Some Summer Reading

As I’ve done on a couple of past occasions I wanted to mention some books you may find helpful. If you have some down time over the summer (or even if you don’t) why not give them a go?

Gentle and Lowly by Dale Ortlund

This book is about getting to know Jesus better and understanding his heart towards us. I read it one chapter a day alongside my Bible reading. Andrew Wilson (teaching pastor at Kings Church London and well known to many of us) described it as ‘the best book he’s read in the last decade’. So many different leaders recommended it to me that in the end I had to get a copy and it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read; it’s the sort of book I’ll be returning to time and again. If you want to understand more about how God really thinks of you, start here.

The Rise and Triumph Of The Modern Self by Carl Trueman

Over the past year the subject of gender identity has dominated large sections of the British media, and many well known public figures have fallen foul of this issue. But how did our society get to this place? How, for example, have we arrived at a situation where someone defining a woman as ‘an adult female human being’ can lead to accusations that they are causing harm and demands for them to be cancelled? Carl Trueman who is both a Christian and British, and is also a professor of Biblical studies at Grove City College Pennsylvania, has a lot of insights for us. Be warned though: this book is not for the faint hearted. It’s a long read, covering a tricky subject at an academic level, but it’s well worth the effort.

Everything Happens For A Reason (and other lies I’ve loved) by Kate Bowler

Kate Bowler, professor of divinity at a University in the USA, was 35 years old and had finally had a baby with her childhood sweetheart. Shortly afterwards she began to feel jabbing pains in her stomach and was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and was told she might not have long to live. How does a Christian face this sort of challenge? Do we lean into a property gospel that God will always heal us if we believe and pray hard enough? Or do we just surrender to fate? And how do we, as Christians, support people who find themselves with a diagnosis like this, without resorting to worthless platitudes such as ‘everything happens for a reason’? I read this in one sitting.

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin

Rebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and a degree in theological and pastoral studies from Oak Hill Theological College in London. In this book she looks at some of the toughest questions Christians face today, covering topics such as suffering, diversity, sexuality, slavery, heaven and hell, gender equality, science vs the Bible and more. The book shows how the best research from sociology, science, and psychology doesn’t disagree with, but actually aligns with claims found in the Bible and shows how these issues are not roadblocks but signposts to faith in Christ. This is a really helpful resource to answer both our own questions and those that may get thrown at us by others.

One Big Welcome Church Weekend

This Sunday, 25th July, we’re returning to something much closer to normal church life. Welcome Church will be meeting at 9am and 11am, with kids work starting again and absolutely no need to book in advance to attend – just turn up. I’m really looking forward to singing together in worship, instead of sitting down and ‘watching’.

For full practical details of how the meetings will run during this next season please follow this link here, especially if you’re still a bit nervous because of Covid. The link should tell you everything you need to know, including the measures we’re taking to keep everyone safe.

As well as church life getting back to something more like normal, there are three extra things to look forward to this Sunday:

1. We will be baptising people

We have four people due to be baptised at the 9am meeting and 7 at the 11am meeting, with more baptisms planned for the autumn too. If you’re a Christian and have not yet been baptised since you came to faith in Jesus it’s not too late for you to join them, just get in touch and talk to us about it on connect@allwelcome.uk

2. We have a guest speaker

Guy Miller, who leads the Apostolic team of our Commission family of churches, will be our speaker this weekend. He’s going to be continuing our ‘Words That Changed My World’ preaching series and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say

3. We have our Welcome Home Summer Social in the afternoon

This will be a great chance to connect again with the whole Welcome Church family and to eat and relax together. It runs from 12.30pm to 4.30pm at the Schifano’s field (a map will be available at the meetings this Sunday, or please email info@allwelcome.uk for details)

This event is completely free and includes food, drinks, bouncy castles, an inflatable assault course, a slip n slide, children’s games and more – just bring a chair, rug or something to sit on.

We will be keeping an eye on the weather of course, and if we do get rained off we’ll let you know and will reschedule soon. Events like this will be a key part of our Welcome Church Recovery Plan following Covid – make sure you don’t miss it.

See you at the weekend!

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

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

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

What stops from July 25th

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

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

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

What starts from July 25th

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

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

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

Breaking news:

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

What changes from July 25th

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

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

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

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

Some Covid safety measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full steam ahead?

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

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

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

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

Football, Failure and Racism

Many of us watched England play on Sunday evening and although the result was not what we hoped for I’m sure we all feel like the team did us proud by getting through to the final of an international championship for the first time in 55 years. And let’s remember: it’s just a game.

For the five who took penalties for us it would have been a testing moment; you’d have to have nerves of steel not to feel the pressure. Sadly we lost the penalty shoot out and the match; it was a moment of failure for the team.

Failure tests our character

Failure tests our character. It shapes us. It reveals things about us. For the team and the manager it was great to see how they supported one another in that moment and afterwards. Gareth Southgate has stated that he takes full responsibility for it all as manager, and those who know their football history will realise that he knows what it’s like to miss a crucial penalty. Seeing him give Bukayo Saka an extended hug after that final missed penalty was both poignant and powerful.

