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.
In my last blog I introduced our plans to trial some Sunday morning ‘in person’ meetings again at Welcome Church.
This week changes to lockdown restrictions were announced by the government, introducing the new “rule of 6”. We’ve been told that Covid is increasing across the country, and people have been asked to use additional caution and reduce interaction with others. From Monday (14th) it will be illegal to meet in any group greater than 6, indoors or outdoors, apart from some specific situations. Life Groups: please don’t miss this change and get fined!
In less than a week we’ve moved from a situation where restrictions were easing, to one with more restrictions and more Covid cases. In the next few weeks trials had been planned for some concert venues and conference centres – something we’ve been keeping a close eye on – but this is now subject to review as well.
With this in mind we’ve reviewed our plans
The announcement was very clear that places of worship are allowed to hold meetings, as long as it’s done in a Covid-secure way. This means WE ARE LEGALLY ALLOWED to go ahead. However, we also need to ask ourselves a number of other questions to determine if it’s the right thing at this moment, including:
Is this the right timing?
How might it affect our reputation as a church?
Will people want to attend?
Will it be beneficial?
Will the trial succeed?
Having reviewed the situation late on Wednesday, including taking some honest soundings from some who were booked to attend, we’ve reluctantly made a call to delay the trial meetings, perhaps until Sunday 18th October. We will keep this under review week by week.
We are disappointed by this, but after wide discussions we concluded that the 20th September, 6 days after new restrictions come in, is not the right moment for us to begin. I’ve made a video to explain it all. I even managed to smile. Please watch it for more information:
Moving forwards together
As the weeks unfold we DO need to begin meeting together. We mustn’t hide away in fear or apathy as our faith dims, our commitment to God’s church fades and our passion for Jesus cools.
We need one another, and meetings online can’t truly replace the sense of God’s presence as we gather in community as God’s people; the dynamic of being together in person seems impossible for us to truly reproduce online.
Over the summer some regulations concerning church meetings were eased and, although masks must now be worn and congregational singing is still not allowed, more than one person is now allowed sing from the front and full immersion baptism is permissible too. I believe we can make this work.
We will be starting in person meetings at some point soon. Let’s aim to be there if we possibly can.
In the time of waiting please stay connected to welcomechurch.online each week, at 9am or 11am. Please stay connected to your Life Group. Please join us to pray. Please join us for online communion and also for our Encounter Evening on September 20th (8pm on Zoom). Please don’t be passive in your love and commitment to the one who came from heaven to earth to die for you and win you back to the Father.
As a team we’ll be using the delay to keep planning and preparing so that when we do start meeting it’s even better than we’d hoped. We’re also looking closely at what’s possible for us to do with youth and children.
Welcome Church: God is going to bring us back to life again.
Because of Coronavirus and the restrictions of Lockdown we’ve been unable to hold Sunday meetings in person for a while now. When Lockdown began, such meetings were not legally allowed; more recently they’ve been allowed, but with lots of restrictions.
Because of the restrictions we’ve held off re-starting ‘in person’ meetings so far, and our reasoning was detailed in a previous blog post (click here to read). In summary it came down to a matter of what was legal, what was safe, how we can serve children, how we can engage in worship and ultimately whether the quality of what we’re allowed to do is at least as good as the online experience.
We now believe the time has come to test out a different approach: we are going to trial some in person Sunday meetings to see if what is now permissible can also be beneficial.
Why do this?
When Lockdown began it felt a bit like a fire drill: it was an unavoidable, surprising interruption to life, and we waited for someone to give the all clear so we could carry on ‘as we were’. It’s now clear that any return to ‘normality’ will be gradual. In the meantime we have to live in the world as it is, not how we wish it was.
We could keep on waiting, and many churches are doing that. What’s allowable is still very restricted, so to wait for further easing is a very reasonable and understandable approach. In reality some churches that have held ‘in person’ meetings have actually found that they haven’t ‘scratched the itch’ people feel for meaningful worship and genuine fellowship, two things that are hard to reproduce online. We may well reach the same conclusion ourselves, but we feel it’s right to try.
