Greetings from Montreat! I’m writing this morning to provide you updates on happenings this spring and on preparations for another busy summer in the valley.
The MRA Board of Directors/Trustees met in March to consider matters both routine and forward-thinking. The Board heard the staff’s report on the fiscal year 2018-2019, which concluded on April 30th. Once the books are finalized we expect to have achieved a small operating surplus thanks to strong performance from the summer of 2018 against budgeted expectations. The Board also passed a $7.9 million budget for 2019-2020, in which staff is forecasting slight increases in annual revenue and expense.
The Board’s strategic discussions – for the second consecutive meeting – focused increasingly on three program initiatives that are emerging as points of emphasis of our ongoing programming. The three areas of increased focus are:
Improvements to Youth Conferences: Increasingly in recent years we are discovering a need to provide additional training for conference leadership and small group leaders to support their efforts. Specifically, conference leaders and youth are asking for more assistance in developing sharing and listening skills for difficult topics that inevitably arise, particularly in small group and back-home group settings. This year’s budget will allocate more than $30,000 to increase the number of volunteers who are supporting small group interactions, and provide them training for these important roles. We expect this to be a continuing funding need going forward.
Programs that promote vitality in local congregations: Over the past two years, the conference center has launched two programs geared specifically to respond to identified needs in churches by training and supporting clergy and lay leaders. The two initiatives are 1) a Young Adult Ministry Initiative, designed to train “Initiators” to help churches engage young adults, that illusive but important cohort in our midst, and 2) the Stewardship Cohort, to support local churches that need to – and want to – enhance their own funding strategies, including annual stewardship campaigns. Both of these programs rely heavily on building cohorts of motivated teams who share a sense of urgency around their respective topic. Both programs are in their second year, and the exciting sense of accountability and common purpose building among these groups is encouraging us to consider “church vitality” programming as a larger, bolder initiative for the conference center.
Adult programming for individuals: The Board heard a report from Carol Steele on adult programming, which is increasingly partnering with outside groups and organizing committees who share passion for particular topics. Carol cited two examples of the new model that are being conducted this fall. In October, the conference center is sponsoring “CoInspire: Liberating Imagination, Eviscerating Racism” with Jessica Vazquez Torres serving as convener and leader of the planning committee. This conference represents a follow-up to the DisGrace conference of 2016. In November, the Presbyterian Heritage Center is presenting “C.S. Lewis: Influence and Relevance Today.” In different ways both conferences are led by planning teams working with more agency and independence than is afforded by our traditional planning model.
All of these initiatives, and their future, rely on major gifts from individuals and churches.
Youth Conference registrations are lagging as they have all year. Our budgeted goal of 5,150 is still in our sights but is now at the optimistic end of our expectations. Our pipeline of prospective new registrations remains strong and so timing may be the largest factor in current performance. As always, we won’t know final numbers until the final hour.
In other conference news, we are encouraged that almost 300 women are registered for our Women’s Connection conference. Valarie Kaur, a seasoned civil rights activist, award-winning filmmaker, lawyer, faith leader, and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, is our keynote speaker. Jenny McDevitt, senior pastor and head of staff at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, is our preacher, and Amy Grant, singer-songwriter, author, television host, and speaker, will make an appearance as a special guest.
After a winter of waiting, the further renovation of Robert Lake Park has begun. From the beginning, the renovation timeline was slowed considerably by the need to acquire the necessary clearances to begin the work, by delays in the process to procure plans acceptable to the relevant authorities, and then by the necessary haggling to finalize the projected budget. The park was closed and construction commenced on April 29th, with an expected completion by mid-June, a date wholly dependent (perhaps “Holy” dependent?) on a relatively dry May.
Finally, I want to extend my appreciation to all who were able to participate in the 2018-2019 Montreat Fund, which surpassed its budget goal of $900,000 on April 30th. For a second year donors have pushed the Montreat Fund to a record amount received on a budgetary basis. Beyond record totals, the far more important story is that donors continue to fund a ministry that reaches thousands of people through worship, recreation, and programming. Again, thanks!
In summary, we are grateful for our work here, and that Christ is alive, “saving, healing, here and now, and touching every place and time.” It is indeed an enriching and rewarding time to be a part of this ministry, and as I look forward to summer, I send grateful thanks to you all for your continuing engagement with Montreat and for all of the ways you are supporting this special place.