Two Meditations for Youth Sunday

Ellie Faeth and Greta Hallberg, May 20, 2018

Scripture: 1 Timothy 4:11–14

Ellie Faeth

Good morning! I am Ellie Faeth, Beth Faeth’s daughter. I am a senior at Stillwater High School. Next year, I will be attending Simmons College in Boston to study social work. I have been at Plymouth since March last year but just became a member one month ago. It is an honor to be asked to share my message with you this morning.

As many of you may know, I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., with a group of 14 other high school students from all around Minnesota to attend March for Our Lives on March 25. While we were there, we visited with the staff of Minnesota U.S. Representatives Tim Walz, Erik Paulson and Tom Emmer, and both Minnesota U.S. Senators, Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, whom we actually met in person. When we met with the staffers, I was the one who introduced the group, and then I got to sit and listen to the many moving stories the other young people in our group wanted to share. It was so inspiring to listen to them speak so eloquently on the difficult topic of gun reform. I consider myself lucky to have met these incredible young people.

The March left me speechless. I was in awe at every young person who spoke. I could not believe the courage these youth had to get up and speak in front of millions of people, especially after learning how many of them have suffered from gun violence at some point in their life. Some of those people weren’t even 18 yet and they had lost a family member. That astounds me. I walked away from the March realizing very quickly that these youth are pioneers for change, and I am determined to be one, too.

First Timothy, chapter four, verse 11, says, “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young.” Don’t let anyone look down on you, on me, because we are young. Age does not matter. The kids that spoke at the March are my age, 17, and younger and are better leaders than many adults are today. It may be hard to swallow, but it is the truth.

At just 9 years old, Yolanda Renee King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s eldest granddaughter, gave a short speech at March for Our Lives. In it, she chanted three short sentences that really struck a chord in me. “Spread the word! Have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation.” The fact that a 9-year-old girl could announce that to the world completely amazes me. Like young Yolanda, I truly do believe that my generation, this generation sitting right in front of me, will be more than great. So I have to ask myself, what really does make a great generation? Obviously, there is no correct answer. I do know, however, that every young person in this room will make our generation better than great. There are future leaders sitting in this room right now. Some of them already are. Isn’t that amazing to think about? A future president could be sitting right next to you. Who knows?

Timothy says that young people must “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” The youth I rallied with in Washington, D.C., did and continue to do all of these incredible things. I have seen it with my own eyes. It is completely obvious that not only young people, but everyone, can be leaders. That’s the best part. Everyone is able to lead. Yet sometimes, unfortunately, some people may not be the kind of leader you want to have. They may be negative, forceful, stubborn and difficult to listen to or work with. Don’t be the kind of person you don’t like. Be mindful of what you want to do and want to say. People must lead with love in their hearts, positive thoughts on their minds, determination in their feet and kindness in their souls. The remarkable youth I have met in my life are capable of all of these things. They are change-makers.

I have said it before many times, and now I will say it again. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. That makes me very excited. Don’t let anyone look down on us because we are young, and don’t look down on people because they are young. It sounds simple because it is simple. Today’s youth will be believers in speech, pioneers of love and makers of change because all across the nation; we are going to be a generation of great leaders.

Greta Hallberg

Good morning everyone. My name is Greta Hallberg, and I am a member of Plymouth Church and a senior from Minnehaha Academy. Plymouth has been a part of my life for a very long time. I was baptized in this sanctuary by Virginia Rickeman. I grew up attending Wednesday night youth rehearsals, taking part in the Genesis Dancers; the Cherub, Chorister and Youth Choirs; and both Bells Jubilee and the Coventry Ringers. I was a devoted camper of Plymouth’s Theater Playshop in the summer and have also helped with Peace Camp. My freshman year I was confirmed and joined the church as an official member. I’ve also played flute several times for worship services. Sometimes I’ll turn pages for Philip Brunelle when the hundred or so other things he does simultaneously are a little too much to handle. Most recently, I’ve been serving as a member on the Board of Spiritual Formation. Suffice it to say, I know this community very well and feel honored to be speaking in front of you today.

When Seth asked me to write a sermon for Youth Sunday, I have to admit it wasn’t the first time I’d considered speaking for the occasion. A younger version of myself has been visualizing this moment many times, drafting different versions of this sermon in my head, picturing it different ways. I’ve watched many high school seniors approach this podium, speaking to the impact Plymouth has had on their lives and wondered what I would say if I were given the same opportunity. In moments of frustration, when homework seemed like a compelling reason to stay home from Wednesday night choir rehearsal, I’d imagine blasting celebration music and dancing down the aisles in a grand exit from Plymouth—free to make my own decisions about rehearsals and homework. I’m not going to do that. In fact, the version of this sermon I had planned in my younger mind and the version you are going to hear this morning are very different stories.

