What's Next at the Church?

This blog entry is a letter that was emailed to members and regular attenders regarding the next steps that the Church is taking as we wait for the time when we can gather together in-person.

Dear friends,


On March 13, the leadership of the Church had to make a tough decision. On that day, we decided to cancel in-person worship for the near future as a way to show love and care to our neighbors and community. This has been a difficult time for all of us. Many are feeling isolated and anxious. We have had to adapt quickly to a new lifestyle. We haven’t been able to come together as a family to encourage and support each other face-to-face. And yet, during this time, God has shown his faithfulness. 

  • Our online worship services are reaching a wide audience.
  • We have maintained unity and connection in our body through virtual worship, lifeGroups, children and youth ministries, 2*22sdays, game nights, caregiving meetings, and connection calls.
  • Our staff, musicians, and elders were able to very quickly embrace the switch to online platforms with creativity and trust.

As the current Safer-at-Home order prepares to expire, we have had to make some more difficult decisions. The staff has been discussing and praying about when and how to resume in-person worship and other activities at the Church. We have been looking closely at the Forward Dane phased approach (through the Dane County Public Health Department), as well as feedback we received from our church-wide survey and the logistics involved in resuming in-person gatherings. 


We have decided that we will continue virtual-only gatherings during Phase 1 of the Forward Dane plan. (Phase 1 is scheduled to begin on May 26 and allows religious gatherings of up to 25% capacity) We do not know how long this will last.  We are keeping the health of members and our community as a priority in our decision making. At this time, we believe our online gatherings are valuable and effective, and we will continue to focus our efforts on those offerings as we prepare for in-person gatherings.


Many of the decisions related to gathering together again will be based on the current Covid-19 situation in our community and recommendations from the local health officials. In the meantime, the staff is doing all we can to prepare for that day. Our goal is to have processes in place over the next few weeks so that we are ready to go when the day comes. 

  • Setting up hand sanitizer stations.
  • Setting up a registration/prayer request station that does not require filling out cards.
  • Training worship assistants in new methods of Communion distribution.
  • Creating traffic flow that reduces physical contact.
  • Rearranging seating to allow for social distancing.
  • Creating systems and schedules for regular disinfecting of commonly touched surfaces.

It is possible that we will not return to regular, in-person worship gatherings until Phase 3 of the Forward Dane plan (allowing religious gatherings of up to 75% capacity). We will regularly re-evaluate this decision after we’ve reached Phase 2 of the Forward Dane plan (allowing religious gatherings of up to 50% capacity).  We do realize the importance of worshipping in the same place, and also recognize the need we all have to receive the Lord’s Supper. To help meet those needs and to begin to bridge the virtual and face-to-face gap, we will be offering occasional, sign-up based Communion services in June and July, with the first one happening on June 28th. (Details and sign-up information will come soon.)


While the return date is unknown, there are some things that are definite for the summer months:

  • Kids Connection/Building Faith will not meet as an in-person group this summer. We will continue to offer virtual options for children and families.
  • Higher Ground will not gather together until social distancing requirements are loosened. This summer we will continue to offer virtual gatherings, game nights, and a virtual mission trip.
  • the Church will begin offering limited Communion Services during the summer months. These will be sign-up based offerings and the number of people allowed to sign-up will be determined by the mass gathering recommendations laid out in the Forward Dane plan.
  • Each week the staff will be re-evaluating our readiness for returning to worship in our building. We will communicate our plans with you in a timely way as decisions are made.
  • The church building will continue to be closed to groups of any kind, with the only exceptions being Communion services and LCFS counseling. This is due to the increased need for cleaning and sanitation after use, as well as a responsibility to know how many people are in the building. We will revisit this topic every two weeks and make changes as appropriate.
  • The staff will continue to work primarily from their homes while continuing to check the mail on a regular basis. We will inform you as we increase office hours. In the meantime, all staff are available via email and phone as needed.

