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).

 

Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

For many, this Easter season seems a bit underwhelming.  Maybe social-distancing has you in a general malaise.  Maybe your usual family get-together is becoming a meal of shifts, a drop-off, or is just canceled.  Maybe news about the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming all the other news.  Maybe you’re sick, or know someone who is. And maybe you’re life has been disrupted by the loss of a job.  In addition there is fear, anger, and many of the stages of grief, as we grieve the loss of the way things were, even the loss of the way we expected to celebrate Easter.  We may even admit to ourselves that we’re expecting to be underwhelmed this Easter.

On the Today Show, the morning of Maundy Thursday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan addressed the difference this year in how our practices have been disrupted.  And he suggested that this,

“might be an invitation to all to rediscover the genuine mystery and message of what Passover and Easter are all about.”  “Most of the time when we celebrate Passover, some of my Jewish friends tell me, or when we Christians celebrate Easter, we’re kind of remembering something that happened long ago.  Well, that isn’t bad.  It’s good to do that, to remember the Exodus, to remember our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.  Remembering that isn’t bad.  But for both of us as Jews and Christians, the celebrations of our holy days are a lot more than remembering, because we actually re-live them.  The Lord asks us to enter into these mysteries and to be absorbed by them and to make them part of our lives which he intends them to be.” 

This is why we have a Maundy Thursday worship service, a Good Friday service, and Easter services.  We re-tell, re-enact, and re-live the central events of Human History.  This is the time when everything changed, when our lives turned upside-down. This is our story.

As the disciples were with Jesus in Jerusalem for the Passover, I’m sure it was strange.  They felt Jesus clean their own feet.  They heard Jesus say that one of them would betray Him?!   They went out after dinner to pray, and Jesus was arrested.  Everything seemed to be coming undone.  There was a secretive trial at night. Only a few days ago “Hosanna” rang in their ears as crowds praised Jesus as the Messiah, and now the crowds chant “Crucify Him!”  They see the great healer beaten and whipped bloody, and raised up on a cross.  None of this is what they expected when the week began.  The one who raised the son of the widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus, and Lazarus from the dead, died.  The Sun itself stopped shining from noon until 3 in the afternoon.  And the temple curtain was torn right down the middle.  They must have felt both underwhelmed by what they expected of Jesus, and overwhelmed by how upside-down everything was. 

Our Easter experience is very different this year.  Underwhelming according to our expectations, and we’re overwhelmed by how wrong this all seems.  This year, Easter hits much closer to home.

We need to be delivered.

We need to be saved.

We need everything to be fixed.

Where is God?

We’re tired of being afraid, isolated, and alone.

And this is the very world God sent His Son into.  The disciples were grieving, feeling isolated and alone.  Everything that happened that Easter was so wrong and upside down.  Overwhelmed by grief and circumstance they couldn’t believe the news when the women ran back from the empty room. 

The one who hears your every prayer, every sob, and dries every tear has overwhelmed your weakness, your isolation, your brokenness, your fear, your need, and your sin.  HE overwhelmed death.  God sent His Son to be near us, so that we would never be alone, so that we never have to be afraid, so we wouldn’t suffer death as a final separation from God, so that we could be with Him forever. 

This season things seem upside-down.  But God, through Jesus, flipped the upside-down right-side-up, and we are restored and guaranteed life in Him.  This is our story.  It’s overwhelming to be in a place of such need and to know that Jesus came near to keep us near.  We can live confident new life in Him right now through our baptism.  And just as Jesus’ tomb was empty, so ours’ will be when Jesus comes again.

Christ is Risen! 

And so shall we!  
 

Share your Easter celebration in the comments, on Facebook, or via email: mwipperman@lifelivetogether.com

 

Online Worship and Children

One of our Values at the Church is Home+ (a home centered on Jesus becomes the epicenter of an active faith life). While the Coronavirus pandemic is altering almost everything we knew as normal life, I am also seeing how it is perfectly equipping us, as families, to embrace this value. 

 

One of the biggest upheavals that we are seeing in our Christian lives is a change in our Sunday morning routines, from in-person gatherings to in-home online services. However, gathering as the Body and coming together for teaching, encouragement, and equipping remains just as important. And it is still just as important for our children to be included in these gatherings and to see it as a priority in our lives.

 

So how do we do that well? How do we continue to prioritize corporate worship within our family units? 

 

In our home we have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. There is a strong temptation to use these online worship experiences as a much-needed break, to let them play in a different room so I can curl up with a cup of coffee and finally hear an entire sermon! To give in to that temptation, however, is to neglect a powerful and important moment that God is giving us in our home.

