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The Perfect Church

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Back in the 1980s, right after I moved to Atlanta, I attended a lot of Braves games. The route between home to stadium was quick and passed by a Krispy Kreme calling out with “Hot Donuts Now.” The most notable landmark, however, sat at the corner of Gordon Street and McDaniel Street. Above its front door, in white lettering, read the sign: “The Perfect Church.”    If I was traveling with a companion, The Perfect Church never escaped a mention. To my father, an active pastor over four decades, I’d sometimes point at the sign and suggest, “I’ll bet you always …

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The Gift of Being Together

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Among the books, photos, and flotsam and jetsam that accumulate on my office shelves, one item qualifies as an automatic keepsake. It’s a framed certificate presented to “Miss Jane P. Holt” from 1962, signifying her status as a “Charter Patron” of Montreat.   Signed by Tom Belk, the original chair of the Patrons program, the certificate reminds me of Jane’s enduring commitment to Montreat, just as it represents for me the generous, faithful commitments to Patrons on the part of so many others over the last sixty years. The certificate reminds me that the true strength of our ministry lies in …

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Reality Check

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As you may know, roughly one year ago the conference center announced its intention to pursue a special use permit (SUP) from the Town of Montreat to build a new lodge on its campus, replacing three lodges on the same site.   A year later, signs and fliers still dot the Montreat landscape. This summer’s edition includes the claim that pollution to our valley will occur if the lodge comes to pass. This is simply not true.   The stringent ordinances and regulations that apply to this project, along with the inspections and reviews that are part of any modern construction process, …

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Thank God for Model Trains

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Once upon a time, model train sets represented one of the crown jewels of a toy store’s inventory. Ads for train sets took up pages in every Christmas catalogue. Alas, the sun long ago set on the heyday of model trains. Today, in the minds of my own adult children, the words “model train” are more likely to conjure memories of this scene from the movie “A Mighty Wind” than of any playtime on the den floor.     So, I was intrigued when I learned that a new model train display was attracting attention at the Presbyterian Heritage Center (PHC) this …

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Happy Fourth and the John Collins Society

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One morning in early June while driving down Assembly Drive, I slowed as I approached Pratt Park on the right, eyeing a car parked just off the pavement not where a car usually parks. As I passed, I saw two volunteers knee-deep in a garden area outfitted with gloves, tools, and plenty of sun protection. I knew immediately that the John Collins Society was again hard at work attending to its duties.   For those unfamiliar with its existence, the John Collins Society was established to honor and foster our appreciation for the reverend John Collins, justifiably considered the founder of …

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No Two Days Alike

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As much as Montreat seems changeless for some, the one constant at the conference center is this: no two days are alike, and the opportunities and challenges sometimes present themselves from the most unanticipated angles. Stuff happens.   I recently spent a morning, for example, reading up on Canada geese because a family of them has decided to summer in Montreat around Lake Susan. While Canada geese are found in Canada, of course, they are also prevalent in the United States. Numbers of Canada geese were in serious decline in the early 20th century, but a recovery program has proved successful. Thanks …

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Who was Lake Susan named for?

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In the spring of 2015, I was giving a tour of Montreat to leaders of other Western North Carolina conference centers. As we walked across the dam, one of my peers asked a perfectly reasonable question: “Who was Lake Susan named for?”   I turned around, searching memories of a lifetime in Montreat: “Um…Susan?” If you ever find me on Jeopardy, bet against me. Embarrassed enough, I vowed never to take Lake Susan for granted again.  You can read a short history here about the boating and the swimming and Lake Susan’s place in our community life. Just as rich is …

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We’ve Come a Long Way

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On a Sunday afternoon last August 1st, I had just gotten home from church when I received a text from a staff member reporting that several of our Clubs’ groups and their counselors should now consider themselves exposed to Covid. It had been a quiet summer to that point but now the Delta variant was announcing its arrival. I soon found myself back at the office, meeting with staff, consulting with a health department official, and ultimately making decisions that led to the testing of dozens of staff and the cancellation of several activities the following week.   We’ve come a …

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Looking Forward, Together

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Welcome to the summer of 2022 in Montreat! As the season beckons us together, our staff and volunteers are making ready for a season that should look and feel remarkably like summers past. Thanks be to God! While gratitude is in order every summer, we are particularly mindful of our blessings now in consideration of what togetherness meant over the past two years. In the summer of 2020, being together often was confined to a passing greeting on the street – at a distance. 2021 brought us more together, but often behind a mask. This summer, we anticipate further steps …

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An Update from Richard DuBose on the Lodge Permit and Huckleberry Renovations

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Greetings from Montreat! Today I write to share an update on two important projects that the conference center is currently undertaking.  First, those in Montreat will notice extensive activity at the Moore Center as we begin renovations of the Huckleberry Café space. While it was closed during 2021, we developed plans to revitalize and create a more welcoming gathering space for all who come to Montreat. The initial construction phase will be completed by early June, and we look forward to welcoming you all back for ice cream and coffee this summer!  Over the next two years, a larger vision …

