May 14 Karly's Message


May 14, 2017

Karly Eichenauer

All across the globe, history has showed us that humans have created hundreds of different civilizations. While these civilizations are unique in their way due to the people, landscape, and theology, all societies have a common thread: storytelling. Humans are a very social species. We need to communicate to survive. The stories told from one generation to another pass down knowledge. Stories can explain why something happened or how something came to be. The knowledge in stories helped each other to survive and get along with one another. Most importantly though, the knowledge united each community as one, to make society work.

        The church of the Brethren is no stranger to the sharing of knowledge. Since our beginnings in the Eder River, the Brethren have sought to live a life of piety, peace, duty, and faith. Figures such as John Kline, Ted Studebaker, and Dan West embodied the Brethren way of life and serve as examples of how each one of should live. Books, stories, and songs are ways we keep their message alive. I clearly remember singing Andy and Terry Murray’s Cowboy Dan and The Brave Man from Ohio when I was little, songs celebrating their faith and work. Anyone has ever been on a Junior High Youth Heritage Tour has met “John Kline” as he tells the story of his faith and life. We celebrate these people and more when we gather together with Brethren across the nation and globe at Annual Conference each year. Everyone mingling can be heard telling more stories or singing songs, all ways we embrace our faith together as one denomination.

        The most important lessons of faith are not passed down from each generation at a denominational level though. The most important lessons I, along with other youth, have learned happen between these walls. This church community loves to brag about its youth, but now, it's our time to brag about you.  Most of what our faith stands on, we’ve learned from you. You love unconditionally. Your love and kindness has no boundaries. Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or belief, everyone is treated equally here in this church. While I wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on at the time, generations older than me were fighting to make this official. Your fight to lay the bricks to become an open and affirming church was way before its time. The fight was not only to accept and embrace the outcasts; the fight was also to be able to pass Jesus’s lesson on to the next generations. Because to some of you, to love everyone as Jesus did wasn’t just a superficial saying The undiscriminating love of Jesus was and still is a way of life in our church community.

Our fight for love doesn’t stop at the LGBTQ+ community though. No, this community is special because we reach out to embrace all who have been outcasted in society. As Jesus healed and spent time with the lepers, church members have reached out to a forgotten group in current times: incarcerated persons. Judi Brown and her group that knits with the prisoners embodies this lesson in the truest form. By going in there to do an everyday task such as knitting, they treat the prisoners as human beings. When Jesus healed the lepers, he not only acknowledged their existence, he treated them as if they were any other person. He embraced the outcasts. When our church received a request from Raymond Johnson to be accepted into membership, we took that seriously.  The board and the congregation spent a year discerning what to do.  We spent time in conversation, and reflection and prayer.  And after a year of this discernment we said yes, yes to accepting Raymond Johnson into our community, and yes to another way of being open and affirming.  We broke Brethren status quo again. I guess that’s what we are: a bunch of Brethren punks that go out of our way to love EVERYONE. And I really mean EVERYONE. This community fights to be faithful and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s not been easy, and it never has been. It’s hard to learn to take up the struggle right in front of us. But your struggle to be faithful may be one of the most important lessons you will teach us.

This community also believes in empowerment. My first lesson of empowerment came in fourth grade. Ann Hartsough gave all four of her 9 and 10 year old Sunday School students $25 on Kiva is a online loaning site where people can pool together small loans to help people around the world. Loans can vary from education for children, vaccination costs for a baby, to even equipment upgrades to home businesses. The only catch is that this system is based on trust; Kiva doesn’t guarantee loan repayment. And still, Ann put the entire decision in our hands. I remember feeling so accomplished when I had found a person to loan my money to. I felt like I was empowering the borrower of my loan to accomplish their goal. Only at that time, I didn’t realize that by entrusting us with money, Anne had empowered us to change the world. This story is actually a recurring storyline in our church. The Christmas Eve Perfume Fund is another example. From an outsider’s point of view, what adult would wholeheartedly trust a kid to choose where their money would be donated? Adults that believe in empowerment would. Because a few short years later, these same adults financially backed a CRAZY, NUT HEADED, OFF the WALL idea, brainstormed by teenagers to build a new multimillion dollar facility for a daycare and preschool. And look what happened. To empower everyone can change the world and this church community has already figured that out.

These lessons of faith I remember are just a few of the things I admire about this community. By teaching the next generation, telling the stories, and sharing in the struggle to be faithful, we can celebrate together. The good, the bad, the sad, and the ugly, have all shaped the community here today. And we trust it is the mystery of God, and the goodness of God, and the grace of God, that holds us together in this journey we share. Walking side by side, step by step into the kingdom for the glory of God and our neighbors good. 

Keep being who you are: faithful, honest, open, empowering, and loving. It is the way of life, the way of Jesus who is with us always on this journey we share. Amen.