All posts in “Community”

The 11-year-olds’ guide to trick-or-treating

By Jim Killam

Not sure of your Halloween responsibilities as a neighborhood resident? We’re here to help. Over the years, and at great personal cost, we have intercepted reconnaissance from local 11-year-olds as they devise their trick-or-treat strategies. At most houses, everything goes just fine. Nothing to report.

Then there are … The Eleven. Eleven types of well-intentioned residents who get flagged by trick-or-treaters for Halloween misconduct. Read the list and make necessary adjustments. Learn from those who have gone before you. This carries the added benefit of keeping toilet paper from lodging in your trees later that evening. 

Here goes.

 

The Rationers

People who answer the door with a 55-gallon drum of candy — the good candy — but then insist that each trick-or-treater take only one measly piece. By the end of the evening, they still have a 55-gallon drum of the good candy … which you suspect was the plan all along.

 

The Generics

None of that overpriced so-called “good candy” at this house. Those plain, orange-and-black wrapped peanut butter things were good enough for these people as kids, so they’re good enough for the neighbor kids now. Best of all, one 99-cent bag gets them through the evening because the little urchins only take one each, just to be polite.

 

The writer as a zombie Abraham Lincoln

1428 Elm Street

A dad who’s just a little too enthusiastic has filled the front yard with props and scenes that would frighten a horror film director. Witches, zombies, assorted chainsaw mayhem … it’s all here to make sure every kid in the neighborhood sleeps with one eye open for the next year. And then there’s a friendly couple at the door asking little kids if they want some candy. Um, no.

 

The Granolas

Those people. The ones who make salads from fallen tree branches, mill their own flour and drink organic Kale slushies. Candy has never darkened the door of this house and it certainly would never be handed to unsuspecting young ones. The dingy green treats offered here are home-wrapped in cellophane and taste like the bottom of a lawnmower. Word gets out quickly among trick-or-treaters: Run away!

 

The Bucketeers

These busy folks can’t take time to answer their door for sniveling kids demanding candy. The ingenious solution: The honor bucket! Fill a bucket — a small bucket, probably one of those cheap plastic jack-o-lanterns — with fun-sized (microscopic) candy. Nothing really good, or some little ingrate will take it all in one swipe. They leave the bucket on the driveway, but not too close to the house. Then they peek through the drawn blinds periodically to monitor the situation. When the bucket is empty, they turn off the porch light and call it a night.

 

The Mother Lode

King-size candy bars for everyone! Someone’s either generous or clueless, but if you’re the kid holding the bag, you don’t care. This approach qualifies as Halloween misconduct only because the residents proclaim themselves superior to the rest of the neighborhood. A stop here equates in candy weight to about eight stops at the “fun size” houses. This house has been called the holy grail of Halloween. That is, unless you happen upon …

 

Bill and Melinda Gates

They hand out money. For real. Sometimes it’s pennies or nickels. But at some houses, it’s dollar bills. Word about a house like this spreads like wildfire. A line forms, and kids will trade masks in the street so they can ring this doorbell multiple times. Then the residents run out of small bills, turn off the porch light and Lord of the Flies breaks out on the sidewalk between kids who got money and kids who got bupkis.

 

The Chatties

People who want to know everything about the kids’ costumes, where they got them and the characters they’re portraying. Then they start reminiscing about the homemade costumes they wore, made out of lint and rolled-up newspaper because that was all they had back in those days but they were grateful and you kids don’t know how good you have it with your store-bought costumes and your fancy candy. Meanwhile the kids just nod and fidget because they are losing precious time with one whole side of the street to go.

 

Zero Dark Thirty

No lights on, no driveway bucket. Only the bravest kids ring this doorbell … which is one of those internet camera doorbells that the residents are monitoring from their secret lair hundreds of miles away. Don’t bother with this house.

 

The Dentist’s House

Toothbrushes. Floss. That is all we have to say about that.

 

The Forgottens

These are the people who forgot to buy candy and now are handing out anything that happens to be in their fridge or pantry: Cheez-Its. Frosted Mini-Wheats. Cottage cheese. Fish sticks. Yes, even kale. You’ll know this house because you can find these groceries discarded by trick-or-treaters on the sidewalk out front.

 

There you have it. Don’t get yourself on this list and when you wake up Nov. 1 and look out on your lawn, all should be good. Disagree? Take it up with the 11-year-olds.

