A few days ago, while sifting through a box of Montreat keepsakes, I came across an LP recording that I recognized instantly: “Square Dancing In The Blue Ridge Mountains” by the Toe River Valley Boys.
The album, I believe, deserved its keepsake status because its bluegrass music had accompanied the square dances that my home church once hosted for local youth on Friday nights during my early teen years. My father, our church’s minister, organized these dances and invited the youth groups of other congregations to join us (the dancing congregations, at least). On those Friday nights, our fellowship hall filled with friends from school, a few of whom probably didn’t attend church much at all. Dad served as the caller while the Toe River Valley Boys’ record served up classic tunes through Caliphone speakers.
My father isn’t inclined to lead musical activities, yet years of square dancing in Montreat had given him the idea that he could not only lead a dance, but teach it, too, and so he did just that. As I lingered on the memory, I thought about the Bannerman and Wilson families and the Stoney Creek Boys, and about all the recreation leadership here. I was reminded again of how Montreat shapes the church – the Presbyterian Church, and the whole church – and how leadership here becomes leadership in local congregations.
This weekend we will celebrate Independence Day much as we usually do, and we will think of many ways to feel grateful. Tonight, we’re dancing on the tennis courts, and we’ll take a moment to mark the absence of Glenn and Evelyn Bannerman and to feel grateful for their steadfast contributions over so many decades. This is as it should be, and yet, like Glenn and Evelyn, there are many others in our community who have died from COVID-19 and related causes since last we were gathered together to worship, learn, recreate, and relax together. There are millions more who have died worldwide. This year it’s appropriate amidst the gratitude to set a time as a community to remember all those who have been lost.
On Wednesday evening, July 7th, all are welcome to gather at Lake Susan for a brief service at 9:00 p.m. as the sun goes down. The service is being held to remember all those who have died from Covid-19. In preparation, Montreaters of all ages have created and will install hundreds of lanterns around the lake. Those attending at nine will be invited to hold a candle, and we will spend time in song and in prayer.
The Toe River Valley Boys’ album and their music reminded me of Montreat’s influence on the world. COVID is a reminder of the converse, that the world changes Montreat, too. Of course, this is as it must be – and what good would Montreat be to the world, otherwise? So it feels right to pause and remember with grief and gratitude those who are gone, and to remember how we are called to live:
“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”Romans 14:7-8 (NRSV)
Hope to see you around the lake on Wednesday evening.
Montreat Conference Center