For me, this year has been one of transition and change. This seems like an obvious statement in itself—all seniors go through this exciting, slightly terrifying time in life. Senior year is a strange balance of attempting to savor the last precious moments of high school while simultaneously looking ahead to the possibilities of college. It’s a weird paradox when you think about it—a balance of holding on and letting go, of preservation and abandon. For me, however, this bittersweet transition has been magnified to a degree I didn’t think possible.

Everyone has those days in their lives that, for better or worse, they will always remember. For me, Aug. 2, 2017, is a date that will stick in my mind for the rest of my life. That morning, a portion of Minnehaha Academy’s Upper School campus was destroyed by a gas explosion. The central part of the school building was severely damaged, nine people were injured and two beloved Minnehaha staff members died. Change came without warning, and, in the blink of an eye, my senior year was drastically altered.

There are many details of that day that I remember with clarity. That very morning, not an hour before the accident occurred, I was in the school building, meeting with my high school counselor to discuss my college options. My mom, the band and orchestra director at Minnehaha, was there that day as well, prepping for the upcoming school year. She was in the building when the explosion occurred, though she was thankfully protected from harm, removed from the site of the devastation with an office on the far side of the building. I won’t soon forget the unexpected call from my dad alerting me that there was some kind of emergency when I myself hadn’t yet discovered the news. Or clicking through TV channels to see my high school in flames, the whole scene occurring only blocks away. Or frantically texting friends to tell them I loved them, praying that it would somehow all be okay even when I didn’t know what the future had in store. Needless to say, as the horrific events of that day unfolded before me, I was left feeling hopelessly lost, devastated and emotionally drained. This was not the senior year I had planned for.

After the explosion, as you might imagine, my life was completely thrown out of joint. Nothing I had done thus far had prepared me for that kind of experience. Even in a school setting, where a myriad of resources are available at your fingertips, where teachers encourage you to use the tools at your disposal to work out innovative solutions, I didn’t know how to move forward. There’s no way to learn patience or understanding in a classroom, there’s no textbook for resilience and courage isn’t gained through observation or study. This wasn’t a phone-a-friend sort of situation either . . . my classmates and teachers were reeling from the same disbelief that I was experiencing.

Change came, but recovery and transition did as well, primarily the relocation of the entire high school student body to a new temporary home. As you may imagine, the move from the school’s original location in Minneapolis to a cramped office park building in Mendota Heights offered a unique set of challenges.

I won’t pretend that the transition was easy; in fact, some of the simplest sacrifices were the hardest to make. I’ll never again take for granted the joy of a quiet study space or the luxury of a three-block walk to school. Flexibility was and continues to be key for me and my classmates. Some days are undoubtedly harder than others. The heartbreaking pain that comes from watching friends suffer from a lost sense of security has been difficult to endure.

And I can’t say I have always set an example in conduct for the underclassmen or inspired others through my unrelenting perseverance, as much as I would like to. But I have learned something about flexibility and what it means to find beauty and joy amidst unfortunate circumstances. I have found God this year in the fierce loyalty of friends, family and teachers. It will be hard to leave this community next year.

So how does this story tie into Plymouth, and how can I “set an example” for this congregation as the scripture read earlier demands? Like Minnehaha, Plymouth has also experienced some significant changes in the last few years. Perhaps some of you have felt the same emotions I have while dealing with these changes—frustration or confusion or loss. But here is my challenge to you—remember the importance of showing up. Even when there are a million other things that need to get done, even when homework seems like a compelling reason to stay home from Wednesday rehearsals, show up. Even when you are put in frustrating situations or it’s inconvenient to attend worship, show up.

I believe the biggest gift you can give this congregation is your presence in the church. The scripture tells us to set an example for others through love. For me, one of the greatest gifts I’ve received this year is someone’s time, someone showing they care by taking a few minutes out of their schedule to see how I’m doing. Plymouth requires and deserves the same care and attention, perhaps now more than ever.

As I mentioned before, this year I’ve had my fair share of frustration and confusion. I’ve had to learn to jump headfirst into the unknown, and that has been extremely uncomfortable for me. As someone who thrives on stability and structure, change has been hard, and there are days when I would give anything to be back in my old school building, wishing that the events on Aug. 2 had never happened, wishing I had been able to have a “normal” senior year like everyone else. But I showed up—even when it was difficult, even when it was scary.

These final few weeks of the school year mark a lot of “lasts” for the seniors. For me, this week includes my last official week of high school and my last Youth Sunday at Plymouth as a youth. And as I graduate this June with plans to attend St. Olaf College next fall, I will think about all the people who have impacted my life because they continued to show up for what mattered and demonstrated love towards others by being there even when it was tough or frustrating or inconvenient. My success through high school has depended on the teachers, friends and mentors who walked alongside me. Many people at Plymouth have been a part of this support system. To Mary, Cammy, Philip, Seth, Paula, Emi, Corbin and Katie: thank you for your support and guidance during my time at Plymouth—I am truly grateful for your leadership and for your kindness.

Members of this church, it is my sincere hope that you can be a teacher, a friend and a mentor to others in this community. Show up, and remember that your contributions to Plymouth, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, matter to this church and to this congregation. Thank you.