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.

Handling Grief

During our Welcome Church preaching series on ‘Sickness, Healing and Death’ (click here for Part 1) we used the final week to address questions people sent in. The topic of grief came up repeatedly.

There were two themes:

First, people trying to be superhuman. The idea that because someone was a Christian and we know they are now with Christ, we shouldn’t feel sad or even grieve at all, we should only be happy for them.

Second, people getting stuck in grief. The challenge of finding a new ‘normal’ after a significant loss … of moving on with life again … of acknowledging the ongoing reality of loss without making an ‘idol’ out of the dead person or the past we once had.

I’m not a grief counsellor, but as a church pastor I believe this:

  1. Suppressing grief (or any emotion) is not a good long term solution. It may help us cope temporarily, but it will come out in the end somehow.
  2. Grief has a God-given purpose. Although we may all experience grief differently, God does intend us all to ‘recover’, which doesn’t mean we no longer feel loss, but that it no longer defines us
  3. For Christians, grief is mixed with hope. “We grieve, but not in the same way as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4v13)

Grief is a normal human emotion and even Jesus experienced it. The Bible tells us, “there is a time to grieve (Ecclesiastes 3v4). To suppress grief is not helpful for us, and to stay ‘stuck’ is also not helpful; there is a time for grief; a season for it.

Following the series I wanted to post some links to helpful resources you can work through in your own time if you want to. I hope they help, and don’t forget that pastoral support is available if you need it. It’s okay to ask.

Some resources

A summary of ‘What The Bible Says About Grief’ (it’s not long, but it catches the main points well)

A video about ‘How Grief Changes Over Time’ (a theory that resonated with me and I found helpful)

A resource on ‘The Stages Of Grief’ (written by a palliative care nurse and fact checked by a doctor; it’s worth noting that there is some dispute about the idea of grief having ‘stages’)

A resource on ‘Anticipatory Grief’, which can happen when we know a death is approaching (written by a cancer specialist doctor)

Resources ‘about complicated grief’ (which is largely what was meant by people ‘getting stuck’) from Cruse Bereavement Care, who are excellent.

Finally, an excellent article on ‘Why Grief Is Evidence For God’ (written by Sharon Dirckx, who preached at Welcome Church a while ago)

Sickness, Healing and Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s embrace this new season

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

Sad News; Hope in Jesus

I have some sad news to share today.

bruckshawMany of us know Steve and Sue Bruckshaw, and will be aware that Steve has had pancreatic cancer for a while.

Sadly Steve died at 8am today, Thursday 11th June. He is now at home with Jesus.

Steve was a kind man and was loved by all who knew him. He will be greatly missed by many people in our church and even more so by his family. Let’s be praying for Sue and the rest of the family at this time as they grieve. We are the body of Christ; when one part suffers, we all suffer.

Steve had a strong faith in Jesus, a faith that gave him great hope that goes beyond the grave. We know that, because of this faith, death is not the end for Steve; there is a resurrection to come which Jesus promises to all who trust in Him. We will see him again.

But for those who are left behind there is now grief.

Please watch this video for more information on this situation and also for some encouragement:

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.

Saving Lives, Helping The Poor

On Sundays June 9th and 16th we will be having the final Gift Days for our New Building Project. We are going to give away a tithe (10%) of what we collect to a project working with the poorest of the poor … and the good news is that every gift we give to them on this occasion can be doubled!

Child Survival

As a church we are already sponsoring many children in Togo through Compassion UK, and it’s a country with a lot of needs. One of the big challenges is around infant mortality and health in pregnancy.

At present in Togo:

  • 1 in 20 babies die before their first birthday … and most of these are from preventable causes
  • 1 in 58 women also die

These are shocking statistics, and Compassion are working to change this though their Child Survival Projects (CSP). These CSP’s are run by local churches in Togo. They work with mothers throughout their pregnancy and for the first year of the child’s life to provide:

  • Medical support
  • Vaccinations
  • Basic provisions – including safe water, hygiene kits and nutritious food
  • Education – on how to care for a child – remembering that many of the mothers are little more than children themselves
  • Skills training – to teach work skills that can help them earn a living
  • Spiritual support and mentoring

These projects are so important that for a short while they are receiving matched funding from our UK Government.