Ultimately, as an eldership team, we believe God is calling us to come back to life again as a church in every way we can; to start living at the limits of what is safe and legally allowable, rather than holding back. We want to do this wherever there is genuine benefit to be found – and some of that will need to be tested by real life experience.
So what’s the plan?
On Sundays 20th and 27th September, at 10am, we will be trialling an in person Sunday meeting at our building.
*** Update: this will be delayed until probably Sunday 18th and 25th October ***
The meetings will be conducted fully in line with the Covid-19 guidance for churches.
Just to be clear: online church will continue on those Sundays at 9am and 11am, with kids work at 10am; nothing is changing about that (and thanks to everyone who makes that possible). For those two weeks though, we will then also hold an ‘in person’ meeting as an extra. It will include the same preached message as the online meeting, only it will be done live.
To comply with government guidance, the in person meetings are restricted in terms of numbers, length and content. People will have to book a place in advance to attend, and face masks will be compulsory.
People will have to remain seated all the way through, distanced from any other household, unless they’re in a bubble together. There can be no hugging or handshakes. Worship will be performed by the band, although congregational singing is sadly not yet allowed. There will also be no children’s work or youth work yet, and no refreshments will be served.
By the way, if you’re over 70 or medically vulnerable we’re required to encourage you not to attend. Of course, if you have any possible coronavirus symptoms or are isolating then you absolutely must not attend.
But let’s see what’s possible together
Despite all the restrictions, we want to see how good we can make it. We want to see if we can start to move towards normality. Most of all we want to see if we can find ways for us to meet with God together and encounter the reality of his presence, and I know people have been missing that.
So I’m inviting you to join us. There’s no pressure: if you’re not ready to try an in person meeting yet, we totally understand. I know there are many who will want to be part of it.
Parents: if you have older kids who want to attend, who will cope with listening to a preach and who can sit quietly for the whole meeting, please do book them in with yourselves. Remember that there is no kids or youth work, and they are required to stay in their seat next to you all the way through.
All the details you need to know, including everything we are doing to keep people safe and a link to booking a place, can be found by clicking here. Do please read all the details through.
Let’s do this in faith together
Let’s see if what is permissible can also be beneficial with some creative thinking applied. Let’s see if we can create an environment where we can meet with God and experience his presence together … so why not come and give it a go? Afterwards we’ll review it all to see if it’s worth pursuing these meetings further, or if we need to wait for further easing of restrictions first.
I look forward to seeing some of you in person at these two trial meetings. Our worship team are preparing to lead some worship. I’ll be there to preach and lead. I’ll also be preaching the same message online too, so either way we can be together and meet with God, who’s promises never fail.
This Sunday evening (6th Sept) we have our next online Communion service. It’s the first one as we come back together after the summer, so do please make the effort to be there if you possibly can. Everyone is welcome; come as you are.
The meeting will start at 6.30pm and the Zoom codes are in the picture below. Please feel free to come online together as a family or on your own, and do have your own bread and wine/juice etc ready to go.
At the end of the meeting I will take a few minutes to share some new information about our plans regarding Sunday morning meetings, and about some key steps towards meeting together in person again.
Today, in a normal year, many of us would have been heading off to our Commission ‘Westpoint’ Bible weekend. This year it was due to be held at a new venue in Shepton Mallet under a new name: Connect Festival.
Sadly Covid-19 has led to the whole event being cancelled, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening over the weekend. On Sunday evening (30th August) at 7pm, an hour long event will be streamed for all our Commission churches. The event will include worship, a message from Guy Miller and from Vinu Paul, moments of prayer and more.
As part of the Commission church family we really won’t want to miss it, so do put it in your diaries now. Below is a short video from Simon and Liz Argent from Ascot Life Church to tell us a bit more:
As a church we have the joy and privilege of sponsoring children through Compassion UK in one of Africa’s least developed countries, Togo. It’s one of our Welcome Works.
