would be very easy to just focus on ourself and our own family right now: buy what we can, pile it up, look after number one and batten down the hatches until it’s over. By doing that we could miss out on the opportunity of this unusual season we are living through.

Instead of embracing selfishness and fear, let’s show the love of Jesus to our world by responding with kindness, care and generosity to those around us. Let’s connect with our neighbours and those in need, and let’s offer help in Jesus name. And let’s ask Jesus for his help and strength to keep on serving, however tough it gets.

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6. Let’s be ready to care for others:

As a church we are God’s family, so let’s act like a family. This may get easier once some of us have had the virus and recovered, so we can step up in caring for others without restrictions, but let’s not wait until then.

If there comes a point when those who are over 70 are told to self isolate – which could happen in the near future – let’s be ready to help them. And let’s think more widely than just our church; let’s be ready to step up and help our neighbours and any vulnerable people we know as well.

7. Let’s look to pastor our town:

People are in fear. Let’s be ready to speak God’s good news to people, to offer prayer, to help our neighbours and to show a different way of living. Let’s not be selfish. Let’s not spread fear in person or online. Let’s speak faith and point people to the eternal hope that is available in Jesus, and let’s step up to help practically. Welcome Church is here in Woking for such a time as this.

8. Let’s be open to new evangelistic opportunities:

Let’s be ready to tell people the reason for the hope that we have. We have an amazing message of hope in Jesus; he offers eternal life and the promise of his presence with us. We can walk through this season without fear because live or die we can’t lose. And remember: the more you pray for opportunities, the more you get – so be ready.

9. Let’s be worshippers:

God deserves our praise at all times, so let’s live lives of worship in all circumstances. Worship is a spiritual weapon (see 2 Chronicles 20). We’re called to give thanks to God in every circumstance; so let’s be worshippers and not panickers; it’s hard to worship when you’re running away in fear!

10. Let’s lead our children well:

Teach the truth of the gospel to your children and grandchildren. Don’t leave them afraid and don’t model fear to them. Pray for them and pray with them. Remind them that Jesus cares for them. Teach them not to be afraid in life’s difficult circumstances. Teach them that death is not the end for any of us if we put our faith in Jesus. When Coronavirus comes up in conversation be ready to speak words of faith and point them to Jesus. Our kids need evangelism even more than they need soap!

As a family you could worship together, pray together and celebrate communion together. Let’s lead our children in faith, not fear.

11. Let’s entrust our lives to God:

When Esther, in the Bible book of Esther, had to go before the King on behalf of her people, without being summoned by him and in great fear of her life, she said, “I will go before the King, and if I perish I perish”.

This is a time to throw ourselves onto Jesus. Let’s go before King Jesus, ask for his mercy and leave our lives in his hands as we serve those around us. If we perish, it’s in his hands. We are not immune to disease, but death is not the end for us either, and King Jesus has us safely in his hands.

flowers-marguerites-destroyed-dead-200912. If people die, let’s bury them with faith, and care for their families well:

Death is not the end. We have a resurrection to come. If our faith counts for anything, it counts when we face a crisis like this, where people we love may die, or our own lives may be lost. God has not promised us immunity from sickness and death, but his word does show us that we’re immortal until our life’s work is done – so let’s trust him.

THAT’S THE PLAN!

This situation will get worse before it gets better. Jesus does not promise that we will never get sick or die. We may lose people we love to this and we may mourn … but we will not mourn like those who have no hope, and we will not walk in fear.

Jesus won a great victory for us at the cross: death was defeated; our resurrection is promised; victory is ours in Jesus. We can live in contentment despite the current crisis because our Heavenly Father is watching over us and even if we die we will live.

And perhaps this crisis is a good reminder for us all that it’s not wise to live our lives as though sickness and death were the least likely things ever to happen to us; they are a certainty for us all.

Covid-19: Don’t Panic!

Something unprecedented within most of our lifetimes is happening right now: a Coronavirus to which we have no herd immunity is spreading across the world and people have died. This kind of event is nothing new in history of course, it’s just new to us, and there is a lot of fear about it.

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Boris Johnson said this week that it was, “the worst public health crisis for a generation” and he warned that many families would “lose loved ones before their time”.

We’ve seen the impact of the virus on supermarkets, workplaces, international travel, stock markets, the budget, public events and more. I just received notice of the cancellation of a conference I was due to attend, and of our guest speaker for next Sunday too.

Sadly I’ve even picked up that there is fear among Christians. So how are we going to respond? The first thing we need to know is this:

The church is made for a time like this

CHRISTIANS: DO NOT PANIC!

Our faith is more than adequate for this crisis. Remember: “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1v7)

Christians are not supposed to hide away in times like this, any more than the army is supposed to run away and hide in a time of war. We’re called to stand firm and live out our faith. We are called to reject selfishness and care for those in need. We are called to share our message of hope with our town.

That’s not to say we’re immune from disease, but let’s keep perspective: most people who get this recover quickly and if the worst comes to the worst, that’s what our faith is for; we have a hope that goes beyond the grave!

We have a powerful message of good news at this time: This life is not the end.

We need to trust in what Jesus said, live out our faith and share it with other people through our words and our acts of kindness and love. If we’re going to do that we need to be prepared, so we will be talking all about this on Sunday, including details of how, as Welcome Church, we will be responding to this current crisis.

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Sunday Meetings

We are constantly monitoring the situation and listening to the advice of the British Government, Public Health England and the Commission Group of Churches. As it stands, we’re still 100% fine to gather on Sunday, and our diary is going ahead as planned.

(Even in Scotland where they have decided to stop meetings of more than 500 people, this is not being done on scientific evidence to affect the spread of disease; it is about ensuring that NHS resources are not drained by events. Churches were also specifically mentioned as NOT included in this)

If anything changes we will let you know. If we need to, we will find other ways to keep ‘meeting’ together, including online solutions, but at this point this is simply not necessary, so let’s get together on Sunday to worship God, to pray and to look at a Biblical response to this is as a church.

I know that some stayed away last week through fear.

I would encourage you not to do that.

After all, if we start down that path, when do we come back? This virus will be around for months or even years …

(Obviously there are some who may need to limit their social interactions, on the advice of health professionals, due to underlying health conditions – that makes sense. But what I’m referring to is acting simply out of fear)

Instead of giving in to fear, please follow government guidance: if you have a new persistent cough or high temperature, please self isolate at home, and let us know so we can pray for you. And let’s please keep washing our hands. We believe in prayer and we also believe in soap!

On Sunday evening at our Encounter evening we’ll be talking about being empowered by the Holy Spirit. If you’re thinking, “The virus is making me scared to go”, you especially need to be there! Let’s press in to receive the empowering of God’s Spirit of power, love and self-discipline, and to get free from fear!

And remember what the Bible says in Psalm 139v16:

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”

Woking needs us firing on all cylinders, so let’s stop panicking, let’s put an end to fear, and let’s walk in step with the Holy Spirit. God has us in the palm of his hands, and live or die, we actually have nothing to fear.

I have much more to say on Sunday, so don’t miss it.