Community Members Accept the Invitation as New Staff
In 2017, one blog post was a seed in what seemed like barren ground in so many lives. Anna and Shannon planted that invitation to “take a deep breath and step into the longing” not knowing what would come of it. Now over five years later, that seed–along with their efforts–have borne much fruit in many lives. Three community members in particular have said “yes” to the call to be on mission with Eden Invitation as staff members: Andrew Reinkemeyer, David Neira, and Bernadette O’Keefe.
Not long after “An Invitation to the Longing Ones” was posted, Andrew Reinkemeyer read it for the first time while sitting on a park bench in Missouri. The link was sent to him by a friend, with whom he'd recently shared his story. Reading Anna’s testimony, Andrew felt seen. “For the first time, I knew I wasn't the only one living faithfully with an LGBT experience.” It took time for Andrew to feel ready, but in 2020 he reached out to join his first book club. “The rest is history,” he says.
In 2018, David Neira was living abroad when he read the blog. “I was in France and saw the blog post through social media,” he says. David wasn’t able to join a book club, so in the meantime, he devoured all of Anna and Shannon's podcast interviews while walking the streets of Paris. Once he was back in the United States, he went to the first-ever Eden Invitation Retreat in 2019.
A few countries away, Bernadette was in the middle of her graduate program in Wrocław, Poland.
“I remember reading that blog in 2018 and realizing I wasn’t the only one. It wasn’t until I was back in North Dakota and working as a Campus Minister that I reached out to Eden Invitation to join a book club. Then, to my surprise, I saw them at the 2020 FOCUS conference! Being with Anna, Shannon, and other community members gave me the space to put down the weight I knew I was carrying, but never realized how heavy it was.”
When they connected with Eden Invitation, these three, along with hundreds of other Christian young adults across the country, encountered Christ in a way that gave them a new understanding of their beloved unrepeatability, a place of mutual belonging, and a call to joyful hope. Co-Founder Anna Carter observes, "the call to chastity is clear in Church teaching. Still, knowing where to say 'no' doesn't tell me how my desires–even disordered ones–can be an opportunity for a God-graced 'yes.' These parts of us that we've been afraid or ashamed of are so often the places God wants to meet us. The compassion we learn through our suffering can expand our hearts to love others better as well."
David says that the community of Eden Invitation gave him “an example that my same-sex desires are not a problem to be fixed or repressed but rather a part of my whole person that needs to be embraced by myself, others, and by the Lord so that I can pursue a life of holiness.”
Andrew shares, “My entire adult life, I have been in ministry, testifying to how God has encountered me in my story. I have been inviting others to encounter God in their own stories, and love in new ways. But I was still trying to hide my experience of same-sex attraction and gender discordance from God and others. In Eden Invitation, I found the language and the support needed to see God in my whole self, and share my whole self with the church and the world - all for the glory of God!”
Bernadette also spent much of her life in parish and ministry environments. “I’ve been deeply involved [in parish life] since I was a kid, but I never really felt that I had talents that would serve, let alone enrich the community around me.” She shared that being in Eden Invitation was a major turning point in her life. “I once felt like a rag in the dam–able to be what you needed me to be but nothing unique. Being invited to participate in discipleship here has helped unravel that lie. My life and talents are unique and unrepeatable gifts from God that both enrich my life and the lives of others. I found that I had so much to give back to the Church.”
Each one received the invitation to encounter Christ in different ways, but all three soon found a call to serve through their involvement with Eden Invitation.
Andrew saw the call to be the New Engagement Coordinator growing from that place “where [my] natural and supernatural gifts meet the needs of the world around [me].” He shares that this is true of every Christian’s call to bear fruit through mission. “God shows us ourselves, we share ourselves with others, and others come to know God better. Eden Invitation is the first place where others could see my whole person and say ‘it is very good.’ It's the place where my whole self has become fruitful.”
David dove into his role as the Community Coordinator “because the deepest way I've encountered the Paschal Mystery in my life is intimately connected with my story of sexuality, my search for answers for my longings, and the question of what I should give my life to. By grappling with these questions, I've come out more rooted in the belief that Jesus and His Church are my home and that the Gospel is for everyone.”
Bernadette reflected, "In much of the discourse around faith and sexuality, there can be a heaviness. There can be a tendency to get stuck on the difficult aspects of our experiences. While it is so important to encounter God there, it is just as important to remember that God has promised each and every one of us joy through the Pascal Mystery!” She shares, “I personally connect with Mary Magdalene and the call Jesus gave her at the Ressurection: ‘...go and tell my brethren…’ (John 20:17). Now as the Communications and Relationship specialist here at Eden Invitation, I use my background in writing and linguistics to tell others about the joy of Christ every day!”
Three distinct stories with similar patterns. Three different hearts saying “Yes!” to the call to encounter Christ and invite others to encounter Him. Three beautiful ways that first seed from “An Invitation to the Longing Ones” has grown new fruit. And now we look forward to seeing how they will continue to glorify God by their lives, answering the call to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8).