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 elders@firstfree.com .

Aug 27-29: Come to the Well

Come to the Well: A Weekend for Restoration

Save the date for the last weekend of August! 

We have invited Chris Bruno and Tracy Johnson from Restoration Counseling to lead us in a weekend of restoration from August 27-29, 2021. 

This is a mini retreat — a chance to pause and breathe before the school year kicks off. 

Come drink deeply of the Living Water, enjoy the fellowship of believers in worship and prayer, and prepare your heart, mind, and soul for what’s ahead in the fall.

  • For those who are weary after a year of pandemic living and many transitions within our church, it is our goal this weekend to create safe spaces to bring big questions before the Lord, to process any pain, losses, or woundedness, and find healing in Jesus.
  • Why should you come? To meet with Jesus, the Rock of our salvation and the Living Water; to be restored and refreshed for what God is preparing for us in the year ahead!

Weekend Schedule

Friday night, August 27th 

  • Evening: We will have a worship and prayer gathering from 7-9 PM led by Chris and Tracy that is open to all. We will reflect on the theme “Now Then: Grief, Gratitude, and the Not Yet.” It will involve some teaching, personal reflection, experience, and corporate worship.

Saturday, August 28th

  • Morning: Chris and Tracy will meet with First Free leaders for a morning workshop from 9 AM to 12 PM. The theme is “Breathe” and a separate evite will be sent to leadership. 
  • Afternoon: Chris and Tracy will have six soul care counseling sessions available to anyone who needs to process any deep pain or grief privately with licensed counselors – from pandemic losses, from church transitions, from personal family hardships – bring anything you need to process. Sign-ups coming soon!

On Sunday, August 29th

  • Morning: Chris will preach to conclude our weekend of restoration.

RSVP and Sign-Ups

Stay tuned for more information about how to sign up, childcare options, and how to prepare to let the Lord restore your soul through this retreat. Updates will be posted here on the elder blog and on First Free’s main website. Bookmark these to stay in the loop!

Summer Ministry: Gatherings (part 2)

At a glance, here are some of the things coming up during the second half of this summer!

Quick List of Dates

  • July 12: Maggie Johnson starts her new role as Director of Worship Arts and Youth Ministry
  • July 19: Stu Modrzejewski starts his new role as Director of Community Life.
  • August 1: Summer MCM will be in person
  • August 27: Special worship night (see below for details)
  • August 28: Leadership workshop, part 2 (see below for details)
  • August 28: Need some soul care? Schedule a pastoral counseling appointments with Chris or Tracy on Saturday afternoon.
  • August 29: Chris Bruno preaches!

Gatherings

All-church

  • August 1: Summer Ministry Community Meeting (MCM)! We will have a shortened Sunday service and then meet immediately afterwards in person to share ministry updates. Stay tuned – more posts will go up in the next couple of weeks to provide reports!
  • August 27: We have invited Chris Bruno and his colleague, Tracy Johnson, from Restoration Counseling (you may recognize Chris as one of our ministry partners) to come to First Free and do a soul care retreat as we close out the summer season (where we hope we all got some restorative rest) and look ahead to the fall. This will kick off on Friday night from 7-9 PM in the Sanctuary with a worship and prayer gathering around this theme “Now Then: Grief, Gratitude, and the Not Yet.”
  • August 28: On Saturday morning, from 9 AM to 12 PM, Chris and Tracy will lead a workshop for First Free leaders (in person, location TBA). The theme for this will be “Breathe: slow down and reimagine God’s breath as the life-creating force in the midst of dark places.” Chris and Tracy will guide us through a time of reflection, sharing, healing, and growth as leaders.
  • August 29: Chris will preach during a regular Sunday service.
  • Pop-up Socials: Keep using the summer@firstfree.com email group to share spontaneous summer socials with others! This is a great way to serve the church by building our bond of fellowship and providing a casual way to invite friends outside of the church to get to know us!
  • Sunday morning church services have no capacity limits as Chicago remains in Phase 5. We want to see you!! It is such a joy and blessing to gather together in person as believers. Streaming will continue on YouTube in a simplified format; to access the song lyrics, go to the church website or look in the description box of the YouTube video.

