All posts in “Rockford”

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.”

 

What traditions might not have been so easy for families then? 

We wanted to do a one-stop-shop type of thing. For example, taking pictures with Santa. A lot of families do that, but rather than go to the mall and wait in line for a couple of hours, they can come here and wait in a much shorter line and get a picture with Santa. Or, going home and decorating cookies and then after that reading the Nativity story. What if we were to do all of that under one roof?

Even though we are a church that wants to focus on “go and tell” rather than “come and see,” we did want at least one event that opened our doors to the community, where we had people on our campus.

 

That has been kind of a departure from the way things have moved in recent years. What was your thinking behind the idea that we still needed one “come and see” event?

We wanted something that would bring people into the building, where we could invite them to our Christmas Eve service and future sermon series and other things. This year, we will be telling our guests about our Christmas Eve service as well as inviting them to our parenting conference that’s coming up in February. We wanted to have that next, purposeful step.

We also really want people to see our campus, to see our kids lobby, stuff like that — to break down some walls or preconceived notions that they may have about being inside a church building.

 

And maybe at Christmas, a church feels a little more accessible?

I think at this time of year people are more willing. Even for families who don’t go to church, going to church on Christmas Eve is still a tradition. So it’s one of those things where, for people this time of year, it breaks down a lot of barriers that they would otherwise have up.

 

You said recently, “Let the invitation extend beyond the reach of your hand.” Could you expand on that a little?

What I mean by that is as we talk about “Me to We” as a church, we want to have relationships in our lives with people who do not know Jesus. We don’t want people just to stuff things in mailboxes or put it under windshield wipers in a parking lot. Because I don’t see that as something that’s effective. Sure, it’s got a broad reach. But I don’t think that’s ultimately the way Jesus modeled evangelism.

One of the things that I want our people to understand, and my heart behind it, is to say: This is a great opportunity. Jessi and I have used it as this. To say to someone, “We’ve got pizza. We’ve got Chick-fil-A. We’ve got food trucks. Let me buy your dinner. Just come hang out with our family. Our kids can play together. The parents can talk while the kids are doing activities.”

It’s just that easy on-ramp. So, to have the invitation extend beyond the reach of your hand is really focusing on that idea: Inviting someone to something like is a lot more than just giving them a card. It’s praying up to the event. Maybe afterward it’s then taking them out for coffee the next week and saying, “So what did you think? Is there anything you think the church could improve on? What did your kids like? What did you like? What did you not like?” Continuing the conversation in that way.

So again, it’s just being purposeful with it. It’s not being flippant. Like I said in church a few weeks back, it’s not just going to Woodman’s and throwing a stack of cards in the air and seeing what happens.

 

What kinds of responses have you heard over the last few years from people who have attended but weren’t part of our church family?

Everyone is always so appreciative of the way First Free has historically, and is still doing, events. That has included things like the low-cost or free concerts at Summerwood, Christmas and Easter events, the Patriotic Celebration, Trunk or Treats … and now Christmas Traditions and the excellence with which we do this. Winning people to Christ is an excellent, praiseworthy thing. We see this as an opportunity to do that.

It’s fun to go on to Facebook and see people’s comments. We’ve heard lots of encouraging things. This is one of those events where the people who are serving together here at the church have an opportunity to truly interact with those who are here. It’s not just throw a piece of candy in their bag and keep the line moving. At Christmas Traditions you can actually have a conversation and love the people of the community who are here visiting. That’s why it’s important to me.

 

What message do you have for our church leading into this? What should we be praying about and considering?

First, with us being a multigenerational church, this is an amazing event for you to serve with your kids and your family. And that’s something families do take advantage of in a big way. It’s incredible to see. So that’s the first thing: Serve with your whole family.

The second thing is, remember who we are serving. When we come here, we are serving Jesus, who says, “Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers and sisters you have done unto me.” We don’t know what people are walking through our doors with. We don’t know how big of a blessing this is to them to be able to bring their families to this.

Third, this is one of those opportunities we have. It’s the Parable of the Sower. We are sowing seeds. We are praying leading up to the event. We’re praying during the event and we’re praying after the event, that God would allow those seeds to fall on good soil. And that those seeds would take root and grow for his glory, not ours.

So ultimately those are the three primary things I would say to people who are considering serving or are on the fence about it. It’s so fun to see the community come, to be under our roof in this way, to celebrate the Christmas season. And it’s so great to come together as a community, as a church, continuing to go, tell and show the love of God here in Rockford.

 

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.

 

Fall forests: A few places to lose yourself

A few lesser-known places in and around Rockford where you can take a quiet walk in the woods this fall:

Atwood Park

Atwood is 334 acres of forest, marsh and prairie along the Kishwaukee River near New Milford, with hiking and biking trails. The trail system eventually will grow to about 20 miles on both sides of the river. Atwood Park is also the site of the former Camp Grant artillery range.
Brian Wahl says: 
“Atwood park holds a very special place in my heart. It’s a true hidden gem in the area. I’ve been hiking out there since I was in high school, and now I take my kids there. Not only are there great hiking trails and different ecosystems to explore, but there’s also great history there with the remnants of Camp Grant, and the CCC and of course the unique Birds of Prey exhibit. If you time your visit right, you may even be lucky enough to catch a feeding.”

Severson Dells

Severson Dells Nature Center on Montague Road offers a 2.5-mile, self-guided nature trail. The 369-acre forest preserve provides habitat to more than 180 species of native and migrating birds. You can even register for a free, naturalist-guided Fall Color Walk on Oct. 24.
Jessica McDonald says:
“Severson Dells is a gift. A pocket of quiet, an oasis of calm. In a day where we live with so many dings, beeps and whistles, it’s hard to come by a place, even outside, where one can hear the birds or the rustle of leaves. Severson Dells offers that to me. The Lord’s creation speaks to me deeply and to have a place to steal away and to be able to focus my thoughts, prayers and senses deeply refreshes my whole being. Bill Watterson conveys this so perfectly through his good-natured and thoughtful character Hobbes, when he says to Calvin, “Every minute outside and awake, is a good minute.”

Nygren Wetlands

The Carl and Myrna Nyrgren Nygren Wetland Preserve, just west of Rockton, is a 721-acre floodplain near the confluence of the Rock and Pecatonica rivers. The amount of wildlife here is astounding, especially during spring and fall bird migrations. Hiking the 2.5-mile main trail you might see bald eagles, sandhill cranes, egrets, white pelicans, bluebirds, otters, beavers, muskrats, turtles, deer, foxes and minks.
Dave Hugdahl says:
“Nygren Wetlands is a great place to experience God’s wonderful world. In addition to the wildlife, there are beautiful fields of natural prairie grass and wildflowers. There are times when I have been there and not experienced much wildlife, but there is something about being surrounded by God’s glorious creation that settles the soul and draws you closer to him.”

Piscasaw Fen

Illinois once had 22 million acres of prairie full of tall grass and wildflowers. Today there’s barely any … but habitat restoration projects are happening around the state. If you want to see one up close, visit the Piscasaw Fen Conservation area east of Poplar Grove off Edson Road. Non-native plants are being systematically removed and hiking trails have been cut through the 177 acres of prairie, wetlands and oak savanna. Note: The area closes for hunting several weekends in late October and November, so check before you go.
Jim Killam says:
“My parents’ farm is adjacent to the Piscasaw Fen, so I grew up exploring this area when it was cow pasture. Today it’s a walk back in time to when most of Illinois was prairies, forests, wetlands and oak savannas. You’ll find quiet solitude here and be immersed in the restoration of creation.”

Photo: Jim Killam

Reuben Aldeen Park

Hidden in plain sight at 623 North Alpine Road, the park offers 88 acres of maple and oak woodland, prairie and creek, right in the middle of town. An extensive system of trails — some paved — winds through 40 of those acres. Be careful of flooding, especially after this fall’s rains.
Tricia Magers says:
“Almost every day I get the opportunity to hike the trails from Spectrum School to Aldeen Park with my preschool class. When I am in the woods with my littles, I am given the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Where others see a dead log, they find life.  Where others see sadness in a fallen tree, they find joy in a new place to climb. On my worst days, my heart becomes full as they show me the way the water flows under the frozen creek, or point out the way the vines grow to create a hiding place, or when they notice the flattened prairie grass where the deer have recently been sleeping. It is an incredible thing that I get the opportunity to spend my days in the park with little people who always have joy for life from the juiciest worm, the slimiest slug or the puffiest mushroom.”
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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
Public Forum Event Header 720p

Public Forum on Human Trafficking & Domestic Violence

Learn how Rockford is being affected by human trafficking and domestic violence and what our community can do about it. There will be a presentation given by Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation – RAASE, Inc. and the Mayor’s Office, and a panel discussion with Mayor Tom McNamara, Judge Rosemary Collins (17th Circuit Domestic Violence Court), Lt. Kurt Whisenand (Rockford Illinois Police Department) and Jennifer Cacciapaglia (RAASE). First Free Rockford is hosting the event; no reservations required.

 

**Due to the nature of the content, this forum is intended for people age 17 and older**

Rockford Dance Company

Rockford Dance Company

Thank you for your generous donation of $750.00 to Rockford Dance Company, we truly appreciate your support. There are countless opportunities ahead for RDC and with the continued financial support from our friends we have the foundation to advance our mission of pursuing excellence in the art of dance through performance, education, and outreach.

Rockford Dance Company is committed to providing each student with the opportunity to grow as a dancer, an artist, and as a young adult. We work with our students to instill the importance of discipline, responsibility, and team work–qualities essential to success in life.

On behalf of the Rockford Dance Company family, please accept my deepest gratitude; your gift allows RDC to continue its 45 year legacy in the Rockford community as a premiere performing arts organization.

Best regards,

Emily Cooke

Executive Director

Guitars for Vets

Healing for Vets through Guitar Lessons

Dear Pastor Uran,

Thank you for the amazing $750 donation to the Rockford Chapter of Guitars for Vets from First Free
Rockford’s Jeremiah Fund. The national Guitars4Vets handles all finances and I have forwarded your check to them with a note that it is to benefit the Rockford Chapter of G4V.  Veterans served by G4V are receiving mental health services through the VA. Upon completion of ten weeks of private lessons, they are presented with a brand new guitar with accessories. we have been so fortunate to have Laura Nothnagel as a faithful volunteer. Thank you for your help in bringing the healing power of music into the hands of heroes.

Sincerely,

Trish Rooney