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Patriotic Celebration marks 50th milestone

Our annual Patriotic Celebration received more buzz than ever this year as we celebrated 50 years of honoring our military heroes and thanking God for the true freedom we have in Jesus Christ.

To help recognize the big milestone, we invited all former choir and orchestra directors back for the celebration. We’ve had six directors in total during that time:

  • Bruce Erickson (1970-1983)
  • Otis Skillings (1984-1989)
  • Doug Thiesen (1990-1998)
  • Renee Cooper (1999 to 2001)
  • Kristyn Thor (2002)
  • Eric Walker (2003-2007)
  • Renee Cooper (2008 to present)

Renee Cooper, who serves as our classic worship director, was our director again this year and is the longest-serving director in the group. Bruce Erickson, our first director, attended this year’s festivities, and a few others were unable to attend but did send us videos sharing wonderful memories of the event.

According to Bruce, Patriotic Celebration started in 1970 as a way to bring together a divided country/community during the Vietnam War. It was a positive offering and initially took place at the Sinnissippi Park Music Shell – sometimes after the Fourth of July and sometimes in June. The celebration began with one night, was eventually expanded to three nights, and then scheduled for two nights once it moved to the current First Free Rockford main campus.

In addition to special outreach for past directors, we also invited all former choir and orchestra participants to celebrate with us this year. We had people join us from many states, including Texas, Florida, Michigan and South Carolina. More than 200 volunteers total helped organize and participated in the event, and over 2,100 people attended the celebration performances.

The color guards from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and the Rockford Police Department presented the colors both nights, and our procession of veterans was once again a highlight for the crowd. A freewill offering collected during the program are being divided between three local veterans’ nonprofits: The Veteran’s Drop-in Center, the Oscar Mike Foundation and Brightening Veteran’s Lives (Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 984 Rockford).

Mom’s Day Out a longtime resource for Rockford-area families

Mom’s Day Out — a special ministry for children and families at First Free Rockford — celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

The ministry started as a pilot program in 1989, created as a part-time, Christ-centered child care resource for parents. Three decades ago, moms mostly did the sign-up, but today, fathers and even grandparents are involved in the program, too.

“We’re seeing second generations coming through now,” said Patti Clauson, Mom’s Day Out Director.

Patti has been here since the beginning. She said a First Free member first saw a similar program in the south back in the 1980s and brought the idea back to Rockford.

Mom’s Day Out classroom at First Free Rockford – Rockford, Illinois

Families today can enroll their children starting at 1-year through pre-kindergarten age from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and/or Fridays.

Mom’s Day Out is open to anyone in the community – not just church members. Patti said the program draws people from all backgrounds, including families from outside the U.S. who have relocated to Rockford to work in such industries as aerospace, manufacturing and health care.

Patti Clauson, Director of Mom’s Day Out

“What’s so cool is we’ll have moms who don’t know anyone in town, so they seek out a church that will be a safe place. After a few years, they’ve got play groups, the kids are enrolled in summer day camp,” Patti said. “Our goal is to bridge families from not knowing anyone to finding a home and an extended family here.”

About 120 children attend Mom’s Day Out each day. Bible-based learning aims to teach kids about good values such as sharing, helping each other, comforting a friend and much more. A typical day may include songs, counting, learning days of the week, crafts, a Bible story, and playing in the gym or on the playground.

Crucial to the program’s success has been the ongoing help of church staff and members who volunteer their time to help with activities. Mom’s Day Out also employs more than 20 teachers, meaning it’s a good opportunity for educators looking for an alternative to full-time work.

That’s how Patti got started, in fact. She was a teacher looking for care for her young daughter at the time. She started teaching, then became assistant director and then director.

“It was all God’s planning,” she said. “This is where I was meant to be.”

Mom’s Day Out runs a similar schedule to the school year calendar, starting the week after Labor Day and ending the week before Memorial Day. Registration for the next session starts in May. Visit momsdayout.net for more information, or call 815-877-7046.

Big Day of Serving promotes importance of giving back

Registration is now live for First Free Rockford’s Big Day of Serving, a special time dedicated to volunteering and community connection.

First Free has partnered this year with the Rockford Park District, the Rockford Rescue Mission and Rockford Public Schools to help with cleanup and maintenance work at several locations. Volunteers will gather from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 18, at Sinnissippi Park, the Rescue Mission and the STEAM Academy at Haskell for the work.

This annual event is open to the public and typically draws more than 150 people to help. It’s a great opportunity to invite family, friends and neighbors to participate, and it also emphasizes the importance of serving, which is central to First Free’s mission and vision.

“We see the value in partnering with our community to go, tell and show the love of God in the city of Rockford and around the world,” said Meredith Domanico, First Free’s director of student ministries and organizer of Big Day of Serving.

“It’s important to give back, and Big Day of Serving creates an opportunity to do that, to defeat the apathy of just being here and letting things happen around us. This is a chance to be part of something, to take ownership of the place where we live and do our part to help make it beautiful.”

