This Week in Montreat

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A Montreat weekly update from Richard DuBose, president of Montreat Conference Center.

Read our COVID-19 statement here.

Update #3 | April 3, 2020

Greetings from Montreat! There is much to share since last Friday.

First, following up from last week, our online ministry for youth, “Montreat Now,” launched last night. You can view Rodger Nishioka’s message here. More than 450 participated at launch, and we expect that number to grow over the next few days. I want to thank the entire team who made “Montreat Now” happen so quickly, and call your attention to this Thursday night’s edition that brings in Mark Yaconelli, Laura Becker, and Mich Phillips. Conversations on other programing ideas are ongoing. 

Second, some of you are beginning to ask, “What’s going to happen in Montreat this summer?” The answer today is that I don’t know, except that Montreat’s summer will depend upon the guidance and directives of health agencies and government authorities. Right now, our team is planning along two tracks, the first of which assumes that our summer season will take place as scheduled. The second track must account for the uncertain trajectory of the virus in hundreds of communities, as well as at least as many variables on program and personnel considerations. In summary, we’re working on it, and we pledge to keep you posted. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.

Third, a more immediate challenge is ahead. The conference center has generated no earned revenue since mid-March, and as we enter April, achieving this year’s Montreat Fund goal by April 30th is critical for us. Our development team is working overtime, and we’re asking everyone – even those who have already given this year – to consider a gift. If you feel so moved, there is a link in the footer below. Every dollar counts.      

Finally, several Montreaters reached out to us with information about the CARES Act, legislation that Congress passed and the president signed last Friday. We greatly appreciate hearing from you and, yes, the conference center is applying for an SBA loan under provisions of Payroll Protection Program. Because we are committed to maintaining programing and operations through the crisis, such a loan would undergird this commitment for the time being. We will keep you posted as the process unfolds. 

The reverend Dr. Aram Bae, an associate pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a member of our board, offers her own meditation on daily experience in this strange time. Read it here. It’s honest and real and well worth a read. 

More to come!  

Richard DuBose

Update # 2 | March 27, 2020

Thousands of youth and middle school conferees are looking forward to summer youth conferences here. We know this to be true because we have continued to receive new registrations for the 2020 season. This week, however, we also began in earnest our efforts to serve the youth of the church right now, in this time of crisis and anxiety. 

On Thursday evening, April 2nd, Rodger Nishioka and fellow 2020 conference leaders are kicking off a new weekly series of online gatherings, called “Montreat Now.” In addition to offering each installment live, sessions will be recorded for youth groups around the denomination and beyond. Our hope is that hundreds – perhaps thousands – will participate. 

At their best, Montreat youth and middle school conferences are about living in Christian community – strangers becoming friends as they worship, sing, pray and play together. We believe that convening our youth conference community now will help leaders and participants alike understand better the effects of the bewildering, often painful disruption and anxiety we are experiencing. We see an opportunity to interpret these events through a lens of theological and biblical integrity. We see an opportunity to celebrate that, even in a time of crisis, Christ is alive in all of us. 

I am so grateful to Rodger and the rest of our volunteer leaders, and to staff Carol Steele and Evelyn Coleman. They are all adding this new dimension of Montreat’s ministry to their ongoing responsibilities. Bless you all! 

While some good ideas lead to new services, others run aground on the ever-changing reality of the coronavirus. Wednesday, we received word that Buncombe County authorities were issuing a “Stay Home – Stay Safe” order, an important and necessary step for public heath but one which effectively limits our staff deployment and halts some new plans to serve. (For more details on the local order, see here: https://www.buncombecounty.org/countycenter/news-detail.aspx?id=18580)

This week the Montreat Store and Assembly Inn kitchen began offering inexpensive takeout meals to locals at a time when grocery store shelves in the area are increasingly sparse. In the wake of the county’s order, we’ve had to suspend that effort for the time being, lacking sufficient staff to implement our plan. Today, again following the spirit of the order, we also closed access to our recreation facilities, including trails, tennis courts, and Robert Lake Park. 

These measures highlight the strange fact that, while some areas of our staff are in overdrive, others are forced to simply bide their time until conditions improve. In that vein, Lewis Galloway, a board member and Presbyterian pastor, offers a meditation on the gifts of stillness in these times. You can read his reflections here, and I encourage you to share it with others. 

More to come!

Gratefully, 

Richard DuBose

Update #1 | March 20, 2020

So many people have reached out over the last week to see how we’re doing here at the Montreat Conference Center. Your prayers, your questions, and your support have lifted our spirits in so many ways. This is an attempt to tell you why, and to tell that we are responding in kind.

Many of you have asked us how we’re doing. Here are four things I know:

  • We decided this week to postpone or cancel all gatherings, conferences, retreats, for the next six weeks. It’s a serious blow. Through February, we were having an outstanding fiscal year, with a clear path to finishing slightly ahead on April 30th. Canceling groups during what is normally one of our busiest periods represents a leap of faith that belt-tightening, hard work, and the loyal generosity of our supporters will enable us to end our fiscal year on April 30th with a balanced budget.
  • Our Board of Directors met online this week and adopted a new budget for the coming fiscal year, itself a GIANT leap of faith, but a brave and carefully considered one. Importantly, board and staff also spent time together in worship and prayer, and brainstorming about how Montreat might serve God and our church through the crisis. Ultimately…
  • We committed to remaining operational through the current crisis, to maintain our campus and our readiness for the resumption of normal programming as soon as that day comes.
  • Such a commitment will require our staff to work in new ways, and they are already responding admirably to changes in role and work pattern. Of course, we’ll adjust week by week, following the guidance and directives of health agencies and government authorities.

What does “remaining operational” in the midst of the pandemic mean for a conference center dedicated to the gathering together of God’s people? That will depend upon the nature and the extent of the crisis. For starters, it means mobilizing the leadership and talent that have led our programs from the stage to come to you in your homes. Generally, it means living out our conviction that, even in the midst of this crisis, Christ calls us to make a real difference in people’s lives not just tomorrow, but today.

I feel that conviction especially because Montreaters have made a difference in my life this week. You have insisted that God is asking the conference center to convene God’s people for this time and place. Montreaters of all stripes – conference leaders, cottagers, staff – have expressed a desire to help. My friend John Brueggemann has reminded me that the coronavirus can force us only into “physical distance,” not social distance. Overwhelmingly, the message is clear: working through our ministry here, the Holy Spirit can still move people to share with each other the promise of the gospel and the good news of God’s love and grace. On this most important matter, the virus can shove it.

A more eloquent case is found at the link below. It’s a devotional offered to our Board on Tuesday by the Reverend Eileen Lindner, a board member, Presbyterian minister, and consultant to various national church agencies. Read Eileen’s reflection (read here); better yet, share it with someone. As you do, feel the Spirit moving through you – indeed, moving through us all.

More to come…

Gratefully,

Richard DuBose