But it wasn’t just the team who had their character tested by failure on Sunday.

As a nation we ALL had a moment of disappointment and our response reveals something about us. Sadly one of the things revealed was an undercurrent of racism in the UK which came to the fore because the three players who missed penalties were all black.

Within minutes people were using Twitter to post racist comments about these three lads, and since then a mural of one of the players has been defaced with racist graffiti. The beautiful game brought out the ugliness of sin. It’s shameful to us all to see this happening and I was glad that the Prime Minister spoke out about it yesterday. It also reveals that, despite much progress, we still have a way to go to deal with racism in the UK.

Christian faith

As Christians we should have zero tolerance for racism. This means both not being racist ourselves and also actively speaking out against racism, and that’s why I wanted to write something on my blog today. I wanted to say on behalf of our church that we stand against these sorts of actions.

I know most people in our church will know this already – you’ll take it for granted – but let me clearly say three things on behalf of us all at Welcome Church:

  1. We are saddened, disgusted and angered by the racist comments that have been made, knowing that those amongst us who are black will have felt it most personally

2. There is no room at all for racism in our church and, especially as Christians, we should not tolerate it in any area of our lives

3. To those in our church who are not white and British (and there are many): we love you and support you, and we’re delighted that you’re part of our church family. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

Something in common

In case you missed it we also have something significant in common – beyond our shared humanity – with two of those penalty takers who missed: two of them have a Christian faith.

To quote Marcus Rashford who grew up as a practising Christian, “It’s impossible not to have faith in God and all he does for us”

To quote Bukayo Saka who was also raised in a Christian home, “I hold onto God’s promises. Before every game I ask God to help me play well, help my team and try to score a goal or assist a goal and he answers my prayers so this is why I point to the sky to thank him”

And let’s not forget Raheem Sterling, another black player on the team who grew up attending church with his mother and who – although he didn’t take a penalty this time – scored for England during the tournament: “Every match day I put faith in God. I pray at home the day and night before. I pray most days.”

We are a family

The church is God’s family; his household. We are all one in Christ Jesus regardless of our race or skin colour. With that in mind let’s be on the front foot to love one another, to support one another and to gently challenge one another where it’s needed. Let’s make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

And if you’re white and you’re friends with someone in church who’s black, why not ask them how they feel about what’s happened and (if appropriate) give them a Gareth Southgate style and Covid safe hug.

Unlocking – Our Revised Plans

On Monday this week the government announced a delay to the national plan for unlocking, with step 4 being delayed from Monday 21st June to Monday 19th July. Whatever we each feel about the delay, let’s be praying for our government as they make difficult decisions in the face of competing pressures on all sides.

Our original plan as a church had been that from Sunday June 27th we would return to holding 2 in person meetings each Sunday, at 9am and 11am, with kids work included and no need to book. The delay to step 4 impacts on these plans which now need to be delayed and adjusted.

Our new plan

For the next five Sundays, up to and including Sunday 18th July, we will continue just as we are. We will have one in person Sunday meeting at 10am each week, which will also be live streamed. Booking is now open for all of these Sundays, and you can access the booking system by following this link. Why not book right now to attend them all?

Remember, we can now sit in groups of six people, or groups of two households, so feel free to find someone else to book in with. Maybe you could encourage someone who hasn’t attended in person yet to come with you and sit together; you may be just the encouragement they need.

From Monday July 19th the church offices should reopen. We haven’t opened them yet because the official government advice is still ‘work from home if you are able to’, and most of the time we can. When that advice changes we will change and we expect that to be from July 19th as step 4 is reached.

From Sunday July 25th, the first Sunday after step 4, we will commence a plan to hold 2 in person Sunday meetings each week, at 9am and 11am, with children’s work included and (unless some official guidance says otherwise) no need to book. Our hope is that as step 4 is reached we will no longer be required to wear face masks and that we will be able to stand and sing together.

July 25th will be a special day for us

Obviously July 25th is the first Sunday of the school holidays, so in some ways it’s not ideal for making any big change. We know that some people will undoubtedly be away. Despite this, July 25th will be a special Sunday for us as a church for several reasons:

1. We will reopen fully as a church that day

It’s been a long time coming, but I can’t wait for us to be back together. Over the summer the meetings will be one hour in length, with a one hour gap to allow people to chat and socialise. We will hold two meetings each week to make sure we’re not too crowded when we get together, which may be important to some who have felt nervous about returning in person. Our live stream will continue during this time as well for those who need it.

2. We will restart our children’s work that day

Our kids have missed out on so much over the last year and they now need to be a high priority for us all. Starting children’s work will help to make church meetings more accessible for those with families and it will be good for our children. When we start the children will join us in the adult meeting for a short worship time together before they go out to enjoy a shorter children’s work together.

3. We will have baptisms that day

These baptisms will be a great celebration of what God has done over the last few months. If you’re a Christian and haven’t been baptised since you came to faith in Jesus, baptism is for you. If want to know more then please get in touch here. We would love to chat to you about baptism.

