Plans For Sunday Meetings At Welcome Church From Sunday July 25th

On Monday 19th July we reach step 4 of the national unlocking plan and we’ll be getting closer to holding ‘normal’ Sunday meetings. Personally I’m excited and raring to go, and at the same time I recognise some of us will be more cautious, especially with rising Covid case numbers.

We want everyone to feel confident to attend, so to help bring reassurance where it’s needed here’s our plan for how things will work. This plan covers things we will stop, things we will start and things we will change. There are also some Covid safety measures listed at the end to help reassure people further. As always this is all subject to change if the guidance changes.

What stops from July 25th

Online kids work will not take place from that day onwards.

You will no longer be required to sit socially distanced from other people, unless you want to.

You will no longer need to book to attend or register on arrival; just turn up.

What starts from July 25th

In person kids work, including creche, restarts that day, with Sunday youth work to commence from September.

You will be free to stand up and sing during the worship … at last!

You will be free to pray for people and to be prayed for as appropriate.

Breaking news:

We will create a specific ‘socially distanced’ seating area for people who would like to use it, where face masks will also be worn. This will be situated at the back, near to the car park doors, and you will be able to enter and leave that way to avoid getting close to too many people. For everyone else we recommend using the front doors, as we did before the pandemic.

What changes from July 25th

Instead of one meeting at 10am, we will have two meetings which will be at 9am and 11am. These will each be around one hour in length.

The livestream will operate for the 9am meeting only, and will no longer have a chat feature. This means that for now you can still choose to watch online if you need to.

Children will stay in the meeting with their parents during the worship time, before going out to their groups, giving them a much shorter time in kids work or creche than before the pandemic. We will register your kids on arrival at the meeting so do try to arrive in good time if you can and please use the front doors and not the car park doors for this.

Face masks will no longer be legally required, however government guidance recommends they are worn in crowded indoor areas. With this in mind we encourage you to wear a mask on arrival, on leaving and when moving around the building, such as going to the toilet or collecting your children. We will not be policing this, so our encouragement is that we each seek to be responsible and to care for others where we can, remembering that face masks are mainly worn to protect other people and not ourselves. Once you are seated you will be free to remove your face mask or to continue wearing it as you see fit, except in the socially distanced seating area where masks will be required.

Some Covid safety measures

There are several things we’re doing to help keep people safe:

1. Our heating and cooling system has been set to ‘extract’ mode and is not recycling any air. This means that we will be sitting in a flow of new air, and what we breathe out will be slowly drawn upwards and out of the building – this has been the case since meetings restarted.

2. Our hand sanitisation stations will remain in place and we encourage you to use them.

3. The meetings are shorter than they would be in normal times, reducing your exposure time to others.

4. There will be a longer gap between meetings leading to less crowding.

5. Despite reduced numbers being expected as many people will be away during the summer, we are holding two meetings in order to create as much space as possible and avoid overcrowding.

6. We will not yet be serving refreshments, so bring your own tea, coffee or water – this will avoid crowding around refreshment tables.

7. We encourage you to use the outside areas to socialise, including the car park, the area outside the front, and the areas between the two buildings.

Full steam ahead?

We are hoping this is now full steam ahead on the road to normality but we must bear in mind two things:

  1. We don’t know if there will be future restrictions put in place if cases rise or new variants emerge, especially as we head into the autumn
  2. No specific guidance for churches has been issued this time. If that does come out it’s possible we’ll find something that affects our plans; if that happens we will let you know.

It’s been an incredibly difficult time for us all during the pandemic and there have been losses along the way. We’ve also been warned that the pandemic is ‘far from over’.

With all this in mind let’s enjoy this new freedom as much as we can and as responsibly as we can. I’m excited to get back to worshipping God together in person again and I hope to see you all there.

Our New Operations Manager

In case you missed it on Sunday morning …

I’m delighted to announce that we have appointed a new Operations Manager for Welcome Church: Uti Anyaegbunam.

Uti has been part of Welcome Church for around 17 years and will be well known to many in the church. She is married to Nnamdi and together they have two children. In her spare time she likes to play tennis and is also a fan of Korean soap operas 🤔

In case you’re unsure, Uti can be pronounced either as ‘You-Tee’ or ‘Ooh-Tee’. She really doesn’t mind which way you say it, but goes for ‘You-Tee’ herself.

Uti comes to us from a successful career as a trademark lawyer with a firm in London. In her new role she will become part of the Senior Leadership Team of the church, working alongside Darren Forsdyke, our Director of Operations. We are really looking forward to her starting with us full time from 1st August.

As lockdown ends and we return more fully to ‘in person’ church life and open up the offices and the building again, we expect to carry our more recruitment for our operations team. Do watch this space if you’re interested.

Congratulations to Alice Potter

On Maundy Thursday this year Alice Potter received an incredible honour: she was chosen to receive the Maundy Money from the Queen.

Earlier this year Alice received a letter from Buckingham Palace, signed personally by Her Majesty The Queen, notifying her that she was a Maundy recipient. Normally Alice would have been invited to meet the Queen in person during a service at Westminster Abbey that commemorates Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper. This year, due to Covid, the Queen sent Alice the two special purses containing the Maundy Money along with a personal signed letter.

Each year the Queen distributes the Maundy money to people who have done great work in their local communities. The tradition goes all the way back to 600 AD and you can read more about it here or here.

This is an incredible award that recognises Alice’s ongoing service to the local community in so many different ways including as a Chaplain with Surrey Police and her volunteer roles with Welcome Church, along with her involvement with Street Angels. In fact she has done so many things that this award is well deserved!

