Andersonville Trick or Treat 2021

Our trick-or-treating presence in Andersonville was a blast. We had 9 volunteers and served candy to 100s of kids. We decorated the side of the church with spiderwebs, skeletons, and pumpkins and had 3 or more people out in costume the entire event. We made our presence known in the community, and had a few folks interested in learning more about First Free. We hope to do it again next year. More pictures here.

Oct 24 MCM – Elder Chair Report

Devotional on Waiting

Happy that some things are getting back to normal, yet still very frustrating. The simple ability to break bread together today turns into a major deal to organize. The ability to connect and to worship, fellowship and carry out discipleship efforts is hampered. Doing missional work is very hampered. Instead of “going into all the world and make disciples”; lately it’s been, “stay in your own place; love people by masking up and not having too much in-person contact with them”. I’ll admit it: I’m an impatient guy.  I want to be out there doing stuff, and much of the last 4 years has been a waiting game. Have been frustrated we have not been able to do more these past 4 years. Yet, I am also reminded that waiting is part of God’s plan for us. It is mentioned dozens of times in scripture:

Psalm 5:3 “In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation”.

Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”…God is our refuge and strength, and ever- present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea”.

Let’s remember the history of the Israelite people Scripture: slaves in Egypt for roughly 430 years; under the thumb of the Assyria empire for roughly 70 years; in captivity in Babylon for yet another 70 years or so. Are you aware that the time between Isaiah’s prophecies of the Messiah and Jesus’ earthly time on earth was a good 700 years? It kind of puts our last 4 years of waiting at FF in perspective.

God has his own purposes during this waiting period, most of which we are not privy to at present. So my question to you is: How are you seeking God during this period of waiting? We can only really control how we wait and how we respond to God and act as we wait.

God wants to do a work in you, even during this time of sheltering in place. God wants to draw you closer to him, even though many of our normal ways of doing outreach and discipleship have been changed or limited. As you lay your requests before God, are you hopeful and trusting that God will answer your requests in just the right way and in just the right time? Are you rejoicing in God, even as you grieve the challenges you currently face? Even with the limitations in place, are you still daily looking for ways to share the gospel in word and deed?

These are the kind of things that God delights in. In spite of any kind of “progress” that we see, God is wanting our heart and the heart of FF to be drawn to him. This is our hope for you that as we recently were reminded from Habukkuk 3:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

I believe that God wants to use this time to draw us closer to him, individually and corporately.

Themes for FF:

  • connection (to Jesus and to each other);
  • rest;
  • mission.

These past four years at FF have been exhausting. Some just need to rest and be served. Others are ready to move forward as the pandemic allows. We will serve those who are hurting and need a break & we will encourage/mentor those who want to move forward in mission. But even for those needing to rest/shelter in place, I urge you to seek God as to how you still can play a role in God’s mission. Our desire is that we celebrate how Jesus is transforming your life even during this pandemic era, and then celebrate how he is transforming the lives of those around us.

So now, here are a few things the elders want you to know.

a) Most importantly: Happy to announce that Del’s interim pastorate has now been extended through May 31, 2022. His commitment to Jesus, faithfulness to FF and example, even during personal challenge, is evident to all. The elders commend him to you and look forward to his continued service.

b) World Relief opportunity. FF may be sponsoring a recent refugee/immigrant family, possibly using the open apartment in the staff housing building for the next 6 months. We look forward to a time that we can also serve the students at Passages School and the Schneider senior building again.

c) Reflections on FF’s future. Emphasis on Going (Jesus command was to “go make disciples”). We envision discipleship occurring in many small group formats but also in newly formed missional small groups (doing discipleship while serving people in our community).

Closing comments on why Del is not currently a candidate for permanent senior pastor

As elders, we didn’t encourage or discourage Del or Stu from applying for the open pastorate positions. Wanted the prompting to come from them as to whether God was leading them to provide continued service at FF. Feel the need for a new person and fresh eyes to come in and do ministry with us (Del and I have been here forever). Not totally closed to Del serving as permanent senior pastor but also not yet feeling called to ask him to. We continue to pray about this, as does Del, and we are open to following however the Lord will lead us.

First Free Policies

Here are First Free’s various written policies and positions. We are moving them from the main website to this member-directed web site. We intend to keep these and other documents and policies under the menu labeled “Files & Documents” above. Questions about these policies and positions can be directed to

Position on the Holy Spirit

Handling of Disagreement

Policy Regarding Sexuality

Membership Responsibilities & Qualifications

Understanding of Spiritual Gifts

Information about Stewardship

Support of Women in Ministry Leadership

Update on 5237 N. Ashland Zoning Revision

A Planned Development (PD) is a special zoning classification in Chicago that allows buildings to be built that don’t fundamentally comply with the underlying zoning classification of any given property. In order to develop the plans for the Family Life Center and future Community Center, First Free sought, and was ultimately successful at getting a PD approved which encompasses all of our properties, from Berwyn south to the Andersonville Park playlot. In our case, it’s officially designated PD #1009 on the Chicago Zoning Ordinance map. While it grants us wide latitude to do almost whatever we want, it is restrictive, however, from the standpoint that only what is shown in the exhibits for the approved PD can actually be built. This special zoning district permitted us to realize the construction of the Family Life Center (completed 2008) and would allow us to eventually build the future Community Center – but is also simultaneously keeping us from being able to sell the 5237 N. Ashland apartment building, which we’re trying to do in order to pay down our expiring mortgage taken out to build the Family Life Center in the first place.

To date, three potential buyers have walked away due to the fact that under the language of the PD, there’s of course no provision to convert the garden level storage area of the existing 5237 building into an apartment (since that building would actually be demolished in order to build the future Community Center) – which potential buyers would like to do in order to make their numbers work. To resolve this, we’ve applied for a revision to our PD that would extract the 5237 property from the Planned Development entirely and yet still allow us to achieve the important aspects of the future Community Center on the remaining properties by keeping the rest of the PD intact.

Working with our architect Chad Harrell of Griskelis Young Harrell (GYH), and our zoning attorney Nick Ftikas of the Law Offices of Sam Banks, our application has made considerable progress over the last couple of years. GYH has revised the design of the Community Center in a way that retains the nature of the proposed scope of work (for instance: a full-size gymnasium, offices, community meeting spaces, classrooms, locker rooms, etc.), but on a smaller property. We’ve had meetings with the Alderman and a presentation for our neighborhood (both expressed support); we’ve had several meetings with the Zoning Department and have revised the exhibits in the application more than a few times in order to advance in the process. We’ve met with the Chicago Department of Transportation as well as the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. We’ve also prepared a separate exhibit for the Chicago Fire Department demonstrating that the revised PD complies with their extensive list of requirements. We’ve also had a few meetings (the most recent one being on 11.09.21) with the Department of Planning and Development (DPD).

However, DPD has expressed concern regarding the design of the Community Center, specifically the aesthetics of the roof line, and want to see other ideas. Chad Harrell has searched through the archives at GYH, and nothing remains from the design process that we went through nearly twenty years ago – as it was all likely done on “trace” (disposable translucent rolls of paper convenient for architects to design on). Consequently, DPD has asked that we then manufacture alternate designs that may or may not have been considered at the time and present those options to DPD. GYH is preparing these alternate designs and will forward to them for their consideration soon; we’ll see what their response is. It may be that they just want to have these for their files – or, more significantly – it may be that they want to engage in a redesign process with us.

Throughout all of this, Alderman Vasquez, along with his Director of Development & Legislation, Geoffrey Cubbage, have been instrumental at providing their support and helping to move the application forward.

Getting our application approved by DPD is the last hurdle to go through before we can get on the agenda for an upcoming Plan Commission meeting. After our formal presentation to the Plan Commission, they would (hopefully) make recommendation to City Council that they approve the revised PD. After getting on the agenda for an upcoming City Council meeting, City Council would then review our application and (likely) accept the recommendation of the Plan Commission – publishing their vote officially about one month later, which is when the revised PD would go into effect. At that point, a potential buyer would be able to pursue their own zoning revision to the 5237 property in order to convert the garden level storage area into a fourth apartment.

Clearly, we still have a little ways to go.

2021 Elders, Officers and Deacon Vote Results

The vote for Elders, Officers and Deacons was held in-person for the first time in two and a half years (due to the Global Pandemic – previous in-person vote on Elders, Officers and Deacons was April 2019!) in Fellowship Hall on October 24th during our Fall Ministry Community Meeting, following the Sunday morning service. There were a total of forty-seven members voting, five voted by proxy.

The lay Elder candidates were all affirmed for one-year terms by a vote of 46-1: Jeff Cebulski, Rachel Einfeldt, Steve Lepse and James Snyder.

Steve Lepse was affirmed as Chair by a vote of 46-1; Jeff Cebulski was also affirmed as Secretary by a vote of 46-1.

Treasurer Sylvia Lauener and Financial Secretary Jung Eun Hower were both affirmed by a vote of 47-0.

During the MCM, Chair Steve Lepse announced that Interim Pastor Del Shimandle has agreed to a 6-month extension, through May 31st.

May we all be faithful to keep our Pastor, Elders and Officers in constant prayer!

Leadership Recognition and Affirmation

Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is our model of a servant leader. He leads the Church – local and global – with perfect love, truth, and holiness. Ephesians 4:16 teaches us that “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Let’s build each other up in love! 

  • Please pray for the leaders listed below.
  • Please encourage them through words of affirmation.

A “Words of Affirmation” station will be installed in the Fellowship Hall on October 24th and remain available through November 7, 2021. To participate in this interactive activity, please do the following:

  1. Pick up a list of leaders (or review the list below). There are 25 people serving as leaders at First Free, which includes our staff, deacons, worship leaders, elders, and task force leaders.
  2. Pray for these people!
  3. Write notes to encourage their faith and identity in Christ.
  4. Put the notes in their jars on the table in the Fellowship Hall. After November 7th, the jars will be collected and distributed.

Staff: 8 people → 5 men, 3 women

  • Del Shimandle, Interim Pastor
  • Maggie Johnson, Director of Worship & Youth
  • Aurora Tallacksen, Office Administrator
  • Adolfo Ramirez, Facilities Supervisor
  • Stu Modrzejewski, Director of Community Life
  • Jung Eun Hower, Director of Finance & HR
  • Frank Mercado, Custodian
  • Fei Sheh, Ministry Intern

Worship Leaders: 4 people → 2 men, 2 women

  • Maggie Johnson (as staff director)
  • Natalia Leonard
  • Dan Addington
  • Jonathan Lim

Deacons: 7 people → 2 men, 5 women

  • Sylvia Lauener, Finance & Admin
  • Cindy Harris, Membership
  • Seung Bok Cha, Global Outreach
  • Andrea Korte, Youth Ministry
  • Tandy Malinak, Children’s Ministry
  • Meg Parks, Crisis & Compassion Ministry
  • Dan Tallacksen, Facilities

Elders: 6 people → 5 men, 1 woman

  • Del Shimandle (as Interim Pastor)
  • Stephen Lepse
  • Jeff Cebulski
  • Rachel Einfeldt
  • James Snyder
  • Tim Wilkin (concluding role in Oct 2021)

Task Force Leaders: 

  • Steve Bishop, Senior Pastor Search
  • Ryan Einfeldt, Racial Reconciliation Cohort Study

Updated Health and Safety Guidelines

As the global pandemic continues, and as cases rise and fall, we are doing our best to stay informed as to the latest information related to the COVID-19 virus.  Early this past summer, with the outbreak seeming to be on the decline and the broad availability of the vaccine, we were looking forward to a fall where we might resume a more “normal” church gathering experience.  However, over the last couple of months, new variant(s) of the virus have become dominant, creating a new outbreak surge.  The City of Chicago continues to be in Phase 5 for reopening, with a mask mandate implemented on August 20th for all persons indoors at anytime (whether vaccinated or not), except in restaurants when actively eating or drinking – or by socially distanced employees in settings not open to the public.  Further, the City of Chicago is recommending that attendees at public gatherings and events be required to be vaccinated or have a negative test no more than 72 hours prior to attending the event.

At this point, we don’t want to ask who is vaccinated and who isn’t, nor require a negative test prior to going to church.  We want the sanctuary to be available to all, regardless of vaccination status.  We also want it to be as safe a space as possible, especially considering the vulnerability of some in our church body – and the fact that some of us can’t be vaccinated at all for various reasons.  Considering all of this, we’ve updated the policies regarding masking.  In an attempt to thread the needle on this difficult subject, there are exceptions for vaccinated persons on stage – whether it’s the Worship Leader, Emcee or Speaker on any given Sunday.  Otherwise, we ask that the rest of us be masked while indoors.  There’s nothing necessarily new here over what we’ve been practicing recently, this is just (hopefully) giving more clarity.

Please refer to the guidelines for additional guidance as well as a Q&A section that hopefully address most questions and concerns.

We understand that masks are uncomfortable and difficult to sing in (personally, I was so over wearing masks back in May of 2020!).  Again, if you have a medical condition that prohibits you from wearing a mask, please let us know so that we can make arrangements for you to be able to worship in-person with us.  Ultimately, we see this as an active expression of love towards one another – not placing our own wants and desires over the safety of those around us, but submitting in love to our brothers and sisters (and neighbors) – looking not to our own interests, but the interests of others (Philippians 2:3).  We also humbly request your patience in all of this.  We dedicate a considerable amount of time to praying, talking – even nearly grappling over – many issues related to this pandemic.  The pandemic is dynamic, and we’re simultaneously seeking a response that’s in turn fluid, but also steady.  As the City of Chicago updates re-opening restrictions, we’ll respond accordingly.  We also continue to talk, pray, think about and deliberate over appropriate protocols considering reasonable risk factors which try to take into account air changes per hour available in the Sanctuary, vaccination levels, City of Chicago infection trends, etc.

Of course:  if you have additional concerns or comments, as always – please feel free to reach out to us at .

Public Health Guidelines for First Free Ministry Teams