What Might Unlocking Mean For Welcome Church?

On Monday the government announced a “Four Step” process for unlocking as a nation following the pandemic. This Sunday morning at Welcome Church Online I’m going to be sharing news about how these steps affect us as a church, and about the principles behind our plans for returning to in person meetings.

Each week we go live at 9.45, and this information will be shared at some point before 10. Make sure you don’t miss it!

Recovery Plan – Part 1: Introduction

Despite being in the midst of a new Lockdown our nation is approaching a turning point in the fight against Covid. The vaccine roll out has begun and, as people are vaccinated, we’ll start to see a return to normal life. 2021 should be a turning point for our nation, and that means it will be a turning point for our church on the road to recovery too.

With this in mind we’ve prayerfully put together our Welcome Church Recovery Plan. This week I’m going to blog about it. The plan isn’t a schedule of activities or goals for the year; it’s more about the ethos we want to adopt this year as a church and the sort of culture we want to build.

What a difference a year makes

As a church we began 2020 on a bit of a high. In January our new building was opened. Lots of new people joined us and many were baptised. God was clearly at work and we were ready for anything with a sense that “we could do this mission together”.

Then Covid-19 hit like a tidal wave sweeping everything before it. As 2021 begins we’re in a very different place. Lockdown 3 has started. People are tired and discouraged. We’ve suffered losses. We have questions:

  • Will these restrictions ever end?
  • When will I get the vaccine?
  • Is the vaccine safe?
  • Will someone I love get sick or even die?
  • Will my job survive?
  • Can I even find a job?
  • When can I see my friends?
  • Will I get a holiday this year?
  • When will normal life return?

Far from being ready for anything, right now we’re not really ready to do anything much at all!

As we begin a new year and a new lockdown I’m aware that many people feel wrung out, frustrated and fed up. They’re unsure how long they can keep living under these restrictions but, at the same time, they’re not sure how they’ll cope with a return to normal life when that happens either.

One newspaper article described us a nation that had moved from FOMO (Fear of missing out) to FOGO (Fear of going out). This fear, they said, was not about the risk of catching the virus but rather a concern about having the capacity to cope with normal life again.

This all adds up to a great place for us to be in, because it’s a place where God can work; God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

A Big Concern

I am (of course!) concerned about the ongoing restrictions, but I’m actually more concerned about when things start to unlock. A new Lockdown brings fresh challenges for us, but we know what we’re doing with lockdown now; we’ve done it twice before; we’re in a routine with it.

What we’ve not done before is unlock and return to normality, and this will almost certainly happen as 2021 goes by and more people get vaccinated. As it happens I’m concerned we could find ourselves quickly overwhelmed with activity. I’m concerned that our lives – including our church life – could easily become unsustainable and unmanageable.

The Church is God’s Family

It’s important to remember that the church is the people; it’s a family. Church isn’t a business or a corporation where we must now work extra hard to make up for the ground lost due to the pandemic and get our KPIs back on track.

Many people in our church have experienced damage caused by the pandemic: emotional, relational, physical, financial and spiritual. Some of these impacts may be long lasting. We must allow ourselves time to recover in the months ahead, and perhaps to grieve some losses so we don’t burn out physically or emotionally.

It needs to feel like coming home

As 2021 unfolds and the vaccine rolls out people will begin to go through the process of returning to normal work, family and social life, and that will create some pressures. There will be a weight of expectation in all of these areas that people will be under pressure to live up to.

As this all happens we need to make sure we get our approach right as a church. The first principle of our recovery plan is this: our church needs to be a place of refuge in the midst of that; a place of refreshing and recovery, not of demand, drain and duty.

In summary, when Lockdown ends and we start to return to normal life, our church needs to feel like coming home … and not like going to work.

I’ll say more in part 2, tomorrow

I’m Dreaming Of A Welcome Church Covid-19 Christmas …

… but it won’t be much like the ones we used to know! The pandemic has made a huge difference to what we can do this year, but we’ve still got some great events planned. Hopefully you’re enjoying our Welcome Church Video Advent Calendar; please make sure you also put these events in the diary so you don’t miss out:

On December 20th in the morning we have a Baptism Meeting

We may not be together in person to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we can certainly celebrate some of the new Christian births we’ve seen this year. God has been at work despite all the restrictions 😃

There was quite a long time when we couldn’t do baptisms at all due to the Covid regulations, but we’re now allowed to go ahead and we’ve waited long enough! Join us at 9am or 11am at WelcomeChurch.online where we’ll witness 13 people ‘taking the plunge’. Our last preaching series was all about being fruitful, and this is some of our fruit as a church; don’t miss it!

On December 20th in the evening we have our Carol Service with Compassion UK

We love partnering with Compassion UK, and as a church we’ve sponsored over 140 children with them in a certain part of Togo in Africa. We’ve also provided funding for a Child Survival Programme which was raised during our final Building Fund Gift Day in 2019. Through this partnership with Compassion we’re helping to release children from extreme poverty in Jesus name.