 

Halloween Q&A with Pastor Luke Uran

First Free Rockford has shifted its approach over the past two years from a Trunk-or-Treat event in the church parking lot, and then at a school, to now encouraging our church family to spend Halloween evening in their own neighborhoods. We talked with Pastor Luke Uran about reasons for this change.

 

Why did First Free decide not to do Trunk-or-Treat any more?
Headshot of Lead Pastor Luke Uran

Luke Uran, Lead Pastor

We have been transitioning from a church that focused on come-and-see events to a church that is now saying let’s go, tell and show the love of God in the city of Rockford and around the world. In other words, rather than inviting people to come to the church, why don’t we just stay where we are and do it there? We aren’t telling people this is a must. But if I’m standing there with the porch light on, handing out candy and talking with parents and kids, it’s not only gospel intentionality, it’s loving the city. You know, we always pray for opportunities to evangelize, but people were coming to our doors and we weren’t home. The lights were turned off. 

Even if we don’t necessarily agree with the holiday itself, it’s a great opportunity for us to be light in darkness. It’s an opportunity for us to love the kids and families in our communities. 

 

Do you have some ideas for things people could do during trick-or-treat hours?

Be home. Hand out candy. For some, maybe they hand out cups of coffee or hot cocoa to parents walking by. I know some people who have grilled hot dogs and brats and handed them out to parents. You could even set up a game, throwing beanbags or something, and kids get candy that way. 

Or if people don’t want to do any of that at their house, they could be out on the driveway talking to people and just being present.

 

What if a Christian doesn’t want to observe Halloween at all?

As followers of Jesus, we can definitely rain on the devil’s parade. Light drives out darkness. And as we walk in the light and have the source of light, Jesus, in our lives, we will overcome darkness. The best way we can do that, of course, is by bringing people into relationship with Jesus Christ.

I don’t want to guilt anyone into doing things on Halloween they feel are wrong. At the very least, maybe you take time before dinner, or during trick-or-treat hours, and pray for the city, the kids, the families, the schools. Maybe you do that in your home and your porch light is turned off. But do something that night that is intentional.

 

Meet Clayton Ganziano

Clayton Ganziano has served First Free Rockford for two years as middle school coordinator. Now he’s also coordinating Rooted, our young-adults ministry. Clayton and Hannah just celebrated their first wedding anniversary.

We talked with Clayton about church youth groups, what kids are looking for … and how middle school and young adult ministries actually have a lot to do with one another.

 

What did your faith look like, growing up?

I grew up in an EV Free church. My family was very involved there. But once I was in high school, my older brother and I just didn’t connect well in the youth group. So we tried a lot of different churches, places that our friends were going or that we had heard about.

The Chapel, a multi-site church in the Chicago area, had just opened a campus at my high school, McHenry High School. We checked it out as a family and it was a place we were OK with going. My mom wanted us to get plugged into the youth group, but I didn’t want to go. That was a whole lot of new people. It was a bigger church and that youth group was going to be big and overwhelming.

The group met in Grayslake, so for the McHenry campus, the students would gather at a Burger King. Then a church bus would pick everyone up and drive them to youth group. So at my mom’s insistence, I tried it one night. As I’m sitting in Burger King, this lady walks in. And she’s like, “Hey, are you getting on the bus?” And I’m like, “Yeah … who are you?”

Clayton Ganziano with Student Ministries Director, Meredith Domanico.

Well, she was Meredith Domanico, who’s now here at First Free (director of Student Ministries). She had just become the youth pastor, and she caught me totally off guard. So in my head I’m thinking: Just go away. Just go away. C’mon, more people come in, because then she’ll go talk to you instead.

But after that first night, I felt like it was a place where I wanted to be. There was this wave of people saying, “I see you and I want to know who you are.” That was a brand-new experience for me. At our previous church, my family had grown up there, so everybody knew who I was. But a lot of people didn’t actually know me. People didn’t take the next step in trying to find out who I was. They just assumed, “Well, I know your family, so I know who you are.”

 

What changed about your faith after that?

I lived a large part of my early life thinking I needed to know all the answers. So when my friends would ask me, “How do you know God is real?” I needed to know the answer. And if I didn’t, I thought I would look like a fool and I wouldn’t win them over.

Heartbeat meets mid-week to play games, worship and study God’s Word together.