 

Moms and dads, grandparents, caregivers - I hear you. You are tired. You are playing multiple roles in your home that weren’t there three weeks ago. The idea of re-teaching your children how to do “church” can feel burdensome. With a little intentionality, however, I do believe that God can make these new Sunday morning routines something that blesses our families and jumpstarts a new focus on Jesus in our homes. Here are a few things we have been trying in our home.

 

Prepare for Worship

Take the 30 minutes prior to the online service to get yourselves in the proper mindset. Rushing everyone to the computer just as the service is starting will make it feel like an interruption in the day versus a planned, welcome activity.

  • Get dressed. Encourage your kids to put on their nicer clothes, brush their hair, and prepare to enter a time of worship as if they were going to church.

  • Get the wiggles out. Turn on some songs on youtube (we love Lifetree Kids and Listener Kids) and dance and jump for a few minutes.

  • Eat breakfast first. Full bellies will help everyone feel comfortable and settled.

  • Pray.  Five minutes before the service starts, take some deep breaths together and pray. Ask God to help you be present, to put aside distractions, and to engage in a time of worship. Pray for the pastor and musicians and anyone helping to lead the service.

 

Prepare your Environment

Taking a few minutes to think through HOW you will worship online will help mitigate distractions during the experience.

  • Technology Placement is key. Put the computer where your toddler can’t reach it. Put AWAY your other devices as well. Have one, central, piece of technology that entire family is gathered around together. 

  • Keep little hands busy. In our home we put our computer on the coffee table, the kids sit in little chairs at the coffee table, and we have adult coloring books available for them to use during the service. Have your children pick out the items they want to use BEFORE church starts so they don’t have to get up during the service.

  • Snacks. Some things stay true no matter the environment. A bowl of Cheerios is a lifesaver whether in a pew or on your couch.

 

Take Advantage of the Unique Opportunities

There are some really fabulous benefits to worshipping in your home with an online service. For one, you don’t have to remind your children to be quiet every two minutes. Here are a few ideas on how to take advantage of this new style of worship:

  • Encourage dialogue. Ask your children questions during the sermon. Talk about the words in a song. You now have freedom to engage with each other during worship.

  • Teach Discipleship Skills. Help your child find the passage of the day in their own Bibles. Have the Lord’s Prayer written out so they can pray with you. Talk about the sermon when the service is done. Have your children watch you as you give online so they can continue to connect our offerings as a part of our worship.

  • Teach the rhythm of your particular worship experience. I can now encourage my 6-year-old to pause and pray during the service without worrying about disturbing the people next to me. I can walk over to my 4-year-old and put my hands over hers. Consider the habits that you want your child to continue when you are able to worship together in person again.

  • Worship Freely. Do you sing off key? Who cares! (God doesn’t). Does a song make you want to dance? Go ahead! Do you want to shout Amen during a powerful message? Shout it loud! Your children are watching your emotion and engagement during the service.

 

Practice Patience

  • This is new for everyone. It won’t feel natural at first. It won’t feel easy at first. But we will adjust. Your children will adjust. Ride out the tough moments and soak in the joyful ones.  Be patient with each other, yourselves, and keep your expectations realistic.

 

Whatever online worship looks like in your home, my prayer is that it can become a time of growth and anticipation in your home. What tips and tricks do you have for engaging your children in online worship? What blessings have you been experiencing together? Share them with me here or at epowers@livelifetogether.com.  

 
 

Responsiveness: A Pledge to the Light

 

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9, NLT).

 

Every morning and every evening, my dad faithfully sends out a prayer via text message. Admittedly, I sometimes read through a prayer quickly rather than truly offering it up to God as my own. Whenever I do take the time to meditate on the words of the prayer, to feel them in my spirit and devote them to God, I am reminded of how brightly his divine light shines. I will conclude this article with a prayer I have been returning to often. 

 

Today we find ourselves in a situation largely unprecedented. We are transitioning from winter to spring, a movement usually characterized by lightness of spirit and an increase in sunlight. And while we have indeed been enjoying spring-like weather and plenty of sunshine lately, we are also in the midst of a moment in human history that is perhaps most accurately described as dark and intimidating. Some of us may be privileged and blessed enough that COVID-19 circumstances have not dramatically altered our standard of living. We may be working remotely, or working fewer hours, or spending more time with our children, but we still have shelter, food, and safe drinking water. We may experience tight finances for several months, but we are secure in the knowledge that we will weather this storm. For others, basic necessities and safety are not foregone conclusions. Before I say more about responding to this difficult situation, I want to ask boldly that for those of us who have the means, we consider supporting local organizations that are meeting immediate, desperate needs for our neighbors (including but not limited to food and childcare). If you have questions about how best to do this, United Way of Dane County is a good place to start -- there are opportunities to volunteer and donate -- and please feel free to get in touch with me directly

 

I have already seen our church family caring for one another and empowering one another to care for others in our lives to the extent we are able to do so. We are working in good faith to respond to a situation that is constantly changing, operating within constraints that shift daily, sometimes hourly. We are striving to keep in mind the difference between reacting (repeating an action, carrying it forward by way of doing it over again) and responding (to answer or pledge again). Even though we find ourselves in dark, scary circumstances, we can follow the Light of Jesus’ love, pledging over and over again to act in radical compassion and care. 

