We enthusiastically support Montreat’s commitment to ensure and expand its mission and ministry for future generations, including the plans for the new lodge.
Conference attendance, while stable, isn’t growing. Total membership in our affiliated denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has been moving downward for decades. The mainline institutional church today is considered by some to be more an artifact of 20th century Christianity than a vital presence in the current one. How can any denominational conference center hope to move forward against such headwinds? Shouldn’t this conversation about a new lodge include consideration of a culture that is less receptive to the conference center’s mission and ministry? Some ask bluntly, “Why build a new lodge for a dying church?”
In attempting to address these questions, let’s start by acknowledging a baseline. The conference center has faced the trends cited above for more than fifty years, and it’s still here. It has weathered cultural changes, institutional schism, and theological conflict. The conference center adjusted to the effects of church reunion in the 1980s, and overcame serious financial hardships in the 1990s and 2000s. It’s still here.
It’s here because the conference center adapted and evolved with these changes. Youth conferences became the largest annual gathering of Presbyterian youth beyond the local congregation. New program models for adults (College Conference, Women’s Connection) reached beyond clergy and staff. Congregations continued to value the faith formation that is uniquely nurtured by retreats. A devoted cadre of staff, board members, volunteers, and donors connected the conference center to generous individuals, families, and congregations, such that fundraising meaningfully supports our capital development. The Montreat Fund and a growing endowment make possible important programs that infuse the church with vitality and subsidize our recreation and wilderness activities. One could argue that today more people think of Montreat as a place of surpassing importance in their respective spiritual, theological, and cultural narratives than ever before.
The new lodge would upgrade and expand our capacity to host guest groups considerably and would have a transformational impact on our ministry, but is not remotely a controversial or unprecedented idea in the context of Montreat’s historic use of land. The lodge does nothing to threaten Montreat’s essential character, and instead strengthens the conference center’s ability to preserve that character by providing hospitality to those who would venture here, reflecting missional commitments one can trace to the founding purposes of Montreat itself. Simply put, the proposed lodge represents a reasonable proposal for the continuation and expansion of our ministry.