Rather than try to pull together our own Carol service in this unusual and difficult time, we’re delighted to partner with Compassion. Join us at 6.30pm at WelcomeChurch.online, bring the whole family and let’s be ready to sing along at home!

On December 24th we have our Christmas Eve online communion

Our online communion meetings are very precious, and what better way to kick off your Christmas than to gather with your family and church to remember Jesus and all he’s done for us? It starts at 6.30pm on Zoom and lasts for about an hour. All the details are in the picture below. Let’s intentionally put Jesus at the heart of our Christmas celebrations this year.

Finally, on Christmas Day we have a Christmas Day Family Meeting

It starts at 10am prompt at WelcomeChurch.online and will last for about 30 minutes. It will be lots of fun for all the family and a great way to remember what Christmas is all about. Don’t be late or you’ll miss it 😃.

After that we’ll be back with a Sunday meeting to kick off the New Year, on Sunday January 3rd at WelcomeChurch.online.

Whatever you’re up to this year, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

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)

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.

communion 2

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:

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:

Image 09-05-2020 at 09.47

Hero of the year: Our Amazing Mayor

The incredible Beryl Hunwicks, who is part of our Welcome Church family, has been serving as the 46th Mayor of Woking for the last year.

She has done a fantastic job all year, working extremely hard, and her time in office was due to expire this month, BUT THERE IS SOME BIG NEWS TO ANNOUNCE:

 Beryl has been asked to remain in office for an unprecedented second year

The Council’s Annual Meeting and Mayor Making ceremony usually takes place in May, but this has been postponed until May 2021 because of Coronavirus. This means Beryl remains in place for a second term, as does Saj Hussain, who continues to serve as Deputy Mayor. I will also continue as Chaplain to The Mayor.

Speaking about her exceptional extended term, Beryl said:

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We love you Beryl!

“It’s a great privilege and honour to serve the borough in this capacity; to celebrate its achievements and to be an ambassador for all that is great about Woking and the things of which we are proud.

“Those who have served as Mayor before me will know how demanding the role can be, and I confess I was looking forward to an end of term break! But that was then, and now I am lifted by the bravery of our key workers, and the kindness, generosity and ingenuity that has come to the fore of late.

“I am truly humbled to be Woking’s Mayor during this time and will do all I can to support the recovery and rehabilitation of our wonderful and vibrant borough over the next 12 months.”

The restrictions put in place to protect people during the coronavirus pandemic have made life tougher for us all, but none more so than those living in abusive households, including here in Woking.

With this in mind, the Mayor will continue to support and fundraise for the domestic abuse charity ‘Your Sanctuary‘ during the 2020/21 Mayoral Year. This is a great moment to remind people about our own ‘Welcome Church Goes Around The World’ fund raising initiative for this essential cause – please click here for details and please give generously!

As a church let’s be praying for Beryl in the year ahead:

  • Pray that she has the health and stamina for all she is asked to do
  • Pray that she has wisdom and grace as she chairs the Council Meetings
  • Pray that she is able to bring the love and light of Jesus to everyone she meets
  • Pray for her husband Alan, a former elder of our church, a trustee, and a faithful man of God, now battling Parkinson’s Disease (we love you too Alan)

Beryl, we are so proud of you. We appreciate all you’ve done and continue to do for our town. And on behalf of everyone at Welcome Church:

“THANK YOU and WELL DONE!”

 

Domestic Violence: Helping Victims, Getting Fit

During Lockdown incidences of Domestic Violence have risen at the same time as charitable giving has fallen , so we’re raising money for Your Sanctuary, a Woking based charity who help victims of domestic violence and their families.

Our Fund Raiser is off to a good start with around £1,500 being raised already and a distance of over 1000 miles being covered so far (which takes us across Holland and Germany and to the far side of Poland …)

We will post distance updates and photos on our Welcome Church social media accounts each weekend, so do look out for those.

You can check out the details of our ambitious plan by clicking here or reading this recent blog. People have been joining in by running, walking, cycling, scooting and even roller skating. However you get about, as long as it’s under your own steam, you’re welcome to join in.

We’ve started a Strava Club too – (“Welcome Church Goes Around The World”). You’re welcome to join that and help us rack up the miles. Why not see if you can top the leader board?

However long or short your daily exercise, every distance counts. We want everyone to join in, whatever their age or fitness level. Don’t forget to submit your distances by emailing them to aroundtheworld@allwelcome.uk.  We don’t mind if it’s in miles, kilometres, yards, centimetres, cubits, stadia, furlongs, fathoms or leagues – we will convert it and add it all up.

Let’s have fun doing this together and let’s give generously to make a real difference. This fun video will tell you more: