Steps For Unlocking From Covid

Last week the government announced a plan for ‘unlocking’ as a nation following Covid. The plan consists of four steps taken at five-week intervals. On Sunday morning I talked about what this could mean for our Sunday meetings as a church, and below is another brief summary. This is an exciting time now with the end of restrictions perhaps in sight, though there could be some delays and changes. If all goes as planned, we might be holding full Sunday meetings, in person, this side of the summer.

Some Guiding Principles

To guide our thinking and planning as a church, we will follow three guiding principles:

  1. We will follow both the guidance, and the spirit of the guidance. Let’s remember that what’s permissible and what’s beneficial are not always the same. Technically we’re allowed to run in person meetings right now, but they’re heavily restricted and almost unrecognisable from how we would want to meet.
  2. We will keep an eye on how people in our church are feeling. We need to stay alert to how ready people are to attend meetings in person and also on how ready we are as a church to run them. The vaccine rollout seems to be going well in the UK, but many in our church are still waiting and may feel vulnerable.
  3. The pace does not need to be the same for every activity. We are not going to pressure ourselves to restart everything at once, especially in light of our Welcome Church Recovery Plan, built around the principles of Renew, Refresh, Rebuild. Some ministries may not restart until the autumn, and others may never restart.

The government plan consists of four steps, and we will make changes as a church in line with each of these steps:

Step 1 (March 8th & 29th)

Children go back to school from March 8th. During this stage we will continue our meetings online as a church, and will be working in the background to get our worship team up and running again with live worship.

From March 29th outdoor gatherings of up to six people (or two households if this is larger) are allowed, not just in parks but also in gardens. Once this happens Life Groups may want to take the opportunity for groups of 6 people to get together outdoors.

Step 2 (Earliest April 12th)

At this stage of unlocking we’ll see hair dressers return (hooray!) and non-essential retailers opening too. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools will also reopen, albeit with restrictions. In line with this step we intend to start an in person Sunday meeting. People will have a chance to book to attend each week and details will follow.

We don’t yet know what restrictions will be in place for church meetings at this point. We still expect numbers and activities will be very limited and most people will be watching online. Those who attend in person at that time will probably simply be present as we do the live stream.

Step 3 (Earliest May 17th)

At this point indoor gatherings of up to six people (or two households if this is larger) are allowed, which is great news for our Life Groups. Most indoor venues will re-open and groups of 30 can also meet outdoors.

At this step we hope to significantly enlarge the number who can attend on a Sunday. Many more of us will also have had the privilege of a vaccine by then too, so we may well see things really starting to open up. Again, we don’t know what restrictions will be in place for church meetings at this point, but we hope to see these easing and will make the most of whatever opportunities the regulations afford.

Step 4 (Earliest June 21st)

At this step legal limits will be removed on mixing and everything can reopen. Large events are allowed take place again too. There are likely to be changes to social distancing measures at this step, but details are still to be confirmed.

At this step we hope to return to more normal meetings and would want to restart kids work if we can. We will also need to reconsider what happens with our live stream.

Welcome Youth

At present Welcome Youth are having a great time online in small groups working through the NUA Film series. They will continue online for the remainder of this term, allowing our youth to re-adjust to school life without being overburdened with change. We want to ensure both the safety of our youth and the quality of their time together, so we plan to return to ‘in person’ youth meetings on Fridays in the summer term, all done under the guidelines in place at the time.

Remember: all of this is subject to change!

We plan to take our steps as a church in line with the four national unlocking steps. Each of these steps has a ‘no earlier than’ date and each will only go ahead after an official review. If one step is delayed they will all be delayed, and that could delay us too. We appreciate people being really flexible. Let’s all be praying that there are no delays.

What Might Unlocking Mean For Welcome Church?

On Monday the government announced a “Four Step” process for unlocking as a nation following the pandemic. This Sunday morning at Welcome Church Online I’m going to be sharing news about how these steps affect us as a church, and about the principles behind our plans for returning to in person meetings.

Each week we go live at 9.45, and this information will be shared at some point before 10. Make sure you don’t miss it!

Job Opportunity At Welcome Church

As part of our Welcome Church Recovery Plan, following the pandemic, we are looking to REBUILD our staff team to full strength in every way, which includes filling some employed vacancies.