Montreat Announces New Endowment

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The Marilyn Jones Endowment has been established to honor and appreciate the 53-year leadership role that Marilyn Jones played in Montreat Conference Center from 1965 through 2018. In the 60’s she brought banners into worship in the auditorium. In 1974 she reopened the Craft Shop at Montreat, with a pottery called the “Upper Story,” later renamed and dedicated “Sally Jones Pottery.” This ministry continues today, celebrating her commitment to the ministry of arts and crafts in Montreat. The purpose of the Marilyn Jones Endowment is in support of the creative use of the arts in Montreat’s summer programs, in hopes …

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Erdelyi Family’s Montreat Story

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The First Visit  The Erdelyi family first discovered Montreat when Mike volunteered to join his church’s youth director, Michelle Thomas-Bush of Riverside Presbyterian Church – Jacksonville, FL, at the 2000 Montreat Youth Conference. It was the Sunday after leaving his job at UPS to be a stay-at-home parent, allowing Susan to focus on her role as the City Attorney for Jacksonville Beach. So, he packed their two girls, Alexis (8) and Laura (6), into the car and headed to the mountains.  Their first impression was of both excitement and welcome. As they pulled up to the Currie Craft Center, the first person they saw was Ann Laird Jones, their church’s former interim youth minister. She joyfully shouted, “Welcome, Erdelyis!”   From that moment on, they were “totally in heaven.” The girls felt like rock stars playing on stage in Anderson Auditorium, and they loved their time in clubs. Mike was really impressed with how well the …

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A Prayer of Thanksgiving for the life of James Alexander “Jim” Bryan, II

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Dear God, we are grateful that we have the desire this evening to come to you with thanksgiving for the life of James Alexander “Jim” Bryan, II. What an appropriate place – Montreat – to lift up our hearts in celebration for the life of this dear friend and family member. Oh God, even here, in this quiet place of rest and reflection, we have neither the sufficient time nor the words to do justice to our man, Jim. We thank you for the family that raised him and surrounded him – his parents, Harry and Peggy, his brother, Ned, …

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“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 …

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With Gratitude

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Gratitude is the word of the upcoming weekend. On Saturday evening, the conference center will host the annual Patrons Banquet to honor and express appreciation to those donors who generously supported our programs and operations over the previous fiscal year. This year’s casual evening will include food trucks, supper under a tent, and Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters, Asheville-based musicians now drawing national attention. Any review of the previous year must include praise of decisions made by our Board of Directors just as the pandemic was dawning. As stated several times in this space and elsewhere, at the spring …

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The Future of the Huck

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I don’t have a lot of childhood memories of The Huckleberry, Montreat’s snack bar at Moore Center right on Lake Susan. I do remember being in there once as a teenager with some friends, awaiting milkshakes on order, and the poor server being so distracted by all the chatter that the machine sprayed ice cream all over him and his work station. We feasted on the story far longer than we did the ice cream. Otherwise, I really hadn’t given The Huck much thought in recent years, and yet the pandemic has prompted a new focus on community spaces on …

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Summer Updates 2021

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A little over a year ago, in the early days of the pandemic, we were sorting through unprecedented challenges at the conference center on an almost daily basis. In the midst of the highest days of anxiety, I particularly remember some members of our staff chuckling over a strangely comforting thought: Someday, long after this is over, somebody is going to rush into your office one day in a panic and announce, “We have a BIG problem!” And you’ll remember the pandemic, and you’ll just look up and smile a little bit, and you’ll think to yourself: Oh yeah? I’ll …

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Thank You for Your Support of the Montreat Fund

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As you heard last week in this space, Montreat’s fiscal year ended on April 30. While the final mail is still being opened and every dollar counted, today we give thanks for the record number of donors who propelled the Montreat Fund to an early total of over one million dollars for the second year in a row, and just the second time in history! This is a monumental show of support, and allows the mission and ministry of this special place to adapt to the changing needs of the church and of all those who call this place sacred …

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End of Fiscal Year Update from MRA Board Chair

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As our fiscal year draws to a close, I’ve asked Burnet Tucker, chair of the MRA Board of Directors, to share an update with you. I have the privilege of serving as Chair of the Board of the Mountain Retreat Association (d.b.a. the Montreat Conference Center). Over the past several months, I’ve been asked about how the MRA is weathering COVID financially as well as how the proposed lodge fits into our bigger financial, hospitality, and programmatic picture. As the MRA prepares to close its books on April 30 (the end of our fiscal year), I thought it would be …

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Year End Thoughts and Thanks

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As we approach the end of our fiscal year on April 30th, we are as usual doing our best to reach out and remind everyone to make their Montreat Fund gift in time. Making some of those calls this week got me thinking about Dorothy Allen, a longtime Montreater who passed away in January at the age of 99. Dorothy was an original donor to Montreat’s Patrons Fund in 1962, though she pointed out to me once that she was not an original Patron per se. Dorothy told me that she and her husband, Kirk, just couldn’t find the funds …

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Plans for Summer 2021

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As we approach the middle of April this week, it feels like a good time to let you know of the conference center’s plans for this coming summer.

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On Growth, Change, and Montreat’s Essential Character

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In his memoir, Montreat: A Retreat for Renewal, former MRA president Calvin Grier Davis described the decisions and rationale that led to the formation of the Town of Montreat in 1968. In the run-up to the first election, Davis noted, “It was assumed by many on the Board, and some of the citizens, that the officers of the Mountain Retreat Association would be elected to serve on the Town Council, that their experience would be available to administer the affairs of the town and there would be little change in the Town of Montreat.”  A page later, Davis reported the …