 

For me, this pledge is difficult to live out when my social interactions are limited to my immediate family for days on end. We test and push one another, and I am usually the first to lose patience and perspective. The more often I return to the Holy Spirit’s presence, meditating on how I am blessed to carry that presence into the world by caring well for myself and others in the midst of painful, messy circumstances, the more I am able rest securely in the present moment, trusting that God will reveal to me the specific paths to enact such care. Those revelations rarely come when or how I would prefer, and often they highlight paths that seem mundane, but they consistently come with perfect, divine timing, and without fail, they bring me closer to God and his ceaseless, radical, complete love for me. 

 

Whether you find yourself feeling anxious or depressed today, thankful for the extra time you have to be in relationship with your family and neighbors, or somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, today I am praying for each of us that we cling to the eternal light of God’s heavenly Love. May God bless you through this prayer as I have been blessed.  

 

It’s a good morning, Lord, because as on every morning, you’re here with your love. Thank you for another day of grace. Help me to walk in your paths. May I fully recognize and appreciate the love you have shown by laying down your life for me and by the way your guiding and protecting hands enfold me with your love. May my heart respond to your love by spreading your love in my little world today. Use me today to do your work here on earth and to put in a good word for you. Amen. 

 

Why? What? Clarification and Updates

We know that yesterday's announcement about suspending gatherings at the Church may have come as a shock, and you probably have a few questions.

We want to reiterate that these decisions have not been made out of fear or panic. Instead, they have been made from rational love. We want to heed the call to love our neighbors, and part of loving our neighbors is to help protect and prevent illness. We also know that there are a lot of unknowns with the Coronavirus. We trust those in authority and who work in high levels of public health. We humble ourselves to recognize that we are not fully aware of what it takes to contain an outbreak, or what the effects of a possible outbreak would be, and will join with them in their desire to be proactive against COVID-19. 

Therefore, we are heeding recommendations from the Wisconsin Department of Public Health. They recommend that gatherings (even under 250) consider cancelling if there are people from a wide variety of age groups, vulnerable populations who might attend, and if the gathering is not immediately essential. 

While worship and gathering together is an essential part of the Christian faith, we do not believe that we only follow Jesus through those activities. Our faith is not minimized if we miss church a few times. In fact, what a great opportunity to intentionally think through our own personal worship practices in our homes. And this is also an opportunity to help us consider broader ways we can show love to our community. Can we offer to pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor? Can we give up some of our stash of sanitizer and clorox wipes to the neighborhood school? Can we offer to watch a neighbor's child if schools or events are cancelled? Can we be intentional to reach out in friendship to fellow believers and build stronger relationships with each other, outside of meeting at worship?

Here are some decisions we want you to be aware of:

  • There will no gatherings of any kind at the Church building through March 29th. This includes Bible Studies, worship, youth events, and outside groups who use our facility. 
  • The two exceptions to the above statement are: counseling services through LCFS and what is needed to ensure the essential business of the Church can continue.
  • We support lifeGroups who choose not to meet together during this time, but understand this is the choice of each lifeGroup.
  • The staff is still available. Please email or call should you need something. We are still working, but may be doing so from our homes a little more than usual. (contact information is below)
  • We will make future decisions by March 27th and will inform you of those as soon as possible.
  • Our preschool classes are also cancelled through March 27th.
  • Please check the homepage of our website (livelifetogether.com) for livestream worship (9am on Sundays) and other announcements. Our facebook page will also have information and links.

Again, this decision was a difficult one to make. In the end, we have decided that caution and helping to be part of preventing a more serious health situation in our community was more important than conducting business as usual. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, please let our office know so that we can help support you and your family.

Staff Contacts, and where to direct specific questions:

Pastor Jeff (Lead Pastor, general operations, worship, spiritual growth)

Pastor Matt (discipleship, care ministry)

Jess O'Malley (giving, building availability, administration)

Amy Meyer (lifeGroup)

Elsa Gumm (lifeServe, community connections)

Emily Powers (youth, children, family ministry/events)

Karen Hettenbach (preschool)