We are now looking to recruit a Full Time Operations Manager

This is an exciting opportunity to join our team and work for a busy, dynamic, growing church in the heart of a busy, dynamic, growing town. If that grabs your interest we want to hear from you!

This will be a very wide-ranging role. You will have a level of involvement in almost every area of church life, and will be a Senior Member of the Welcome Church Team, with primary responsibility for building, equipping and releasing teams to deliver the ‘operational underpin’ for all of our initiatives and ministries. You will need proven competence in change management and delivery, ideally possessing team-leading, project management and/or business analyst experience.

In this role you will support and deputise for Darren Forsdyke, our Director of Operations, across a wide range of tasks and activities, with a salary to reflect your evidenced experience and competence.

Because the role holder will be a senior member of the Welcome Church team, the role is recognised as having a Genuine Occupational Requirement for the post holder to have an active Christian faith, demonstrated through current involvement in a local church. Once recruited, that church would need to be Welcome Church.

As a team we believe in life-long learning and continual improvement, you will therefore have great opportunity to actively pursue personal development in your relevant skills, knowledge and abilities, and also in your personal relationship with Jesus. To assist with this you will be provided with a personal mentor/coach and, where required, supported by a tailored and funded personal development programme to help develop any agreed skills and knowledge gaps.

For an information pack including job description and person specification, please email darren.forsdyke@allwelcome.uk

Don’t miss out on this one off, exciting opportunity to work with us, to grow your skills, to enlarge your faith and to help us fulfil our vision to see lives changed and communities impacted for good through God’s grace in action.

I’m Dreaming Of A Welcome Church Covid-19 Christmas …

… but it won’t be much like the ones we used to know! The pandemic has made a huge difference to what we can do this year, but we’ve still got some great events planned. Hopefully you’re enjoying our Welcome Church Video Advent Calendar; please make sure you also put these events in the diary so you don’t miss out:

On December 20th in the morning we have a Baptism Meeting

We may not be together in person to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we can certainly celebrate some of the new Christian births we’ve seen this year. God has been at work despite all the restrictions 😃

There was quite a long time when we couldn’t do baptisms at all due to the Covid regulations, but we’re now allowed to go ahead and we’ve waited long enough! Join us at 9am or 11am at WelcomeChurch.online where we’ll witness 13 people ‘taking the plunge’. Our last preaching series was all about being fruitful, and this is some of our fruit as a church; don’t miss it!

On December 20th in the evening we have our Carol Service with Compassion UK

We love partnering with Compassion UK, and as a church we’ve sponsored over 140 children with them in a certain part of Togo in Africa. We’ve also provided funding for a Child Survival Programme which was raised during our final Building Fund Gift Day in 2019. Through this partnership with Compassion we’re helping to release children from extreme poverty in Jesus name.

Rather than try to pull together our own Carol service in this unusual and difficult time, we’re delighted to partner with Compassion. Join us at 6.30pm at WelcomeChurch.online, bring the whole family and let’s be ready to sing along at home!

On December 24th we have our Christmas Eve online communion

Our online communion meetings are very precious, and what better way to kick off your Christmas than to gather with your family and church to remember Jesus and all he’s done for us? It starts at 6.30pm on Zoom and lasts for about an hour. All the details are in the picture below. Let’s intentionally put Jesus at the heart of our Christmas celebrations this year.

Finally, on Christmas Day we have a Christmas Day Family Meeting

It starts at 10am prompt at WelcomeChurch.online and will last for about 30 minutes. It will be lots of fun for all the family and a great way to remember what Christmas is all about. Don’t be late or you’ll miss it 😃.

After that we’ll be back with a Sunday meeting to kick off the New Year, on Sunday January 3rd at WelcomeChurch.online.

Whatever you’re up to this year, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

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.

‘In Person’ Sunday Meetings – an update for Welcome Church

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.

Don’t miss it.

Staff Change, Unlocking & Compassion

This Sunday we have our Welcome Church online Communion meeting, and everyone is welcome to join us. It starts at 6.30pm and all the information is in the picture below.