While we wait to re-enter our facility and re-engage the public gatherings that are such a vital part of our life in Jesus, we encourage you to live lives of active witness. Jesus is alive. He has ascended. He reigns. And, He is still calling us to follow Him. “Open your eyes,” He says. “The fields are ripe for harvest.” Now more than ever, Jesus is pleading with us to believe AND confess in word and deed, that He is the answer. Because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


This past week, Amy shared in a video greeting with Pastor Jeff that the Lord alone knows. (Ezekiel 37:3) So, we keep following, keep listening, keep responding. He is our leader.


With deep love and appreciation for you,


Staff, Leadership Board, and Elders, 5/22/2020


Tension, Intentionality, and New Questions

One of the fundamental challenges my family and I are facing during Safer At Home is this: How can we continue to live missionally when our movements and interactions are so limited?


You may have heard those of us at the Church use the phrase “Circles of Awareness” in the past. Simply put, these circles are the natural and organic places where you live life, where you have access to building relationships and sharing the good news of Jesus. It is a practice in intentionality. 


In the past, my circles have been fairly typical -- home, work, neighborhood, my children’s schools, and playgroups. Yours may include the gym, clubs, etc. 


If the idea of creating your own “Circles of Awareness” is new to you, here are the basic steps:

  • List the places where you interact and think through the relationships that God is allowing you to build in those places. 
  • What needs do you notice?
  • Where do you see God working? 
  • Are there one or two people in each of those circles who you could be intentional about serving, praying for, and opening up dialogue about spiritual things?

When we moved to Mount Horeb, I was thrilled about the opportunity to connect deeply to our new neighborhood and community. Ollie started kindergarten and I eagerly awaited opportunities to meet other families at field trips, birthday parties and school events. I keep my freezer stocked with popsicles to share with neighborhood kids when they come to the park in our backyard.


And then COVID-19 happened.


No more field trips or birthday parties. The neighborhood park in our backyard is now empty. Rec department classes are cancelled. Our hoped-for backyard VBS session this summer probably won’t happen. We can’t invite classmates over to play, community events are being cancelled, and we see our neighbors less often. 


Confession time: For a while I just wrote off this time as a break -- a time to focus on our family. “The season of intentional missional living will return again.” Certainly this was easier, but it left me feeling like the purpose that God has called our family to wasn’t being lived out. Then I tried fitting my old ideas of missional living into the current reality. That just created frustration and resentment. 


Regardless of the environment or circumstance, however, God calls us to live as His light. He calls us to invest in the people in our lives. He calls us to generosity. He calls us to intentionally share the hope and love He provides with others in our lives. 


I have had to accept some new realities. And I have started to ask myself some new questions. I haven’t settled on the answers yet, but I thought I’d share them with you in case you are grappling with this same tension of how to live missionally in a restricted world:

  • My original idea of these “Circles of Awareness” was primarily based on a “where” (locations, events, etc.). How can I change my understanding of those circles where God has placed me to a question of “Who?”. 
  • Is there a mix of both? 
  • Who am I currently connecting with on a regular basis? 
  • Who/what am I missing the most? How can I use that as a catalyst to create a new “circle”?
  • What CAN I do in my neighborhood? 
  • What resentment or frustration is getting in the way of me seeing a door that God might be opening?

These are the questions that I’m going to pray about. The ones that I will bring up with Micah and the kids. 


How would you answer them? How is your previous understanding of missional living being altered by this current reality? Perhaps you can take some time this week to list out those new “circles” in your life, and the people who make up those circles, where you can be intentional in living out the love of Jesus. 


Praying for Impact

Now more than ever what we have been discovering over the past 15 years is true. The church is not a building, or a place we go.  The church is the body of Christ living out the mission of connecting people to life in Jesus wherever we are. We need to be the church.  The world needs us. Our city and neighbors need us. Each person needs us. What do we have that they need?  Simply put, Jesus.  They need the peace that the presence of Jesus brings. They need the hope that does not disappoint. They need the power that the Holy Spirit brings. There is no mistake where you live and who you interact with, and the impact you can make as you are your authentic Jesus following self and bring Jesus with you wherever you go. 


