“A Life-changing Week in Montreat”

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That was the title of the article that Dolly Jacobs, associate pastor for pastoral care of the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, posted before her departure to Montreat in late July. The church’s youth group was planning to spend the week here, and Dolly wanted everyone in the congregation to know how important that week could be. She wrote:

“The theme for that 1986 Montreat Youth Conference was ‘Branded.’ The adult leaders guided us through what it meant to be ‘branded’ by society: athletes, intellectuals, introverts, extroverts, popular kids, etc. As the week unfolded though, those labels were replaced. Our understanding of who we were changed to the message of what mattered in God’s eyes. We were ‘branded’ as children of God, unconditionally loved and gifted to be in community together.

That week in Montreat 35 years ago changed my life forever. It is one of the reasons, along with a wonderful faith community in NOLA as well as some amazing mentors, that I decided to become a pastor.

Those youth did come, and Dolly joined them for the first couple of days to make sure that all was well before returning to Greensboro last Tuesday. Two days later, Dolly died suddenly and unexpectedly, likely from a blood clot, and her family, church, and community are grieving a “heartbreaking loss.” Dolly has been described as a loving and beloved presence and as a faithful leader who “touched countless lives and cared for many.” She had returned to Montreat many times over those 35 years and had made a place for herself with many friends.

Montreat meant a lot to Dolly, and yet, as I read her post through the lens of her passing, I thought most about what Dolly must have meant to Montreat. Says Susie Burns, one of those who worked closely with Dolly in her time here: “Dolly Jacobs was one of those incredible people that touched and changed other lives deeply every time she was here in the valley. A few summers ago, Dolly served as our Conference Pastor. I remember that week she sat for hours with a group that had lost one their peers recently. She wept with them and gave witness to God’s claim in the midst of such a horrific loss.”

We don’t think about that often enough – about how a “new voice,” as Dolly’s must have been back in 1986, shows up in Montreat and changes us. We can forget the ways that fresh perspectives and unusual energies nudge us forward.

Dolly leaves behind a family and communities full of people who feel her loss. Montreat is one of those communities. As the summer’s end approaches, I am grateful for her life and that God brought her life here. I’m grateful for all of you who make the journey to Montreat whenever you can. Until you come again, remember that life is precious, and take heart in the psalmist’s words:

I lift up my eyes to the hills—

    from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth.

– Psalm 121:1-2

Richard DuBose

Montreat Conference Center