The communion part of the evening will run until 7.15pm, and will be followed by a short time of updates and information, finishing before 8pm.

communion 2

The communion will be led through by Tim Robertson from Compassion UK and will include updates on the projects we’ve supported in Togo. Please provide your own bread and wine (or suitable alternatives) and join us with all the family on zoom.

When Communion finishes I will share the latest news and updates for Welcome Church. This will finish by 8pm and will include:

  • Details about unlocking and how it affects our Sunday meetings going forwards
  • An exciting new staff change that will really bless our church

See you there!

And don’t forget to join us for Welcome Church online each Sunday at 9am and 11am, with kids work at 10am.

Moving Out Of Lockdown???

I love our church and I can’t wait to meet together in person again. I miss seeing people and I miss our corporate times of worship and ministry. Although we have a great online church, this time of Lockdown is not something I’m enjoying at all.

Yesterday announcements were made about the lifting of some of the aspects of Lockdown from Saturday July 4th, and part of this related to church. Naturally some people are getting excited and have even asked when we plan to start meeting again on Sundays in person.

Let me say that, although I love the enthusiasm and I share it, we must remember when announcements are made that we only get headlines; the full guidance follows in long documents. All churches are unique and need to individually assess what is safe in accordance with the guidance to be issued and our own context. The manner and timing of ‘re-opening’ will undoubtedly vary a lot from church to church.

The latest updates are a mixed bag, and during our online communion on July 5th we will bring you fully up to date with our plans as they stand.

communion 2

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts to keep you going for now:

Weddings are allowed again from July 4th … sort of

To get legally married people need to first declare their intent to marry a month in advance at the register office and then bring us their ‘blue form’ (this has always been the case – nothing new here). Sadly the register office is not yet open, so you can see the problem.

Weddings will need to follow Covid-19 Secure guidelines which mean that up to a maximum of 30 people can attend, all at a social distance. No singing is allowed so there will be no worship band. There will also be no food, no drinks and no party. Every surface will need to be cleaned afterwards. The toilets would probably have to operate a “1 in 1 out” system to avoid people coming into close contact.

In short, it’s mixed news and not straightforward. Despite these restrictions we look forward to seeing people legally married soon, especially James and Hannah, who’s plans have been delayed.

What about other meetings?

Meetings of up to 30 people will be allowed from July 4th … but only as long they follow the Covid-19 Secure guidelines. This means social distancing must be in place. It also means no singing, no handshakes, no hugging, and that all interactions with anyone you do not share a household with must be minimised. The points that apply to weddings also apply here (apart from needing a blue form 🙂)

In reality there are a lot more aspects to the guidelines as well, and we are probably still some way away from meeting together in person as a church for anything like a full Sunday meeting. I know this is frustrating and disappointing but remember:

Church is about more than our Sunday meetings; we are a family together

We are still the church even without being able to meet in our building.

So since two households are now allowed to get together indoors, you could take advantage of that to see people from church. You could even do it on a Sunday morning and enjoy online church together, but do bear in mind that you are still supposed to be socially distant, and you are not supposed to prepare food together or share utensils … and you shouldn’t really sing.

On days with good weather you can meet with up to five other people outside, and Life Groups could start to take advantage of this, but please remember that the same rules apply!

So how will we formulate our plans going forward?

Beyond  the official guidelines, here are some key factors we need to consider:

1. The quality of what we do

When we start Sunday meetings in person again, whatever size they are and whatever form they take, the total experience needs to at least be as good as we get online. Thirty people wearing face masks, keeping away from each other and not allowed to sing does not tick that box for us! It would also not bless those involved or help us reach new people at all.

In the mean time we are always looking at Sundays online to see how they can continue to be improved.

2. Children and youth

This is a huge factor for us as a church because we love our kids and youth and there are a lot of them! Before we do anything we need to know that our children’s work can be delivered in a way that the children will safely enjoy, that parents and leaders will be confident in, and which will comply with all the relevant guidelines.

3. Worship

One of the main reasons we come together is to join together in an act of worship to God, and at the heart of this is our sung worship time. If singing is not allowed we may decide that we are better off staying as we are for a while longer.