Youth

  • Incoming 6th graders through graduating seniors and their families are invited to our Sunday Summer Youth Gatherings. Meetings will be on the 4th Sunday of the month at Foster Beach at 12:30 PM.
  • Dates are July 25 and August 22
  • Click here for more information!

Children

  • City Kids classes are now in person every Sunday morning at 9:20 AM. Bring your child(ren) to the 3rd floor classroom in the Family Life Center at church (or join via Zoom). Contact kids@firstfree.com to get the link! Click here for more information.
  • All kids have a busy bag labeled with their name to use during the service. Pick up yours from the table outside the Sanctuary as you arrive. Books are available outside the Nursery and extra worksheets can be picked up from the ushers table in the foyer (opposite from the busy bags table).

Leadership Training and Congregational Meetings

  • August 1: Summer MCM will be held in person at church after a shortened Sunday service.
  • August 28: Leadership Workshop Part 2 will be held in person at church from 9 AM – 12 PM. Chris Bruno and Tracy Johnson will be our guest speakers as described above. An evite will be sent to all First Free leaders who attended part 1 on June 12; please RSVP using that!

Welcome Our New Staff!

The elders are pleased to announce that we have hired not one, but two new staff members! One you are very familiar with 🙂 and one is brand new. Here is a summary of who they are, what they will do, and how we came to this decision…


Stu Modrzejewski is returning to First Free’s staff in a bivocational ministry role as our new Director of Community Life. We are so excited to have him back! This announcement may come as a surprise to you, since this is a different title from the jobs we had posted in our search. As we went through the interview process, continued to pray over our church, and asked the Lord to shine his light on our path, we sensed a clear leading that we need to intentionally build into the community life – the fellowship of believers – at First Free as we come out of the pandemic. The elders have had many conversations with Stu over the last year, even before we launched the search for new staff, and we affirm his giftings in leadership, shepherding, hospitality, and his heart for worship. Stu’s bivocational ministry role will be 10 hours per week, and he will focus half of his time on relaunching the welcome ministry at First Free and the other half on shepherding and developing leaders, specifically focused on those involved in Sunday morning services. His first day will be July 19, 2021.

  • You can be praying for Stu as he will be starting a certification program at Loyola this fall to pursue a career change to HR. This bivocational ministry role at First Free both uses his gifts and knowledge of our congregation to meet some urgent needs for our church family and it allows him to have time for his studies and find other work to provide for his family. His program at Loyola will last only a year, so he/we will be re-evaluating next summer and make a mutual decision at that point about his role continuing or ending. We don’t know what the future holds, but we are so glad that Stu will be joining us again in ministry in an official capacity!


Maggie Johnson is joining First Free’s staff for the first time as our Director of Worship Arts and Youth Ministry. This is the original job description that we posted and interviewed for, although we have adjusted the hours and responsibilities since she is unable to move into church housing (at least not for this year). It is now a 20-hour per week job, with 10 hours going to each ministry area. We have been in close communication with lay leaders in both worship and youth ministries, and they have confirmed that 10 hours each will be enough staff time to keep these ministries thriving. Her first day was this week! (July 12, 2021)

  • With youth ministry, Maggie will work closely with Andrea Korte who will continue to be the youth deacon. She’ll have some time to get to know people this summer and make plans before the fall kick off of regular youth events. The youth program intends to keep their weekly meetings on Sunday nights so the youth remain in the service on Sunday mornings and available to participate/serve as they are willing and are trained to do so. This is hands-on discipleship!
  • With worship arts, Maggie will work closely with the worship leaders we have and she will collaborate with Stu in building up other leaders. She will take on scheduling service volunteers and coordinating service planning.
  • Other adjustments to the original job descriptions: the “Welcome coordinator” was part of the original Worship Director job posting, but is now part of Stu’s new job. The “Local outreach coordinator” role was part of the original Youth Director job posting, but will remain a deacon position that is dormant to be recruited for at a later date. For now, we will continue to encourage the whole body to be engaged in outreach as the Lord opens doors for each of us in compassion ministries, sharing words of hope, and loving on our neighbors.