4. We will hold a ‘Back to Church’ Summer Social that afternoon

On the afternoon of July 25th, from 12.30pm to 4.30pm we will hold a fun social event for the whole church. This will be an open air event with all food and drinks provided free of charge, along with bouncy castles and games for the kids. This will be a great chance for us all to get together and catch up with friends after such a long time. All you will need to bring is a chair or blanket to sit on. Details of the venue and how to book will be out soon.

Making the most of this time

This latest delay is disappointing for us all. It means we all have longer to wait for normality and it means we’re now restarting our fuller in person church meetings, with children’s work, just as the school holidays begin, which is a traditionally quiet time of year for us as a church and not a great moment to begin anything.

Despite all of this let’s do what we can to make the most of the season we’re in. Remember that you can meet indoors with six people or two households, and outdoors with groups of 30. Why not make the most of this to catch up with people in person? Why not meet in person as a life group too?

As we do this let’s not forget our Welcome Church Recovery Plan for 2021, of which this is just one small step. You can read more about that here.

And let’s all bookmark Sunday July 25th if we can.

Congratulations to Alice Potter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live Meetings Return!

Welcome Church begins in person Sunday meetings from Sunday 18th April and the booking system is now open – click here for the link.

You will be able to book for meetings two weeks before they happen. Please book in as a whole bubble/household with one person leading that booking, rather than having different individuals within your bubble/household do it separately.

Kids/youth are welcome to come with you as long as they can sit with you quietly all the way through the meeting, including the preach – there is no kids/youth/creche yet. If you are bringing them please do include them in your booking so we can make sure you all have a seat.

Places all gone?

It’s perhaps not a big surprise, but all the places for our first in person Sunday meeting were booked in under a minute, however the reserve list is open and is well worth using for several reasons:

  1. We will fit in everyone we can, so you may hear from us
  2. We will be looking to make sure we give priority to people in week 2 who missed out on week 1 – registering your interest now helps us prioritise you later
  3. People may get Covid symptoms and need to cancel, or may cancel for a whole range of other reasons – if that happens we will be filling spaces from the reserve list
  4. Registering your desire to attend helps us work out the real demand and informs our thinking as we look to see if we do the meeting more than once

The available spaces will hopefully grow as Covid restrictions loosen for churches, and as we work out in reality what’s possible in our building.

Don’t forget, until we have space for everyone who wants to attend to do so and until children’s work is up and running again, we will also be Live Streaming each week at WelcomeChurch.online

I’m so looking forward to when there are no restrictions anymore

Some Plans For Good Friday

This Friday (2nd April) is Good Friday, when Christians from around then world remember the crucifixion of Jesus.

On Good Friday last year we held our very first ‘online communion’, and we were joined by Rahul who leads one of the Commission churches in Mumbai, India. Rahul talked about the challenges they were facing in India due to the way Lockdown was imposed and about the work being done to feed people, especially from the rural churches, who were facing starvation.

In response we had the opportunity to give to this, and Welcome Church people contributed £19,000. This was added to money given from some other UK Commission churches and was used to literally save lives during the pandemic.

This year we have a ‘return visit’ from India to bless us

As a church we’ve recently been seeing a lot of people dealing with cancer and other life threatening illnesses. With this in mind, on Good Friday this year we’re being joined by Vinu, who leads the Commission Church family in India.

The plan is for Vinu – hopefully with some others from India too – to pray for those amongst us who are affected in this way. They already have a list of names and have started to pray. As a church let’s gather together on Good Friday, online, and ask for Jesus to pour out his healing power on those who need it.

We will gather from 10am, and all the details are in the picture. Don’t forget you’ll need your own bread and wine/ribena/grape juice/whatever for the communion part of the meeting.

See you on Friday.

Meeting Up In Person 🙂

As of this week we are allowed to meet outside again in groups of up to six people (or any number from a maximum of two households). We can do that in public spaces or private gardens. As a church let’s make the most of what we’re allowed to do together.

Meeting in person is good for us in so many ways – mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, socially and more – so this blog is simply an encouragement for us to start meeting in person as and when we can. Life Groups especially might want to take advantage of this (when the weather is good enough) or there may be other friends from church you want to see.

Spring is here. Summer is coming. Warmer, drier days are ahead. Let’s meet up when we can.

Obviously we’re not encouraging people to break or exceed the guidance, and social distancing is still recommended when we meet but, as and when we can and feel ready to, let’s start to make up for some of what we’ve missed as a church over the last year. Let’s all be ‘devoted to the fellowship’ (Acts 2v42).

And don’t forget: this Sunday, during the online meeting, we’ll be letting you know how to book in for our first in person Sunday meeting which will be on April 18th. You can join us here – live at 9.45

Part Of A Bigger Picture

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

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

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

It’s really not about you!

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

Let me highlight the bigger picture in three ways:

1. We are part of a local community

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

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

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

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

2. We are part of the UK

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

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

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

3. We are part of an international family of churches

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

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

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

Enjoy!