Summer in Montreat

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Over the last couple of weeks, we at Montreat Conference Center have received and studied guidance and data from various sources in hopes that, when the time came, we could make informed decisions about the best path forward for our summer programs. That time has come, and so here is what we are planning to do:

  • We are moving our remaining youth conferences, scheduled for the weeks July 12th through August 8th, to an online format. We will hold no conference activities on campus. View the explanation.
  • Also in July, we will provide online resources to Middle School group leaders previously registered for our conference in Maryville, Tennessee. View the explanation.
  • We will accept bookings and reservations for June 12th and beyond at Assembly Inn and other lodging on a highly restricted basis for family and group retreats, and we are making our facilities available for those guests. View the explanation.
  • We expect that some facilities, including the Montreat Store and Ten Thousand Villages (which is already open online and offering curbside pick-up), will open to the public soon, but do not have a firm date as of yet. View the explanation.
  • The Assembly Inn Kitchen will resume its “Grab and Go – Heat and Eat” meal program the week of June 8th.
  • Later in summer, we are planning to make available to guests and residents some summer recreation and arts opportunities and facilities on a modified and highly restricted basis. View the explanation.
  • Our ten-week series of weekly worship services for the community, normally held in Anderson Auditorium, will begin online in June and be offered online for the entirety of the summer. View the explanation.
  • The adjusted structure and scope of these programs will necessitate the employment of a much smaller summer staff than we’d previously intended. View the explanation.

Here is what we will not be able to do:

  • We must cancel our summer clubs programming for children and youth of all ages. View the explanation.
  • We will be unable to host on Montreat Conference Center property all community events that would convene people in large numbers in spaces like Anderson Auditorium, Upper Anderson, The Barn, the Dunn Pavilion, and Convocation Hall. View the explanation.
  • We also must cancel our Fourth of July festivities and programming. View the explanation.
  • Many of our recreation and arts activities will only be able to serve limited numbers of people due to anticipated restrictions on gathering indoors and outdoors. View the explanation.

See below for more information on our decisions.

 

Summer Montreat Activities

These plans are effective immediately and are intended to extend through August 8th, pending further guidance and changing conditions during that time period. In each and every case, however, our plans and decisions were made looking through the lens of four questions in particular:

Can we carry out the program within current government health guidelines and in ways that minimize risk?

We have been guided in this area by 1) the succession of executive orders issued by the State of North Carolina, most recently Executive Order 141 on May 22nd and 2) similar restrictions and guidance from Buncombe County. Further, we’ve consulted with Town officials and medical authorities on a more informal but deliberate basis. Our conclusions from this review are that 1) groups of people and individuals who come to Montreat this summer should stay together and mix minimally with others, and that 2) social distancing and other recommended safety protocols must be observed. As we make plans to receive families, youth groups, and church retreats as guests, we must encourage activities that meet these criteria.

Can the program be delivered effectively under restricted circumstances?

With each program we have to consider whether doing a particular activity would make sense given accommodations we’d have to make in terms of participation, social distancing, and other guidelines. We reviewed carefully the American Camp Association guidelines as well as interim guidance from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services regarding Day Camps and Overnight Camps.

In a time of severe financial restrictions, can we afford to provide the program?

We already anticipate the possibility that we will need reserve funds to cover expenses in the current fiscal year. We cannot run programs that would increase the chances of a further depletion of our reserves.

Can we provide the program with minimal staff support?

In a typical summer season, the conference center brings an additional 125 people to support summer activities. They work, live, and play in close proximity to each other. We’re working this year to minimize the size of summer staff and therefore the risk of spread to and among our summer staff.

We believe that these plans and decisions establish appropriate guardrails to provide good programming and opportunities for fellowship in Montreat while mitigating risk to participants and the community. As you learn more, keep in mind that these plans could change, depending upon the evolving conditions of the coronavirus here and elsewhere. We will continue to monitor the data and guidance of the authorities and will continue to consult with the Town of Montreat and with medical professionals. We reserve the right to further restrict or cancel programs as necessary as the summer proceeds.

In other words, we will confront each new day with as much agility and patience as we can possibly muster. We invite each of you to embrace that spirit with us, confident as we are that God is with us all during this time of uncertainty and change. Our board, staff, and volunteers continue to be guided by our commitments to service and hospitality even under these limited conditions, and to keep you informed as we go. Bless you all for your ongoing support and encouragement.

More to come!