I had all the head knowledge. My church growing up emphasized knowing the Bible – and I know that’s extremely important. That’s what I’m trying to communicate to students today, how important that is. But at a point for me, I thought I knew everything, but I didn’t understand at all what it meant. I could tell you the gospel, but I didn’t know what it meant to live it out.

I don’t want to live my life like that, as if other people’s faith and eternal destination depends on whether I know all the answers. The question actually is, am I open to journey with other people? I would always ask our leaders questions and they didn’t always have the answers. I appreciated the genuineness of somebody looking at me and saying, “That’s actually a really good question. I don’t know the answer. I have my thoughts. But why don’t we together look at this? Let’s open Scripture, let’s go in prayer, and actually sit and process this question.”

 

How did that experience inform your ministry today?

Students come to me or our leaders with questions now, and a lot of times we could give them answers. That’s great, but that’s not real for me. I didn’t sit in that process of discovery and learning.

I don’t want this just to be a place where they know Bible trivia or they can recite Scripture. Those are good things. But if that is all we are going for, then what’s the point? I want them to be able to truly wrestle with: What does this look like for me? What does this look like in my life? And then to really make their faith their own.

 

Is there a main impression you want students to have when they attend Heartbeat?

I know there are so many students who go to school and they feel like nobody sees them, nobody notices them. And there is this desire to have friends and be part of a community. What does that look like for us to take intentional steps for them to do that together?

Clayton Ganziano teaches Heartbeat middle school students during their mid-week gathering.

I want every student who comes through our doors to know that they are loved. That’s a need they already know about. They want to be in places that love them and accept them. Not, We love you once you do this, or accept this, or believe this.

I want this to be an easy on-ramp for them to invite their friends from school. Not necessarily to Wednesday nights, but to their small group — for them to find a place as friends that they can actually belong, too.

And I want students to be comfortable asking questions. I tell my students every time, if there’s something I said onstage tonight that makes no sense to you, come talk to me. Or ask your leader in your small group. If a student says, “OK, you just said this and it doesn’t make sense,” that really excites me because I know they were listening.

 

What have you been tinkering with, format-wise?

Previously the kids were split up by age and gender. This year I wanted to mix it up a little. I’ve heard from past classes: “I know who the girls are, but I don’t really know them. I don’t feel comfortable talking with them.”

I want to see a group that isn’t founded on a friend group here or a friend group there, cliquing up. Like, our guys are really close together and our girls are really close together but they don’t know how to cross over. I want it to be a group that knows you can know and love somebody without it being, Oh, you’re my girlfriend if I talk to you.

Obviously there will be some topics where we do put the girls together and the guys together. We do have clear boundaries on certain things. But, looking at the rest of their lives, they’re not going to live segregated as guys and girls. There is such a bigger understanding of things.

 

OK, the predictable question here: Could this approach lead to romantic relationships that kids may not be ready for?

From my experience, I think that was even stronger when they separated the guys and girls more. The more they separated us, the more we questioned why. Who are they?

I want to get to a normal where it’s OK to go talk to a girl or a guy. You don’t just talk to a girl or a guy because you want to date them. It’s OK to have a friend of the opposite sex. Just because I go talk to you doesn’t mean I’m interested in trying to date you or marry you one day. I just want to know who you are.

And I see that in our students. Some are a little flirty and we know those kids. But for a lot of students, they just want to get to know people. I don’t want to have to be shy or weird around you because you’re a guy or a girl. I want them to get a better idea of what it looks like to respect the other. For our guys, what does it look like to actually be a friend and be a gentleman to the girls?

 

Now with some staff shuffling, you’ve taken on the Rooted ministry as well. What’s your focus there?

My hope is for our community to be a place for college-age students and young adults to come and take ownership of their faith. Many people, myself included, grew up in the church living out their family’s faith. But then in these crucial years of beginning to live on your own, you can truly learn, refine and own your faith. We want to be a space where people can come and ask real questions and then journey into those together as a community.

 

Rooted college/young-adult ministry meets every Tuesday in the lower level of the main campus.

 

What are you learning so far?

We all come in with everything we have learned from our families and home churches. We can bring these different perspectives not to change others or prove others wrong, but for better learning. I can only grow when I hear, see and experience others’ views — not just by sitting in things I already believe or by listening to people who think exactly like me.

 

Seems like you could do some easy research by asking the Rooted group what worked and didn’t work for them back in junior high.

One of my questions is always, “What was your youth group experience like? What things have you held on to, and what things do you say ‘That was just traumatizing. I’m trying to forget that’?

