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.
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:
Legality – are we legally allowed to meet?
Safety – can we follow the Covid-19 secure guidelines and make our meetings (reasonably) safe?
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?
Children – can we give children an experience they will enjoy?
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:
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
Church 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.
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.