Did you catch the end of the Liverpool/West Bromwich soccer match a couple weeks ago? No? This particular game basically came down to the last play, when Liverpool won on a header from their own goalkeeper, Alisson Becker, a play so rare that…well, it’s the first goal ever scored in competition by a Liverpool goalkeeper. Liverpool has been playing soccer/football since 1892.
Yet that wasn’t what I’ll remember most from that day. After the game, Alisson was interviewed, of course, and asked about the winning play. He gave all credit to God, as athletes often do. Then the interview shifted. This was Alisson’s first interview in front of a camera since February, the month he lost his father in a terrible drowning accident. The reporter asked the goalkeeper to reflect on the emotion of the moment in the context of that recent tragedy. The Hero suddenly just a man, Alisson furrowed his brow and began to talk earnestly about the loss of his father, and about being so far away from his mother back in Brazil. He thanked all the fans and teammates for their support, and the many friends from opposing football clubs who had sent letters of condolence. He thanked his wife and children, and then he said, “This is how we feel the love from God. This is the way God loves us – through people – and we should do that every time, every day.”
Good theology in a postgame interview? How often does that happen? (Actually, you can see the interview, with the particular exchange coming just after the 3:40 minute mark.) It turns out that Alisson’s composure and remarks were no fluke. He is reportedly a devout Catholic so open in the profession of his Christian faith that he’s nicknamed “the holy goalie.” His message caught me short and I’ve been thinking about it since. I’ve reflected on how the pandemic has contributed to so much separation. I’ve thought about all the families who have endured loss over the past year or more, how all of us have had to cope in various ways, and how Christians have so often had to find other ways through the difficulties of distance and burden to proclaim Christ’s love.
On Monday I attended a funeral for Susan Barbour, who for many years served as the conference center’s primary attorney and as a very good friend to Montreat. The large room where the service was held was full. Appropriate precautions were taken, but the masks we all wore couldn’t conceal the sharing. Susan was special, and we were gathered together in praise and thanksgiving for her life among us and for the life she now enjoys.
“This is the way God loves us – through people.” I think Alisson’s words affect me in part because God’s love will soon be more in evidence among us as we gather in some of the more usual ways – ways that contribute to our understanding of Montreat and make this such a special place. There are going to be challenges, and I will keep reminding you that 2021 is not going to be a normal summer. It will, however, be a wonderful summer, hopefully made particularly wonderful by our renewed appreciation for all the ways we are blessed to share God’s love with each other. Let the sharing begin.
While the conference center is moving forward with most programming (yes!), effects of the pandemic will linger and some sacrifices will be necessary. (A list of some changes was posted in this space last week). If you find yourself asking a question that begins with “Why doesn’t…” or “Why isn’t…” or “Why hasn’t…,” our staff will do our best to answer. Just know that the answer to many of these questions can be traced generally to the pandemic and our continued recovery.
The Huckleberry represents a case in point. For many summers The Huck has been run by Montreat College. Last year, the college let us know that it was relinquishing its lease on the space and making other arrangements as part of a longer range plan for food service on its campus. From what I’ve heard of those plans, the college’s decision made good sense, and left us with a question. Starting more or less from scratch, with everything else going on, could we get The Huck ready for this summer? I decided that we could not. There were already too many uncertainties and aspects of normal programming that we were adjusting and relaunching this summer. We could never have gotten The Huck ready in time. Instead, this summer the space will be used for a variety of community gatherings.
Meanwhile, The Huck needs some long range planning on its own behalf. Let’s face it – the place is due for a refresh, and we definitely want it to be ready next summer. If you’re going to miss your ice cream cone this summer as much as I am, or your quiet time on the porch, or whatever, please channel your disappointment into this survey link. It will only take a few minutes to complete. What have you loved about The Huck? What have you – um – not loved? What would you like to see offered or provided as we make plans for the summer of 2022? We’d really like to hear from you.
We know many people think of The Huckleberry as an indispensable part of a Montreat summer, and we agree. Help us think of ways to make The Huck better so that it continues to serve us far into the future.
More to come!
Montreat Conference Center