A lot of them have shared: The best things, biggest and fondest memories weren’t from a big event night or even retreats. It was just moments, whether scheduled or unscheduled, just being together. There was one youth pastor or one leader who was so committed, just inviting us over to their house or to do things together. And that is the picture I’m holding now in my mind of what true community looks like.

It’s not about bigger, better events. It’s not about making my teaching the most crazy with so many examples or whatever, it’s about the moments where they were affirmed, that they had friends and a place to belong. That they were seen. They were heard. Those are the things that they remember most. So then those are the things that I want to put a lot of our time into.

 

Is there a bottom line for you in ministry?

What I want for our students is to get to a point that, I know that Jesus is real. I know the things he said and the things he has done for me are real, because I have seen and experienced first-hand his followers, his people, living that same thing out to me.

I know I’m here because of people like Meredith and my other leaders back in that youth group — people who didn’t just understand this whole Jesus thing, but made it real. And they allowed me to have that same experience. They just loved me and cared for me. I know Jesus is real because I saw his disciples do that work in my life.

 

Clayton’s Favorites

Music: The Starbucks playlist on Spotify. It’s good music that you can listen to and get work done at the same time. That’s when I listen to music the most is when I’m writing or putting together a message.

Movie: Star Wars

TV show: Parks & Recreation

Food: Pizza (what else would I say as a middle school leader?)

Vacation place: Colorado. I love the mountains.

 

Sharing burdens: a countercultural mission

Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

That flies in the face of our culture’s obsession with self-reliance … which ultimately is about pride. True Life in Community looks different.

John Piper interprets the Galatians verse this way:

Here is a vocation that will bring you more satisfaction than if you became a millionaire ten times over: Develop the extraordinary skill for detecting the burdens of others and devote yourself daily to making them lighter.”

Need an example? Consider what happens every day at Rockford Rescue Mission. Their mission statement: Rockford Rescue Mission shares hope and help in Jesus’ name to move people from homelessness and despair toward personal and spiritual wholeness.

Sounds a lot like Galatians 6:2, doesn’t it? The “homelessness” aspect is Rescue Mission-specific, of course. But aside from that, could this serve as a mission statement for any Christian who wants to “obey the law of Christ”?

We spoke recently with Joy Wilson, lead coordinator for the Mission’s Women’s Life Recovery Program. In the video above, Joy talks about her own hard path, and how God uses community to work in the lives of hurting people. Meaning, all of us. 

Faith, work and lunch

How do faith and work converge for Life in Community? A group of local business leaders meets monthly for lunch, networking and exploring that question together. Here’s their story:

Friends, Life Groups and community

What does Life in Community look like? Chad and Megan Clauson’s Life Group started when most of them were part of First Free’s young adults ministry, Rooted. Now that members’ lives have taken different paths, the group still sticks close.

Mickey Mouse only real when shared

Life in community is important.
By Jim Killam | Illustration by Nathan McDonald

As a newspaper reporter, I once attended a media event at Walt Disney World. We journalists would attend morning press conferences about new rides and attractions, and then the rest of the day was our own.

For three days, I was treated like a Disney princess. I could ride any ride, see any show, eat at any restaurant … all on Mickey Mouse’s dime.

The catch was, I was by myself.

A statue of Walt and the mouse demonstrating life in community.

Even Walt had a mouse to pal around with here.

There is a definite place in life for solitude. That place is a long way from Walt Disney World. As I watched Indiana Jones blow up an airplane, rode Space Mountain in the dark or got dropped from the Tower of Terror, I’d never felt more uncomfortably isolated. I’d get off the rides with hundreds of people and there would be no one to talk with, laugh with … even barf with.

I’d just had exactly the same experience as all of those happy, laughing people around me, but all I felt was alone and self-conscious — and that I definitely shouldn’t walk anywhere near small kids. I know solo travel has become a big thing, and maybe it works for some. No rules, no compromises, no agenda but your own. For me, the experience was just … empty. I couldn’t wait to go home, and to come back later with people I love. 

Leaving it all behind

In the true 1996 book and 2007 movie, Into the Wild, Christopher McCandless graduates from college, disillusioned with materialistic society. He leaves home without telling anyone where he’s going, gives away everything he has and embarks on a solo quest to find meaning and purpose. That leads to random stops around the country, all with an eventual goal: Alaska. The ultimate wilderness.

Image of man walking in snow from Into the Wild.