The red purse contains the traditional sum of £5.50. In the past this was ‘an allowance for clothing and provisions’ (though it wouldn’t go far today). This year the £5 coin commemorates Her Majesty’s 95th Birthday and the 50 pence coin portrays the 50th anniversary of Decimal Day in 1971. The white purse contains Maundy coins: silver pennies, twopences, threepences and fourpences, totalling 95 pence, corresponding to The Queen’s age.

Jo and I had the joy of sitting in our garden with Alice on a dry but windy day last week to have a look at it all. She told us that when she first received the letter she thought it was a scam! We’re delighted that proved not to be the case, and I’m sure many of us would want to join in congratulating Alice on this well deserved honour; she is an amazing wall building hero in God’s kingdom.

Part Of A Bigger Picture

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

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

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

It’s really not about you!

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

Let me highlight the bigger picture in three ways:

1. We are part of a local community

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

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

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

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

2. We are part of the UK

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

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

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

3. We are part of an international family of churches

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Counting the cost

Welcome Church has been meeting online for a year now, and this week I’m publishing some blog posts to talk about where we’ve been and our thoughts for our future. The first one can be found by clicking here. This is part 4.

In terms of looking forward we’ve talked about the challenge of complexity we face and about the place of online church for us going forwards. Today I want to mention the reality of personal cost.

The last year has had some real benefits

There have been significant challenges during the last year and I don’t want to minimise those at all but – and let’s be really honest – there have also been some benefits. Many of us have gone out walking more, maybe we’ve had less meetings to attend, maybe we haven’t had to commute, there’s been less pollution, more Netflix and for Christians …

Sunday mornings have been a LOT less pressurised!

There’s something nice about watching church in your pyjamas with the whole thing over in under an hour and the rest of the day free … something very nice indeed. There’s no pressure on us to arrive early to set up, or to stay late to clean up. No pressure to plan and deliver children’s work and youth work, to rehearse and play in the worship band, to serve refreshments with the “Brew Crew”, to welcome people, to talk to newcomers, to pray for people, or to face the challenge of getting your family ready, finding a place to park and turning up roughly on time. In some ways we’ve enjoyed ‘church lite’ for a year now, and who would be in a rush to give that up?

But in this area of our lives, as in so many others, what’s best for us may not be what’s easiest!

We have a big calling

Jesus loves the church … Jesus died for the church … Jesus is building His church … and WE are His church. The church is us – the people. We are His body, His bride, His flock, His army, His family and a whole lot more. God’s plans and purposes in our world will be worked out in and through His church, and as a church we are called by God to gather together, to pursue the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, to not give up meeting together … and all of that takes effort.

When the restrictions on churches are lifted (and rumour is that they will be reviewed in line with Step 3 of the National Plan, earliest May 17th) there are lots of things we haven’t been able to do for a while that we really need to pursue again, and we need to pursue them with passion and enthusiasm, and without arguing or complaining. The list above speaks to some of these areas. In reality we would probably all agree that we should be serving our children and youth well, worshipping God together, creating a welcoming environment, sharing fellowship, ministering to one another and leading our families into God’s plans and purposes too … so all the things we haven’t had to do (or been able to do) for a year will soon be a regular part of our church life together again … and we need them to be.

So there’s going to be a cost

As we return to in person meetings again it’s going to take effort and sacrifice from us all. It will mean getting up on Sunday, getting dressed, and actually leaving our houses again. It will mean less lie-ins and more time spent gathering together as a church and being with other people. It will mean overcoming our natural laziness and selfishness, and giving up our comfort. It will mean putting in the time and effort it takes to serve in various ways. And of course it’s going to be a privilege to be part of serving and building the church again in person.

Just like before the pandemic we will need people to plan and run children’s work and youth work, to serve refreshments, to wash up, to help in the car park, to run the PA and AV systems, to lead and play in worship, to pray for people, to welcome people and to do all the many other jobs that go into being together as a church, and …

… the cost of serving is a price worth paying

The Bible is clear that God sees what we do for Him and will reward us for it. Let’s not be afraid to start working together again to make Sunday meetings happen in the months ahead. It may feel daunting right now, like heading back to work or school on the first Monday after a summer holiday, but it’s amazing how fast we readjust. And remember that the goal is worth pursuing too: Jesus is worth worshipping, the church is worth prioritising and we each have a part to play in God’s wonderful mission to our town.

We have a fantastic vision as a church …

“to see lives transformed and communities impacted for good through God’s grace in action”

… so let’s not be afraid of a little action. We have a town to reach with the gospel, and a wider world too, and gathering as a church to worship, to pray, to minister, to be equipped and to grow together as a family is key to that happening, which will mean getting up, getting ready, and leaving home, with all the stress that can bring!

Each one of us has a part to play

Remember, the church is Jesus’ body (1 Corinthians 12) and every part of that body is needed. This means that your church needs you. The question to ask is not, “Will I be part of it again?” but rather “What part shall I play?” Some of us may want to step into different roles than before, and that’s okay, but if that’s the case let’s each be sure that we communicate well, hand over well and we don’t just ‘abandon post’. In the church we’re all called to serve one another, and the time is fast coming when we’ll need to step up again in all the different ways.

In the gospels Jesus called us to count the cost of following him. This particular cost is a relatively small one. No one is asking us to lay down our lives and die for the gospel at this time in the UK, but returning to in person church meetings could mean giving up a little more of our time and comfort on a Sunday and going the extra mile.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16v24-25) 

So let’s go for this together and let’s be ready to step up and play our part in the body.

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)