Our donations to this vital work (before Gift Aid) will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government

So what we give to them will be doubled

This means that if we hit our target of £300,000, and we pass £30,000 on to Compassion, it will be doubled to £60,000 – enough to fund a project for several years.

Jesus told us that he was sent to bring good news to the poor. Let’s join him in that mission as we come to our Gift Days.

If you have any questions, please do ask.

Saying ‘goodbye’ to a good friend

A sad day

15079034_1026862530772733_3224708844393030373_nYesterday at Grace Church we said goodbye to a dear friend and church member, Richard Owen. Richard and Wendy have been part of our church since before it began; they helped to plant it. Richard will be greatly missed.

If you want to know what sort of man Richard was, you could do a lot worse than to look at the things written about him on Facebook since he was taken home. For example:

  • It was a pleasure to know Richard, such a kind & generous heart
  • Richard was one of the first people to welcome me to Grace Church, and he knew my name. He was such a lovely man
  • We will miss this man of great faith, humility, compassion, love and joy. He is an inspiration
  • Richard will be greatly missed – such an example to us all of a real warrior for God showing great perseverance and faith
  • Richard was such an inspiration to me as a young adult. He brought faith and fun together in a natural way
  • Richard is an inspiration and benchmark on how to live in the Lord

Inspiration

15171334_1026862740772712_7280242106463818483_nOne word seems to come up a lot: Inspiration. There was something about Richard that inspired people to live well and follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

Something about Richard inspired people to look to God and to stand firm in their faith. The final post that he made on Facebook, on June 24th following the EU referendum, said this:

“God is building His Church. He always has and He always will. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that has always transcended borders. Nothing can thwart His eternal will and purpose. The outcome of the referendum makes not one iota of difference to Him who is forever praised. To His redeemed He has promised that He will work ALL things for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purposes. We have nothing to fear. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”

Richard had his gaze set beyond this world and onto his heavenly home; the home to which he has now gone.

Thanksgiving

At the thanksgiving service we focused on these words from the Bible, 2 Peter 1v5-8:

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That passage sums up some character qualities which we saw in Richard’s life, and which were the source of much of the inspiration he gave.

The first quality it mentions is faithRichard was a man of faith. He had his own personal faith in Christ, but he was also prepared to take steps of faith: travelling to India, setting up charities, giving himself to an adventure like church planting. These were faith steps.

It says, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness”: Richard embodied goodness in many ways: he was good to people; he was always willing to do good to others and to put himself out. He spent hours showing pastoral care and love to people who needed it. He was willing to help when help was needed. Many of us benefited from his goodness.

Next it says, “add … to goodness, knowledge”: Richard spent hours studying and reading books about his Christian faith. Even in his final days he was deep into books by the great authors of the Christian faith. He was devoted to growing in the knowledge of God right up to the end, when he saw him face to face and no more books were necessary.

15110901_221087181649703_7917039115661628657_oTo knowledge we are told to add, “self control”: I’ve no doubt that Richard got cross or upset sometimes, but in the 11 years I knew him I never saw it. I never saw him lose it, or fly off the handle, or gossip or back bite or complain or get angry or bitter. That’s a serious level of self control – and it’s not as if he never faced any disappointments!

Ask him how he was and he would say, “I’m good”. Even when he was dying of cancer and I thought that maybe now he might be forgiven for a few grumbles, he would just say,

“I can’t complain; God is good!”

Then it says, “add … to self-control, perseverance”: I saw Richard persevere when his house in Hove refused to sell for two years. Believing God had told them to move, he persevered. I saw him persevere when Wendy battled breast cancer. I saw him persevere though the challenges of church life. And we all saw him persevere through his illness, only reluctantly stepping back from his many serving roles when Wendy insisted!

