All posts in “Community”

Q&R: Acts 29 – Now we get to change the world

This month, pastors Luke Uran and Josh Pardee are wrapping up a 17-week sermon series on the book of Acts. Today they look ahead to where this leads our church family next.

 

So, there’s one more sermon from Acts. How does it end?

Luke: This week, Josh is going to be driving home the idea that we are now the 29th chapter of Acts. The book’s ending was left unfinished. We have this mission that we have been given, to go and make disciples.

 

That sounds like another good jumping-off point.
Headshot of Lead Pastor Luke Uran

Lead Pastor Luke Uran, First Free Rockford

Luke: Yes. As we look to this spring and the launch of our Life Groups, the sermon series we will be doing next is based partially on another book by an author we looked at last fall, Dustin Willis. This book is called The Simplest Way to Change the World.

What the series is going to focus on, and the reason we’re doing it next, as a follow-up to Acts, is because if we want to see all generations go, tell, and show the love of God here in the city of Rockford and around the world, then we need to be ones who are willing to be out and present in our community. We’re going to focus on that idea of being present, being active, being involved, being available and out in the community. Our primary purpose behind that is, let’s put hands and feet to this now. Today, not at the time of Acts. What does this look like? How do we apply it?

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Home Makeover: Philippi edition

A reminder from Acts about what truly matters

 

By Cherice Ullrich

If your December looked anything like mine, you’re tired.

We shopped for gifts. We watched my son hold up the three French hens in his kindergarten Christmas concert. We hid the elf (when we remembered). We decorated our house, inside and out.

If you’re really like me and you have little children, you had to do all of the decorating after they went to bed and finish it all in one shot because they’d get into the boxes the next morning if you weren’t done. So you may or may not have stayed up ’til midnight and then had to pile all of your other decorations on a table so you could put them away three days later because that’s when you had time.

This year, as in many others, we prepared our house for family to stay with us over Christmas: two sets of family, one with a dog. December is fun, hectic, exhausting, and somewhere in there, we remember Jesus and how all of this is for his birthday.

Which was probably in April anyway.

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Staff memories: Our own Christmas Traditions

Seven members of our church staff responded to two questions about their family’s Christmas traditions.

 

What was your family’s most meaningful Christmas tradition?

 

Kendra Johnson AvatarKendra Johnson

As young siblings, the three of us put on a short program for our parents. One of us read the Christmas story from Luke, we all sang a Christmas hymn and one of us prayed. It was the same every year but that is what made it a tradition.

Kari Heckler AvatarKari Heckler

Decorating Christmas cookies with my grandma. We always used the powdered sugar and food coloring to make the frosting. We ate a lot of the cookies as they “accidentally” broke. I love that my kids are keeping that tradition going!

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Celebrate the season with Christmas Traditions

Christmastime comes gift-wrapped in wonderful traditions. But especially this year, with so little time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, everything feels … compressed. Amid the hustle of shopping, decorating, and attending Christmas parties with family, friends and co-workers (all in addition to the hustle of regular daily life), we want to make it easy for families in the Rockford area to make memories and learn about Christmas in new ways.

So, First Free Rockford is gift-wrapping something special for our entire community. We invite everyone to join us between 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, for this year’s free and family-friendly Christmas Traditions.

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Christmas Traditions 2019

Christmas Traditions: Pray, serve, give

A conversation with Pastor Luke Uran

First Free’s annual Christmas Traditions event runs from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14. We’ll have a petting zoo, pictures with Santa, cookie decorating, an indoor snowball fight, a stage show, carolers, a kids’ story time and more. Each activity is designed to help families create new traditions and memories while weaving the Christmas story into it all.

We spoke with Lead Pastor Luke Uran about the event, its purpose and the opportunities it presents.

 

Headshot of Lead Pastor Luke UranDo you remember how Christmas Traditions evolved into what it is now?

About three years before we started doing the event, a bunch of us were talking about what would it look like to do an outreach event well. We came up with this idea of a Christmas-themed event with different activities that could be taking place, kind of an all-hands-on-deck thing. I remember us saying, “Let’s make an event that is easy for families. So they can take part in Christmas traditions that their family already does, but let’s just make it easy for them.”

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Mister Rogers and Daniel Tiger (puppet)

Why we long for Mister Rogers

A beautiful film speaks volumes to a broken culture

By Jim Killam

About halfway through A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, journalist Lloyd Vogel is interviewing Fred Rogers in a restaurant booth. It’s another in a series of conversations where, really, Mister Rogers has been interviewing Lloyd, uncovering deep pain from a torn relationship with his father.

“You love people like me,” Lloyd concedes.

“What are people like you?” Fred asks.

“Broken people.”

 

Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Photo: TriStar Pictures

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on real-life journalist Tom Junod’s encounters with Mister Rogers for a 1998 Esquire magazine issue about heroes. The premise is cliché, but in this case true: a cynical journalist assigned to interview “the nicest man in the world.” And a throwaway, 400-word “fluff” assignment becomes a friendship that changes a man forever.