We need to keep learning to discern who God has purposely placed in our circle of influence. And learn to discern who God is calling you to develop a spiritual friendship with.


Once we have discerned the names, we then can begin to intentionally pray for those people and develop relationships that allow us to share Jesus. Prayer is vital in asking God to prepare their hearts and make them ready to receive the truth about the Gospel. Prayer is what is needed to prepare ourselves as well, to listen well and know what to say and what not to say and to have opportunities to share about Jesus. 


We use the term impact list to refer to a short list of people in our lives with whom we are intentional in cultivating a spiritual friendship.  Ask God who he wants you to be intentional with. When you have discerned who it is, write their names down on a 3x5 card or on your phone so you frequently are reminded about them, and then pray for them. Perhaps you already have a list like this, ask God if there is someone else he wants you to be praying for. Watch God at work. Trust him with those people you listed, seeing them like God does, as dearly loved people made in His image in need of a relationship with their Creator, not as a project. 


Here are some scripture verses to pray for those people, place their name in the blank and daily pray for them.


Although _____________ has been spiritually blind, please give him/her eyes to see

Jesus. (John 9:25)


Lord, may ____________ know that You desire for him/her to be saved and come to the

knowledge of Your truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)


As _______________ begins to hear Your voice, may he/she not harden his/her heart.

(Psalm 95:7-8)


Jesus, I pray ____________ will be pierced to the heart when he/she hears the good

news about You. (Acts 2:37)


May _______________ know his/her sins have caused a separation between him/her

and You, God. (Isaiah 59:2)


Help ________________ to understand that he/she can have forgiveness through the

blood of Christ. (Ephesians 1:7)


Jesus, may you make your home in ______________’s heart as he/she learns to trust

in you. May his/her roots grow down into your love. Help ___________ to have the

power to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is and

be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from you.

(Ephesians 3:17-19)


Awesome God, by your power, rescue __________ from the kingdom of darkness and

move him/her to your Kingdom so that ____________ can share in the inheritance that

belongs to all your people who live in light. (Colossians 1:12-14)


Perhaps there are other verses that you have been praying for those on your Impact List, there are certainly more than are listed here.  We have the greatest news to share, and there are countless ways we can be a part of the work that God is doing RIGHT NOW.  


 “...enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” 

Acts 4:29b


Supporting Teens during Safer-At-Home

Today's blog post is brought to you by our fabulous youth ministry intern, Renata Jaeger. Currently a junior at UW Madison, Renata loves coffee shops, her kitties, and helping teens love Jesus!

Students of all ages are facing some pretty stunning losses during this uncertain time of Safer at Home and social distancing. Slowly but surely, everything that they’ve been looking forward to has been getting cancelled: Graduation ceremonies, prom, sports, jobs, internships, etc. If you have a student stuck at home, chances are that their emotions have been all over the place as they try to cope with these sudden losses. I know that my siblings and I have been trying to navigate feelings of frustration, anxiety, confusion, and sadness on a daily basis. Here are some strategies for parents/guardians that might help to support their students and address the unforeseen challenges that this pandemic has created… especially when most adults are probably struggling just as much as we are. 


Offering Outright Empathy

All students know deep down that it’s not their parent’s fault that they’re stuck at home. At the same time, it can be very easy to assume that they know you feel bad that they’re stuck at home, even if it’s not your fault. A vocal validation of their feelings, such as a genuine “I’m really sorry that you’re missing out on that, I know that’s so disappointing,” is a really powerful way to let your student know that you feel for them. It won’t solve all their problems, but it’s a way to support them as they navigate their emotions. 


Make Room for Happiness

When every single day is the same cycle of online classes and walks around the block, it can be really easy for students to detach themselves emotionally from whatever they’re doing. One way that my parents have helped my siblings and I remember that good things are still happening is by asking us each to share one thing that made us happy at the end of every day. Making time to celebrate the little joys in this new normal is something small that goes a long way. 


