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 kids of volunteers were treated. When the week was over, they all told Michelle that they didn’t want to leave. She replied, “There’s always another one!”
Building a Montreat Family Life
By 2005, Mike had developed his talent as a photographer. He started bringing his camera with him to capture magical Montreat moments on film. After sharing his work with conference staff, who used the photos in slide shows and marketing materials, he was asked to take pictures of the conference each summer. Eventually, Mike was asked to be conference photographer for all six weeks of Montreat Youth Conference.
Mike loves collaborating with summer staff to produce the video and slide portions for the youth conference program. He is impressed by how professional they are, even before starting their careers. Seeing how they mature through the years – even seeing some return as preachers or married couples with new Montreat babies – is an amazing evolution.
As the girls grew older, Laura and Alexis attended youth and college conferences, and Alexis worked on summer staff. She even served a year as a Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in South Korea, which Mike and Susan believe would not have happened without Montreat’s impact on her life and faith. Mike has enjoyed his role for the past twelve years. Susan has been joining Mike in the summers when possible. She sets up a remote office in their room in Assembly Inn. They go for a walk at 11:00 every day to check in with each other before her afternoon Zoom calls on Wharton Porch. More recently, they started working out together by swimming laps at the pool!
The two estimate they spend 10% of every year in Montreat! In addition to their presence and volunteering, the Erdelyis have become Montreat patrons, donating annually to the Montreat Fund, which supports nearly all aspects of Montreat’s mission and ministry.
The Impact of Montreat
In 2016, Montreat took on a profoundly new role in the Erdelyi family’s life when they lost Laura tragically in a car accident. Montreat now plays a key role in their family’s healing. For Susan especially, coming to Montreat is like a memorial to Laura. “When we go to Montreat, we think of Laura a lot. To see and know young people through Montreat gives us a lot of hope and peace. We hug and laugh and cry with friends who knew her, and we see her vibrance and spirit in different people there every day. In the silent times with God in this place, God has been healing us.”
While Susan maintains her busy legal career, coming to Montreat is the time when she and Mike are closest to each other. “The long drive, the living in a small space together without the distractions of life back home… it freezes us together,” she explains. Susan enjoys pottery, Sunday worship, and her friendships with the hospitality and housekeeping staff. Being here helps curb workaholism a bit.
When asked about their church’s connection with Montreat, Mike says that Montreat is literally built into their congregational life, adding that they are “totally intertwined!” Youth and college conferences are an annual tradition, with many of their youth returning to serve on summer staff during their college years. Often their youth become leaders among their peers and in the church.
Since youth groups really bond on trips together, Montreat trips have strengthened their overall youth program. They like to “spread Montreat back into their church family” on youth Sunday by trying to re-create the Montreat experience for the congregation. With some of their adults attending Road Scholar programs in Montreat, there’s now even an intergenerational impact.
For the Erdelyi family, Montreat is where you see people in the Church you know and love, and where you make new friendships and continue building on old ones. “It’s more than just a church, it’s like a big family. When we’re here, we feel connected to God through relationships, music, worship, and recreational activities. The Spirit of God moves you whether you’re in Anderson during a program or watching from outside, hearing the stream at your back. There’s a feeling here…it draws your heart in.”