We do want to be on the front foot with this, but being on the front foot isn’t the same as rushing back to what we had before. Instead it means listening to and embracing what God is doing at every step of the way, remembering that God’s people have been in various types of “Lockdown”, many times before … like Jonah, Daniel, Paul, Noah, Joseph and the whole nation of Israel at times too. God is in control of all our days. Let’s be patient.

In the meantime online church continues, so does online Alpha, prayer, kids work, youth work and Life Groups and more, and please remember: the Holy Spirit is not confused by Zoom or by the internet! God can still work in us and through us, and we can still meet with him.

In short, we are not in a rush to make changes, but neither do we want to delay unnecessarily.  We will take all of these factors into account and make decisions in ways that are faith filled, sensible, legal, practical and will help us move forward together best as a church.

Please pray that God gives us great wisdom

For now, please put Sunday July 5th in your diary

That evening, at 6.30pm, we will have online communion together, led by my friend Tim Robertson from Compassion UK. This will be followed by a time of sharing updates and information from Welcome Church.

These updates will include the latest information relating to coming out of Lockdown, and also the details of an exciting staff change, and it will all be over by 8pm.

Don’t miss it!

But please know this: I do miss all of you.

 

 

 

 

Getting Spiritually Match Fit

On Sunday, Christoper Hawes spoke about our need to be ‘spiritually match fit’ as lockdown eases and something closer to normal life returns (click here to listen). Just as footballers will need to be fit to play the full 90 minutes when football returns, we need to be spiritually fit for God’s call and plans for us.

football-challenge-1314184

Have you lost some of your spiritual fitness during lockdown?

2 Timothy 3v16-17 says:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Among other things Christopher talked about the Bible as being like a ‘spiritual coach’ for us, helping us to attain full fitness.

He listed five ways to approach the Bible that can help us:

  1. Listening: such as listening to our Sunday preaching
  2. Reading: actually reading the Bible. Have you read it all yet? There are loads of apps and reading plans available for free to help
  3. Studying: a lot of the Bible’s riches do not ‘lie on the surface’; we are reading literature that is thousands of years old and written to different cultures in languages we don’t speak today. Study guides are so helpful for us to mine the depths, taking our understanding and interest to whole new levels
  4. Memorising: learning verses or chapters by heart; being able to call them to mind when needed. Jesus did this to fight temptation (see Luke chapter 4)
  5. Meditating: filling our mind with scripture; rolling it round and round our thoughts

photo-of-child-reading-holy-bible-935944

When Christopher talked about ‘studying’ the Bible, he mentioned some resources to help us. I have listed some of these here, along with a few extra suggestions of my own:

1. Study Bibles
A Study Bible is a simple tool to help us as we read. I own two: The NIV Study Bible and The NLT Study Bible. They have comments on many of the verses and explain things we can easily miss
2. Daily Devotionals
These are short daily reading guides that give insight to what we’re reading. There are lots of these available, both in online or paper formats to suit your preference for example, Every Day With Jesus or Daily Hope, both of which I would recommend
3. Bible commentaries
A good Bible commentary can help us mine the depths of the Bible, and lots of these are well written and easy to read, such as ‘The Bible Speaks Today’ (which has a commentary available for every book of the Bible) or the ‘New American Commentary’ series (which go far deeper and are personal favourites of mine) or the ‘Holman Commentary’ series (which take a chapter at a time and point to the key things in it) or Phil Moore’s ‘Straight To The Heart Of’ series (very readable and applicable to daily life)
4. A Systematic Theology
Reading a good systematic theology can take some effort, but it’s manageable by anyone with reasonable reading ability and the courage to take the plunge. Reading one through is like taking all the bits of theology we know (and a lot we don’t know) and organising it into a neat filing system. I personally like Wayne Grudems Systematic Theology, but others are also available.
5. Commission Training
As a church we are part of the Commission family of churches, and Commission have just launched a whole range of new training courses, starting from September. There are four levels of training on offer, starting with something basic and going all the way through to a Masters Degree. For details click here. They also talk about an internship year in a church, which could be done here at Welcome Church – feel free to ask.

What next?

There is no bad place to start. The key thing is not to worry about what we don’t know or haven’t done, but to start somewhere. All the things I have listed above will do us good, so why not try something?
To return to a sporting analogy, the ball is in your court.