An Update On Unlocking

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

What are we looking for?

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

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

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

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

Here are some headlines from the guidance

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

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

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

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

For us this isn’t church

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

In summary, this doesn’t pass our tests.

Moving forwards

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

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

What CAN we do?

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

A final thought

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

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

Leading Through This Crisis

Calling all leaders in Welcome Church!

This crisis we are living through is having a huge impact on us all in so many ways: emotional, relational, physical, financial and more.

One of the key areas of impact is actually psychological, but it’s perfectly possible that we can be impacted in significant ways and not even realise it; we can be like fish swimming around in water who don’t even know they are wet!

This Thursday evening (2nd April) we are inviting everyone in Welcome Church who has any level of leadership responsibility to join us for a Zoom seminar and hangout.

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We are going to talk about the impact of this current crisis on both ourselves and the people we’re leading, with a special focus on the psychological impact this is having and how we can respond to that well.

We will talk from a Biblical perspective about how we can first help ourselves, and then help those around us to thrive during this time. You won’t want to miss it!

Join us online from 7.30pm for a catch up time, followed by teaching content from 8pm with Q&A afterwards. We will finish by 9.30pm.

Leaders: please bookmark this time in your diary now and let us know that you would like to be included by emailing info@allwelcome.uk. We will send out the Zoom code by e-mail nearer the time.

If you are part of Welcome Church and not sure if you should be included, count yourself in – we would be glad to have you there.

In case you missed it, here is our latest Daily Encouragement video, starting to talk about Emotional Wellbeing

Covid-19: Facing Our Fear and Our Disappointment

At Welcome Church we’ve just had our first online Sunday. What a different experience it was!

The message I spoke was about handling our fear at this time. I looked at David and Goliath and what we can learn from that story about our need for a saviour to stand in our place.

You can watch it here:

We hosted the video as a watch party on our Facebook page so people could all watch it together at one time. Don’t forget to join us for that at 10am next week on the Facebook page.

Kids

Welcome Kids was also on line. They will go live at 9am again next Sunday. Be online and ready to go if you want to enjoy the full experience.

Here is a link to the talk that formed part of their time together:

And here is the craft they did:

Some Encouragement

Each day at 4pm, Monday to Saturday, we are posting Daily Encouragement videos. You can find all of them by clicking here.

Yesterday’s was about dealing with our disappointments. I’ve posted that here in case you missed it:

Finally if you want to know how to stay connected with us throughout this unusual time in our lives, here’s a link that will tell you all that you need to know

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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.

 

Covid-19: Getting a shock

Our next Daily Encouragement Video has now been posted to the Welcome Church website and also to our Facebook page. We’re doing these short videos to help us all during this crisis we’re facing as a nation.

I hope you’re doing well and have all you need. If you want to share news about how Coronavirus is affecting you and ask for prayer, please do email us as a church on care@allwelcome.uk It goes straight to our pastoral team. Also do let us know if these videos are helpful or if there is anything you would like to hear about

Lastly, please don’t forget to share this with anyone you feel would benefit. There will be another one out at 4pm tomorrow. Enjoy!

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.