Over 140 Togolese children have been sponsored by people from Welcome Church; we are helping to change lives as children and families are lifted out of poverty. Compassion only work with the poorest of the poor, so we are making a real difference. Please don’t forget to write to your sponsored child and tell them you love them and Jesus does too.
In June last year we also gave a tithe (10%) from our final Building Fund Gift Day to help support a Compassion Child Survival Programme in Togo. The amount we gave away came to around £40,000, which was then doubled by the UK government because we collected it under a special ‘matched funding’ initiative.
We have now received a really helpful update on what is happening with the Child Survival Programmes in Togo.
You can download the update below. It takes about ten minutes to read it through, and I would warmly encourage you to give it the time.
Look at the pictures of the mums and see how young they are. Read their stories and see the difference that’s being made. Take the time educate yourself on what we have all helped to fund.
Jesus knows them all by name and it’s our privilege to be part of this
I hope you’ve been having a good summer. Jo and I were not alone in having a trip to the sunshine cancelled, but we managed to get a few days away in the Cotswolds and also some time with friends in Honiton, including a sailing trip on the Devon coast where we were accompanied by dolphins 😃 (it was amazing)
I want to use the first of what will be several blogs in the days ahead to catch us all up with some church family news from the summer, in case you missed it …
We had our first Coronavirus weddings:
On Thursday 20th August I led the wedding for Leah Kapotwe and Allen Bower. It was great to see these two lovely families coming together with their five awesome boys. Allen is an Anglican Vicar and a widower. The new family will be based in Sunbury, so we’re saying goodbye to Leah and the boys as a church.
On Sunday 23rd August, Dean Guy led the wedding for Hannah Bathurst and James Oliver. It was a real joy for these two having had their original date cancelled due to the pandemic. I don’t have any pics from that one yet.
Coronavirus weddings are different, with numbers limited to 30, face masks compulsory and no singing allowed … but we did our best to make them special.
We had news of two new babies:
On Wednesday 19th August at 3.18pm, Pete and Mim Hewlett were delighted to welcome Caleb Edwin James Hewlett into the world – a firstborn son for them. Congratulations on this exciting event (and I hope you’re getting some sleep).
Precisely 30 minutes later at 3.48pm, Ben and Nancy Martin were delighted to welcome Hazel Grace Nancy Martin – a firstborn daughter. As if that wasn’t enough for them, Ben and Nancy also moved house to Hook this week, where Ben is now the Lead Elder at Life Church so it really is a final goodbye to them as they leave Woking behind.
We heard about a near disaster:
Two weeks ago Marian Boul, a much loved part of Welcome Church, had the shock of seeing her neighbours house (which is the other half of her semi-detached property) go up in smoke. The fire was caused (allegedly) by arson and someone has been arrested.
Marian is safe and well, but there’s been a lot of damage, including damage to her property as the fire was tackled. She now has the stress of dealing with both her insurance and the police, not to mention the horrendous smell. Please keep her in your prayers. It’s great that the Life Group and other church friends have been rallying round.
Lastly, we received news of a significant illness:
Janet and Mike Deavin are much loved by us all and have been a key part of Welcome Church for many years. Between them they have held many significant roles both in the church and the community. Sadly Janet was diagnosed this week with an aggressive, malignant brain tumour that the doctors say is inoperable and incurable. This news has come out of nowhere and Janet had no symptoms two weeks ago.
The doctors are working to prolong her life through the use of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but without genuine divine intervention in the form of a healing miracle, the prognosis is not good.
Mike and Janet are experiencing God’s peace at this time, and have been blessed by the love and care being shown to them by so many. As a church we are going to love and support them all the way, and we are also going to pray. They are very happy for us to pray for healing for Janet, and are also at peace in their faith if this is God’s time to take Janet home.
Let’s also pray for their wider family, several of whom are part of Welcome Church.