Site leaders will oversee the work at each location. Domanico said there are jobs for anyone who’s interested in signing up no matter your skillset or physical abilities.

Click here to register for Big Day of Serving times, locations and T-shirt sizes. Volunteers are asked to wear closed-toe shoes and casual/work clothes, and bring work gloves. All other equipment will be provided at the individual sites.

Call First Free Rockford at 815-877-7046 for more information.

Angel Tree Program: Giving the Gift of God’s Love

First Free Rockford is proudly participating in the Angel Tree program again this year, delivering gifts and the message of God’s love to children in the Rockford area whose parents are in prison during the holiday season.

Our church has participated in this program for more than 25 years in partnership with Prison Fellowship, a nonprofit Christian organization whose mission is to restore those affected by crime and incarceration. There are more than 2.7 million U.S. children who have a mom or dad in prison, according to the organization, and churches and community organizations throughout the country have already committed to serving more than 275,000 kids this year.

Angel Tree Coordinator Susan Schumacher, a Belvidere resident who’s been attending First Free for nearly 30 years, found a personal connection in this project. She had a loved one in prison and saw the devastating effects an experience like that can have on families.

“We do this out of compassion for the children,” she said. “The program gives us an opportunity to share God’s love by helping to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the families of prisoners.”

You can help by picking a tag off the Angel Tree in our lobby. This year, we have 17 families with 45 children we’re helping. Each child will receive two gifts – an article of clothing and a toy or other fun gift, as well as an age-appropriate booklet about the gospel provided by Prison Fellowship. The families give us suggestions to help personalize the gifts even more.

Grab a tag, shop for gifts, wrap them and turn them in by Dec. 11. We’ll package the gifts on Dec. 12 and deliver them to families on Dec. 15. Let us know if you’d like to volunteer in any way. It’s a beautiful tradition we are excited to participate in again this year!

No Trunk or Treat 2017

Why we aren’t doing Trunk or Treat this year.

A few people recently asked us if we are doing Trunk or Treat this year, so we wanted to make sure you all know what’s going on. Here at First Free Rockford we are constantly trying to up our involvement in the community, and that always starts with building good relationships. In an effort to be an active and loving part of our community, we are encouraging our congregation to be home and engaged with the families of their neighborhoods this year rather than hosting Trunk or Treat. It’s our hope that the city of Rockford would experience God’s love in their own neighborhoods this year from the people of First Free Rockford. For those of you that have been so faithful to come out to the Trunk or Treat event each year, stay tuned because we will be announcing the details of our Christmas Traditions Event very soon, and we think you’re going to really enjoy it! If you are looking for ideas on how to be a light in your neighborhood during Halloween this year, be sure to check out this great e-book!

 

Halloween Outreach Ideabook

Girls’ Night Out

First Free Women kick off the Christmas season with a relaxed time of conversation with other women over dessert and coffee at the December Girls’ Night Out. There will also be Christmas ideas for your family and a gospel message by Judi Hayes. Think about inviting a friend, neighbor or co-worker to come with you.

Tickets are available through the month of November at the Events and Registration desk in the main lobby. There will be appetizers and Christmas music in the lobby at 6:15pm, doors open at 6:30pm. Hope you will join us!

First Free of Rockford Named Honorary Congregation of the Slovak Evangelical Free Church

slovakia

First Free of Rockford Named Honorary Congregation of the Slovak Evangelical Free Church

2015-05-15 by Todd Patterson
Don Oleson visits Slovakia every year as a part of the 15 year partnership between First Evangelical Free Church of Rockford and the Cirkev Bratská in Slovakia. To recognize the help that the CB has received from Rockford they made First Free an honorary congregation in the CB denomination.

Read the complete article by Todd Patterson…

 

Washington Illinois Crisis Response

Please continue to pray for the families affected by the tornado in Washington, IL. Also pray for our relief teams as they travel to and from Washington to assist where needed. If you would like to volunteer, or would like more information about how you can help please contact Pastor Bertie Holmgren.

Philippines Typhoon Response

Typhoon Haiyan leaves destruction, chaos, loss and death. Respond with ReachGlobal.

ReachGlobal’s crisis response team and Asia division partners are currently buying supplies and driving into destroyed areas to hand out food, assessing opportunities for long-term church planting after an enormous typhoon — one of the largest recorded storms in history — ravaged the city of Tacloban, the Philippines. Officials are estimating death tolls to approach 10,000.
How to Pray

For those grieving to find hope in Christ, for Filipino pastors as they meet many new people
For the island of Bantayan to see God’s provision through the only Christian in their family
For grace and wisdom for the responders
For the daily ministry to children who have been left without schools
For the crews set up with a chain saw, tools and a relational person as they go from home to home to help their communities
For a huge response from all corners of the globe – $250,000 for ReachGlobal’s response

Watch the ReachGlobal Crisis Response blog for updates from crisis response director, Mark Lewis.