Dear Cornerstone: A Love Letter (Part 1)

photo courtesy wilsonstation.comToday we returned from the last Cornerstone Festival.  I have trouble even writing that.  I want so much to believe a miracle is going to occur and, like George Bailey, the Festival will be saved by all those who love it.  But we’ve tried.  I don’t think a miracle is forthcoming.

It’s hard to explain what Cornerstone has meant in my life.  I am grieving as if a  person has died, really.  I am trying to grieve with hope, but it’s difficult.  I’m also sorting through a million memories of my Cornerstone home and family.  We’ve passed 18 festivals together.  So much change; so many stories.  I want to begin sharing them as they come to me.  I don’t know if anyone else needs to hear these stories, but I need to tell them.

1995.  After years of wishing we could attend but always believing we couldn’t afford it, my husband and I decided to make the trip to the Cornerstone Festival.  We were youth leaders in our church and taking the youth group seemed as good an excuse as any to go to the Fest.

Pulling onto the grounds in the long, slow moving line of  cars and vans and church, we found ourselves in another world.  Planet Cornerstone, I heard it called recently.  One moment you’re driving past cornfields in central Illinois.  The next you’re surrounded by punkers and hippies and dusty little children.  People covered in tatooes and riding unicycles passed us by, nonchalantly.  Mohawks held up proudly in the July heat.  Our youth group kids, clean cut suburban dwellers, stared out the church van’s windows.  “Are you sure this is a Christian festival?”  “Yes, I’m sure.”  But we didn’t know yet what that really meant.  Just another place to hear Christian music, right?  And maybe we adults could sit in on some seminars, as well, and pick up some good Christian teaching.

I didn’t know yet that there was a a peculiar sweetness to Cornerstone; something even more precious than the programmed concerts and classes.  Something not even found in many churches.

A few nights into the festival I saw a vintage model hippie standing atop a van.  Long blonde hair, blonde beard, shirtless and clearly stoned out of his mind; he swayed back and forth and sang a menacing little melody over and over:  “F*** you and your f***ing religion,” went the lyrics.  As I approached I saw that a crowd had gathered around the van.
“Uh oh,” I thought.  “This is going to get ugly.”  And then I got close enough to hear what the people around the van were saying.  Many of them were praying for the singer; praying for peace, praying that he would be delivered from drugs or from his anger, praying that he would know Jesus.  Just a few in the crowd were speaking to the man on the van directly.  No one was shouting, or calling for security.  The voices were gentle, and so were the words.  “Please, brother, you need to come down.  Be careful.  We’re afraid you’ll fall.  We don’t want you to hurt yourself.  Won’t you come down and talk to us?”

That’s my Cornerstone.


About Sharon Autenrieth

Wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, follower of Jesus.
This entry was posted in memories, spirituality and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Dear Cornerstone: A Love Letter (Part 1)

  1. Sean Asbeck says:

    Hey now, I don’t think I was clean cut then — pretty sure I was rocking my grunge-do at that point. But thanks for taking us – it was an eye opening experience, where I learned that Christians didn’t all look, act, and believe like me…. and that that was okay.


  2. Jim Tudor says:

    1995 was also my first year, although I’m glad I missed the angry drugged out guy. I hope things turned out okay for that person. If I had encountered that back then, I’m not sure how I would’ve reacted. After years of reading coverage of the fest in HM magazine (then “Heaven’s Metal”) and Harvest Rock Syndicate, I finally managed to hitch a ride with a friend’s youth group, on a whim. It wasn’t even a friend I knew well, but it was a great week. I remember we arrived and found a spot out in a field, and began setting up the brown canvas tent I borrowed from my dad. A huge storm of tropical proportions rolled in while we were wrestling with the tent poles and the stakes. Watching these strangers deal with this in this weird new environment (punks on unicycles, tattoo craziness, etc, as Sharon detailed) was too much (in a good way). I remember laughing maniacally with glee at that point. The storm vanished as quickly as it started, and the rest of the week was free of typhoons and twisters. I was already hooked for life.


    • Kate "Paige" Reeder says:

      I remember that storm. We all gathered under the tarp-pavillion my dad had contrived. A couple of us kids stood on chairs or tables, poking the spots where the water was gathering with sticks to keep it flowing off the sides. That was our first year too, and we came because my older sister and her friend Jessie won tickets on the radio. I remember my dad telling Jessie he’d seen a hole in the tent just over where she kept her guitar, and she believed him. Dumb joke, but we all had a good bonding laugh over it. If you’d told ten-year-old me beforehand that was how I would be spending my vacation, I would not have been pleased; but after one Fest, like the rest of you, I was in love.


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