“To perseverance” we are told to add, “godliness”: As someone said on Facebook, “Richard was an inspiration and benchmark on how to live in the Lord”. And someone else said, “He brought faith and fun together in a natural way”. I’m not sure there are any better definitions of godliness than those two.

To godliness we are told to add “mutual affection”, or as other translations say it, “brotherly affection”: Many of us benefitted from Richard’s affectionate nature; the love he showed to his brothers and sisters in Christ.We see it y in the way he served in so many areas: setting up events, leading small groups, his travels to India, his commitment to leadership and his acts of service and generosity. Richard exuded brotherly affection.

15095030_1281942981827381_953735968216780002_nAnd finally, to “brotherly affection” we are told to add “love”: The type of love it refers to here can be summed in one phrase: self sacrifice. This is a love based not on feelings but on a decision; a love that chooses to prefer others and put them first. And Richard showed that so well: in marriage, in parenting, in friendships and in church life too.

A high calling

What an incredible list and what a high calling, and Richard embodied it well. The passage finishes with this: “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And Richard was anything but ineffective and unproductive! What a faithful servant! What a life! No wonder he was such an inspiration to so many!

The source of it all

So what was it that made Richard such an inspiration? What motivated him? What shaped him? Was he just a naturally good person?

Without being rude or disrespectful, the answer is no! If Richard had been willing to acknowledge that he had these qualities at all, he would have been clear that the source of them was not found in his own natural character or goodness. These qualities were not inborn; they came from his relationship with Jesus Christ.

They came from being born again!

Despite all his natural good qualities, and they were many, as a young man Richard came to realise that he was a sinner and that he needed forgiveness and mercy from God … and in Jesus he found the source of an eternal forgiveness and mercy.

The Bible puts it like this in John 3v16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life”

Richard knew this to be true. He believed that Jesus was the son of God. That he came from heaven to earth, born as a baby. He believed that Jesus lived a sinless life, and that he died on the cross in our place, to pay the price for our sin. He believed that Jesus was punished in our place on the cross. Crucified, dead and buried, and then three days later Jesus rose to life again. That was the basis of his faith.

No fool

398822_2708099735376_825295775_nNow Richard was no fool. He was a policeman for 28 years. He was used to looking at evidence. He didn’t let people put one over on him easily. He had some gruesome stories of dead bodies too that he used to roll out from time to time to make people like me squirm. Richard was no fool.

Yet Richard believe that this one man, Jesus, had done something that no one else in all history had ever done: he had risen from the dead. And the implications of that fact, carefully considered and researched by Police Inspector Owen, changed his whole life.

Richard knew that through Jesus we can each find forgiveness and mercy and be made right with God again. And on believing that message  Richard put his faith in Jesus and followed him. And I know that Richard would want each of us to do the same.

Jesus changes everything

When you put your faith in Jesus it changes everything. Jesus is the source of the good that we saw in Richard:  faith, goodness, knowledge,  self control,  perseverance,  godliness, brotherly affection, love … all these things find their source in Jesus.

When we put our faith in him, he not only makes us right with God, he not only forgives our sin and promises us eternal life, he also starts to change our lives and make us into the people we were created to be.

Real evidence

Perhaps the real evidence of the truth behind Richard’s faith in Jesus, the evidence that we should all pause to consider, is the righteous life that Richard lived as a result of his faith. This was not the result of human effort; it was the result of God at work in Richard’s life.

So we thank God for Richard

We thank God for his example. We thank God for his life. And most of all we thank God for the eternal life that he now enjoys through his faith in Christ, a life that is available to each of us by faith too.

Faith was the first quality on that list for a reason; it all starts with faith … and maybe now is a moment for us to put your faith in Jesus too, perhaps for the first time or perhaps to reaffirm our own faith again.

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