Stu and Maggie will also work closely with each other, and in some ways Stu will be a mentor to Maggie, especially during the first 6 months. They are “peer level,” though, so they are equal in authority and both under Del’s leadership as Interim Pastor (and ultimately accountable to the elders, per our bylaws). Here are two versions of our org chart (one simple, one detailed):

We thank God for each and every one of our staff members. They work diligently for the Lord and serve our church family in so many ways that go unnoticed. If you can drop them a note of encouragement, it would lift their spirits! We will share an update on our search for our next senior pastor in a separate post. So as it stands now, here is a snapshot of First Free’s staff:

Summer Ministry: First Free Pop-Up Events

After more than a year of not being able to meet together, our church is in need of refreshing our long-paused relationships. We hope we can meet together via “Pop-Up Events.” These could be picnics or play-dates, beach meet-ups or bike rides, bowling or bonfires, even volunteering together at a community organization. The key to these events is quick and easy invites to informal gatherings, no planning, no organizing, just spur of the moment get-togethers. We encourage everyone who’s looking for some fellowship this summer to subscribe to our pop-up event email group summer@firstfree.com

For example, if you’re heading to the park on a Saturday, shoot an email to summer@firstfree.com with all the details. Those who have signed up will get an invite and a pop-up event is born. 

If you’d like to be on the pop-up event email list, subscribe here.

Phase 5: Sunday Service Capacity and Protocol

This coming Sunday – June 20, 2021 – First Free will be rolling out some new things!! We thank God that our city’s mitigation efforts against the spread of Covid-19 are in good control, so the city of Chicago has moved to phase 5 of re-opening. Below is a PDF with a full description of how we will adjust things at First Free. Here are the highlights:

  • Main floor of the Sanctuary – capacity at 100%; no registration required; sit where you would like; please be mindful of others to avoid crowding.
  • Balcony of the Sanctuary – seating available with registration; households (or groups of households that register together) who reserve balcony seats will continue to follow social distancing with seats assigned ahead of time
  • Face masks – while in the building, please continue to wear a face mask, even if you are vaccinated or comfortable without one. We are doing this in solidarity with those who cannot be vaccinated or who are medically vulnerable, to make First Free’s church campus a place that is welcoming to all. (If you have a medical condition that makes it difficult to wear a mask, please talk to us so we can give you an exception to the rule.) Note added 7/14/21: we will continue following this guidance through the summer and re-evaluate again near the end of August. We have over 30 children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, which is at least 15% of our congregation. We are also still working on mitigation measures to improve the ventilation or air circulation / filtering in our Sanctuary. Without an HVAC system there, we are limited in cost-effective (and effective!) air purification options.
  • Children – kids of all ages are welcome to worship at First Free! During the Sunday morning worship service, there will be tables and toys set up downstairs with video or audio feed running for parents to supervise children while still listening to the sermon; the nursery will be open for young children (unstaffed – use with parent supervision); all children can collect an activity bag outside the main Sanctuary doors to use during the sermon. Before the worship service, there will be a kids Sunday school class from 9:20 am – 9:55 am in the 3rd floor classroom of the Family Life Center. Contact kids@firstfree.com to get more information!

For more details, please read this PDF – Public Health Guidelines for Ministry at First Free (phase 5 – summer 2021). Save it, bookmark it, refer to it, and use it! Please ask any question you have in the comments below!

PS: You may be wondering when will First Free stop requiring face masks. We are following the public health guidelines regarding congregate settings and educational facilities (see link above to Chicago’s guidelines). We will continue to monitor this and make changes when we can. And before we do, we will be sure to let you all know via this blog, a churchwide email, and the church’s official website at firstfree.com!

If you would like a socially-distanced seat in the balcony, register here.