Paramount Pictures

Before embarking on the last leg of his journey north, Chris tells his friend, Ron Franz: “You are wrong if you think that the joy of life comes principally from the joy of human relationships. God’s place is all around us. It is in everything and in anything we can experience. People just need to change the way they look at things.”

Near the end of the film, Chris’ opinion has changed. His rejection of family, church and society has left him dangerously alone. To find himself, by himself, has been no answer. Facing starvation in the Alaskan wilderness, he writes in the margin of the book, Doctor Zhivago: “Happiness only real when shared.”

Church and elder brothers

During a time of family struggle a few years ago, we stepped away from church and small groups for a few months. We felt defeated, disillusioned and let down. A holy discontent, we reasoned. Church felt less like a close community of believers and more like one continuous argument over worship and preaching styles.

So we just stopped going. I never came close to abandoning my faith, but church felt empty. For the time being, the thought of just God, me, a Bible and a journal sounded pretty attractive.

Chris McCandless’ story haunted me those months away from church. What did my faith mean apart from the messiness of community? Did this all really just begin and end in my own head? What’s the end game in loving God but not the church?

Around that time I also read Timothy Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, in which he drew on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Churches can be so unpleasant, he wrote, because we can see them as being filled with elder brothers — self-righteous, jealous, graceless jerks. Yet when I stayed away because of that, I had to come to grips with my own self-righteous jerkiness.

Keller also said this:

“There is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t find the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.”

Long story short: We didn’t stay away for long. In fact, not long after we came back to the church, we felt God’s call to missions. Loving God but not the church had left me with an incomplete faith, and fewer people to share it with. Holy discontent didn’t stay holy for very long.

Life in Community

This month, First Free Rockford is engaging with a sermon series called Life in Community. Whether we’re married, single or widowed, it does us all good to realize community is where we thrive. God placed us in community to worship, grow and serve together — not to ride life’s roller coasters alone.

Views expressed on this blog are those of the writer alone. References to films, music or other works should not be considered an endorsement by First Free Rockford.

 

Life Groups Celebration 2019

Life Groups Celebration 2019

Enjoy an evening of stories, food, and fellowship at our first ever Life Groups Celebration on Thursday, August 8 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Aldeen Golf Club pavilion. We will spend time worshipping together, hearing from God’s word, and celebrating all God has done through Life Groups this past year. Tickets are $10 per person (adults only).

REGISTER NOW

Free childcare available for kids ages 0-12 from 6:15 to 9:15 p.m. during the event. Call 815-877-7046 by August 5 and speak to Erin Blume to reserve a spot for your kids.

If you are interested in joining a life group at First Free Rockford, new groups launch in October. Visit here to find out more.

50th Patriotic Celebration

50th Patriotic Celebration – Saturday

Join us for our 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration.

Friday and Saturday, June 28t and 29 at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

We hope you will join us for the 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration – as we continue the tradition of celebrating our heritage, honoring our Veterans and Military and thanking God for the true freedom we have in Jesus Christ!

The program will feature a large choir and full orchestra presenting our favorite Patriotic songs.  We will be reminiscing and hearing from the Music Directors that have continued this tradition through the years.  A free dessert reception will follow each evening’s program.  We will have displays from Local Veteran Organizations for you to peruse, as well.

A free-will offering will be collected during the program.  This year – the offering will be divided between 3 local Veteran Non-Profits:  The Veteran’s Drop-in Center, the Oscar Mike Foundation, and Brightening Veteran’s Lives (Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 984 Rockford).

Childcare available for children age 5 and under.

Volunteer Info
50th Patriotic Celebration

50th Patriotic Celebration – Friday

Join us for our 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration.

Friday and Saturday, June 28t and 29 at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

We hope you will join us for the 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration – as we continue the tradition of celebrating our heritage, honoring our Veterans and Military and thanking God for the true freedom we have in Jesus Christ!

The program will feature a large choir and full orchestra presenting our favorite Patriotic songs.  We will be reminiscing and hearing from the Music Directors that have continued this tradition through the years.  A free dessert reception will follow each evening’s program.  We will have displays from Local Veteran Organizations for you to peruse, as well.

A free-will offering will be collected during the program.  This year – the offering will be divided between 3 local Veteran Non-Profits:  The Veteran’s Drop-in Center, the Oscar Mike Foundation, and Brightening Veteran’s Lives (Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 984 Rockford).

Childcare available for children age 5 and under.

Volunteer Info