Remember the Value of Alone Time

All students, no matter what age they are, gained some degree of independence by going to school every day. With that gone, they can be scrambling to have control over some aspect of their lives and one way parents can help them do that is by setting aside some alone time every day. Simply communicating that you won’t take it personally if they need to take a break and have some quiet time to themselves makes a big difference. This may also alleviate the pressure some students may feel from being around their parents 24/7. 


Treat Students as Competent Decision-Makers

Making students a part of the decision making process is another way to give them some control over their daily lives. For example, giving them a list of things you’d like them to complete throughout the day but asking them to put together their schedule may help them feel like they’re bringing something to the table. It could also be as simple asking them to plan dinner one night a week. Being genuinely interested in their solutions or ideas can not only help them feel like their voices are heard, but also let them know that you trust their ability to be independent. 


When Emily and I meet with your students at our virtual Higher Ground, most say that they really appreciate all the extra time they get to spend with their family. Your students really are enjoying spending time with you, even if it doesn’t seem like it. I encourage you to take this as an opportunity to give them a little extra support and to learn more about them as people. You’ve got this!


An Update for my Church Family

Mid-April finds us all continuing to navigate changes and establish new routines, asking questions about when closed spaces will reopen, caring for ourselves and others as best we can, living mindfully one day at a time.  For me, this month is characterized by an additional, significant transition.  


This week I started a new job as general manager of Perennial Yoga and Meditation, which has studios and vegan cafes in two locations (Agora in Fitchburg and Garver Feed Mill in Madison).  I have been part of the Perennial community for several years, practicing yoga there regularly, completing my yoga teacher training with instructors there, and building strong relationships.  After prayerful consideration and discernment about where God was leading me next professionally, I responded when this role opened.  


I’m happy to share that I will retain several hours a month as a church employee in the role of Community Development Coordinator.  This means I’ll continue to stay abreast of community needs and celebrations by serving in several capacities: as our church’s Adopt-a-School liaison with Leopold Elementary School, on the leadership circle of the Dane County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response team, as a participant in Joining Forces for Families meetings, and co-leading the Fitchburg Faith and City Leaders network.  I’ll communicate regularly with other church staff members to share ways our church, corporately and as individuals, can partner with and serve our neighbors.  


My teammates here have graciously agreed to take responsibility for tasks I performed in the capacity of Staff and lifeServe Coordinator.  Jess O’Malley will take over human resource responsibilities such as employee benefits administration and will serve as point of contact with our accountants and insurance companies.  Amy Meyer will take over the lifeServe area, focusing on supporting and building our team of volunteers who serve here at church, and creating monthly Server Schedules. I’m also grateful to Pastor Jeff, Pastor Matt, Emily, Karen, and Tom, who will help with other tasks as needed. I hope you’ll join me in saying a prayer of thanks to God for creating each of these amazing human beings, including all of our Preschool teachers as well, in unique ways to serve on staff here, connecting people to life in Jesus.

I am so blessed to have been part of the church staff team since 2013.  My time here has been characterized by growth, support, challenge, faith, transformation, and, most of all, love.  In addition to working at church, I married Matt here, sought counseling here, participated in Maryke’s and Ceren’s baptisms, helped with Higher Ground, belonged to three lifeGroups, and served on the leadership board.  I cherish all of these milestones and seasons, and thankfully my transition to a new job does not mean I have to say “goodbye,” as my family and I will continue in our church membership and participation in lifeGroup, lifeWorship, and lifeServe alongside you, our beloved church family.  I put together a wordle to highlight the many ways I’ve experienced my time as a Jesus follower here in Fitchburg thus far; there are some heavy, difficult words interspersed with the more positive words, and for me that is a testament to how this place has (i.e. YOU have) truly cared for me and one another.  I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about my departure from my previous role at church or what’s next, so don’t hesitate to reach out: egumm@livelifetogether.com. Peace be with you, and I look forward to seeing you, virtually and in person, again soon.


If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law 

(Romans 13:8b, NLT).