So let’s continue to pray
Currently we pray online each week on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 8.15am to 9.00am. Please join us if you can. We’ve seen some amazing answers to prayer in recent weeks, including for Mike and Janet’s prematurely born granddaughter Chloe, who is now at home and doing well.
If Welcome Church is your church, these prayer meetings are for you. The details for joining are all on our website. If you’re nervous about joining, feel free to come and observe for a bit; you can mute yourself and leave your camera off too while you get used to it.
Ephesians 3v20, which Leah and Allen had read at their wedding, tells us that God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. Let’s come before him in prayer and let’s lift every situation we face up to him, and let’s do that both individually, and together as a church.
Summer time is here and the schools break up this week. As Lockdown is easing and more freedoms have returned we’ve recognised a need to adapt our programme, so we’re making a couple of changes for the rest of July and August:
1. Encouragement videos
We’re stopping these for the summer (last one Tuesday 21st July) and will review again in September. That said, if there’s something important to communicate, we’ll probably put a video out.
2. Prayer Meetings
We will now hold two prayer meetings a week and they’ll be on Tuesday and Friday mornings, 8.15am – 9am, on the usual Zoom codes. This doesn’t stop you getting together with others to pray as often as you want to at other times (just be sure to follow government guidance on physical distancing and numbers if you’re meeting in person!)
It’s good to get a break over the summer, but do stay connected to church; we need one another! Sunday meetings will continue each week at WelcomeChurch.online at 9am and 11am, with kids work at 10am.
Your Life Group meetings may meet less often, but do keep building friendships with people. Under current guidance we’re allowed to meet outdoors with up to six people from different households, and two households are allowed to mix indoors. Let’s take advantage of that to grow friendships and build one another up.
Our Staff Team
This has been a year like no other and our staff team (those not furloughed) have worked flat out since this crisis began. It’s not been easy as we’ve had to review and reinvent everything we do, and deliver many things in new ways. All our job roles have changed significantly as a result. I’m sure people right across our church who’ve worked from home have discovered the complexity and pressure it brings, especially with family around. (Of course many people have been going in to work and will also have been under new pressures.)
Someone asked me recently if I’d “taken up a new hobby” with my “extra time”. (Extra time! That’s hilarious!) I understand the question, but the reality is I’ve had less time available than ever before. Across the team many days off have been missed and several holidays have been postponed due to the demands and the Lockdown. This is not unique to us (or to a church context) and I know from talking to leaders across Commission that most staff teams are exhausted.
With this in mind I’ve strongly encouraged our team to make sure they have some time off over the summer.
I want the team, and their families, to come back refreshed and recharged for the autumn, especially as we don’t know what challenges we will all face. Physical, spiritual and emotional recovery are all vital in this time.
Let me strongly encourage you, if you possibly can, to also give yourself space and time to refresh and recharge over the summer season too. God rested on the seventh day. Jesus took time out to rest and to pray. We absolutely need to do the same thing.
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
Generosity 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.
During our online communion meeting on Sunday evening, it was my privilege to announce a new staff member for Welcome Church. From September 1st Christopher Hawes will leave his role as a full time teacher to join our staff team. Chris will focus on preaching & discipleship and also on leading & developing the creative elements of all we do as a church.
Chris is married to Sarah and they have three young children. He’s already part of our eldership team, and I’m delighted that someone who carries our DNA as a church is going to be available to focus on this key role full time.
Chris will be undertaking our new Commission training courses, starting at level 3 and working through to the level 4 masters degree. By the way … there are some great courses available through Commission, including an internship year you could do at Welcome Church. Do let me know if you’re interested.
Chris and Sarah are a big gift to our church family. In addition to her work as an actress, puppeteer and motion capture artist, Sarah regularly hosts our online meetings and helps develop others in this too. She’s also part of the leadership of Welcome Kids.
I believe we have a good future together as a church. Coronavirus will not last forever.
This appointment will release significant time for me in my own role, and Chris will also be looking to develop other people in their gifts. I believe this appointment will serve us as a church in many ways and will help shape us for the years to come.