Junod wrote a wonderful essay for The Atlantic to coincide with the film’s opening. Lloyd Vogel’s storyline is fiction, which is why Junod asked that his and his relatives’ real names not be used. But his deep interactions with Fred Rogers were real and, he writes, reflected accurately:

“A long time ago, a man of resourceful and relentless kindness saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He trusted me when I thought I was untrustworthy, and took an interest in me that went beyond my initial interest in him.”

That thought forms the movie’s story line, which is wonderfully framed as an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Getting there takes a few minutes, though. Tom Hanks’ singing entry made me laugh aloud. In the 1970s and ’80s, Mister Rogers might have been best known for the parodies by comedians like Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams. This seemed like another of those, for about 30 seconds. Then I forgot I was watching Hanks and was absorbed into a story that centers on the kindness of a man who seemed too good to be true.

• • •

IT’S HARD TO WATCH this film and not think about the gospels’ stories of broken people encountering Jesus. How he quickly moved past cultural differences and people’s own defenses. How he made the person to whom he was speaking feel like the most important person in the world. “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did,” the woman at the well told her friends.

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Angel Tree opportunity is here

Starting Sunday, Dec. 1, First Free Rockford is again participating in Angel Tree, a program sponsored by Prison Fellowship. The program delivers gifts, a gospel message and personal message of love to kids on behalf of their incarcerated parent.

This year, more than 7,000 churches and groups have committed to serve more than 300,000 kids across the country. First Free is one of five churches in Rockford, and one of eight in Winnebago County, taking part, said Angel Tree Program Specialist Danielle Kruger. Read More

Wrestling with a masterpiece

A writer crumples under the weight of Handel’s Messiah, until …

By Jessi Uran 

What on earth was I thinking? I can’t write this.

I stared at the computer screen for what seemed like the 50th time in three weeks. I’d scribbled research notes on three different pages and formed five different outlines, only to fill a garbage can with what I emphatically told my husband was “mediocre rubbish, not worthy of a garbage can.” (Dramatic much?)

Writer’s block is not uncommon for me. But this was different. It was less of a block and more of an unscalable, cement wall. The task was simple, really: Write about Handel’s Messiah. I could take it any direction I wanted and write in whatever form. There were no expectations, no criteria. Just a deadline.

Autographed composition draft of ‘Amen Chorus’ from British Library Treasures

Not only did my father used to play Handel’s Messiah every Christmas season on our family’s living room stereo, but I also had heard it performed live last year, in the annual concert by the Rockford Choral Union. Listening to the product of their countless hours of practice and dedication had left an indelible mark. To begin, there seemed no more festive way to usher in the season of Advent than in the reverent architecture of Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Experiencing history in this way, with people young and old, and hearing the scriptural account in such grandeur was awe-inspiring.

The concert left me with a conviction: In a somewhat disciplinary way, I need to carve time to sit, listen and behold the wonder of Immanuel. At Christmas, ironically, the act of sitting and listening often gets lost in all the things there are to do. Deep joy came from spending an afternoon doing nothing other than marveling corporately at the story of the Savior.

And then a moment of … what?! During a Part 2 tenor solo from Lamentations — “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow” — a woman up the aisle from me decided to clip all 10 fingernails. At the same instant, a man four rows up raised his hands in complete rapture. I judged Madame Fingernails immediately, but days later I began to wonder: How many awe-deserving things do I treat just as flippantly? Read More

Handel’s Messiah: ‘Our gift back to Rockford’

Choral Union’s performances date back 74 years

Rockford Choral Union has performed Handel’s Messiah every Christmas season since 1945. This year’s choir includes 112 people. It’s open to anyone who wants to participate and commit to the rehearsals. Singers live as far away as Rochelle to the south, Janesville to the north, and the western Chicago suburbs.

“The nice thing is that we have a lot of people who have been with the group for a number of years, and now we are starting to see more and more young people singing with the group,” says second-year conductor Michael Beert. “So it becomes more of a mentor-student situation.”

Cherice Ullrich (left) and her mom, Cindy Jensen, sing during a rehearsal last year. Photo courtesy of Rockford Choral Union.

Multiple churches and denominations are represented.

“It used to be just a Lutheran Choral Union and we found that we would have Catholic, we would have Missouri Synod, we would have Assembly of God, we would have pretty much any denomination joining us,” Beert says. “And so we thought, why are we calling ourselves the Lutheran Choral Union when there are fewer and fewer Lutherans? It’s great that it’s interdenominational.”

Seven people from First Free Rockford are part of this year’s choir: Lynne Berglund, Sandra Hogan, Cindy Jensen, Keith Johnson, Sasha Pogwizd, Cherice Ullrich and Art Upmann.

The choir and guest soloists are accompanied by a 15-piece chamber orchestra.

Here’s part of our conversation with Beert, who is a renowned cellist and a music professor at Rock Valley College. His wife, Rachel Handlin, is concertmistress (first-chair violinist and instrument-playing leader of the orchestra).

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