Youth Conference

As we did for our youth conferences in June, we’re moving content for our remaining youth conference programming online, adjusting to provide leadership, content, and activities appropriate for a streaming format. Even though conditions have improved in North Carolina and we know more than we did a month ago, we simply cannot convene youth together in numbers in Anderson Auditorium, nor can we proceed with our small group format. Even if the guidelines from the state relax sufficiently in time to permit these types of activities, we judge that full conferences on our campus just wouldn’t be safe for staff, volunteers, and participants.

Middle School Conference

As we did for our youth conferences in June, we’re moving content for our remaining youth and middle school conference programming to an online dashboard, adjusting to provide leadership, content, and activities appropriate for groups at home. Our staff and conference planning team have determined that we can provide programming for this age group that will work well for middle school groups and individuals.

Group Retreats

Church groups, families and individuals will be allowed to make reservations at Montreat lodges, including Assembly Inn, this summer. Lodging will be limited so that the conference center can meet the occupancy requirements and social distancing guidelines for lodging facilities and restaurants recommended by the State of North Carolina and Buncombe County.

Guests will be able to participate in recreational and arts events held on our campus. We will require that all groups honor applicable guidelines and restrictions for gathering indoors and outdoors set forth by the State of North Carolina. We will strongly advise our guests to spend time only with each other and to maintain social distancing while in Montreat.

Recreation and Arts Programs and Facilities

Open and available for use on a first-come basis
  • The Montreat wilderness area and hiking trails
  • Tennis courts
  • Monkey Bottoms

These three recreation areas have been reopened for several weeks. They require minimal staffing and support. Users are cautioned to observe social distancing guidelines at all times. We do plan to bring a team of rangers to lead community hikes and perform trail maintenance to Montreat later in the summer. We plan to staff the tennis courts in July.

Opening July 12th
  • The swimming pool
  • Paddle boats and canoes at Lake Susan

These activities and facilities require a greater degree of staffing and require that their areas and equipment remain sanitized. Under our current staffing plan, we expect to open these facilities during the second half of the summer. Access to these activities will be scheduled, limited, and monitored to ensure appropriate social distancing and that safe practices are followed by all participants and staff at all times.

Opening by reservation beginning in June
  • The Sally Jones Pottery and Currie Craft Center

These facilities will have limited capacity and will require greater attention to sanitation and distancing, particularly since some activities take place indoors. Beginning June 16, limited-capacity glass making and sewing classes will be offered in the Currie Craft Center. Beginning July 6, limited-capacity pottery classes will be offered in the Sally Jones Pottery. Access to these activities will be scheduled, limited, and monitored to ensure appropriate social distancing and that safe practices are followed by all participants and staff at all times.

Closed for the summer
  • Bill Wilde Youth Center
  • Dunn Pavilion

These facilities require onsite staff support. More importantly, available data suggests that indoor recreation activities and exercise represent a significant risk to participants and staff for a variety of reasons. We plan, therefore, to keep these facilities closed to the public for the summer.

Still closed but pending
  • Robert Lake Park
  •  Montreat Campground

Robert Lake Park remains closed because play equipment is considered a significant risk to children and their families. We may reopen Robert Lake Park as government guidance evolves during the summer, but we do not expect a change in current restrictions before June 26th.

As we learn more about mitigating the risks associated with community showers and bathrooms, we will likely open the Montreat Campground at some point.

Summer Staff

Our reconfigured programming and summer ambitions will require a limited number of summer staff to help us implement successfully. To that end, we are reaching out to each summer staffer who was previously hired to determine their willingness and ability to participate. In considering their options, summer staffers should keep in mind that:

  • Roles and responsibilities are subject to change, and may be altered by your supervisor on a daily basis.
  • While some staffers will perform duties that largely align with their original job descriptions, duties may differ to some extent or even entirely.
  • All staffers will be expected to accept any reasonable assignment, including those that promote and protect the safety of each other and our community.
  • Guidelines and restrictions governing behavior and social interactions will be adjusted to include appropriate covenants for social distancing and gatherings. Each staff member will be required to agree to these additional terms.

Finding lodging for every summer staffer in a way that minimizes risk will be a key factor in determining whether this summer is a good fit for each potential member of staff.

Summer Worship

We remain committed to joining in worship as a community for prayer and praise each Sunday morning this summer. The 2020 Summer Worship Series in Montreat begins online and live with Trinity Sunday on June 7th at 10:30 a.m. All preachers previously scheduled have agreed to participate in sustaining and supporting the worship life of our community this summer. We have not ruled out some in-person attendance later in the summer, but our worship team is already planning ten wonderful services regardless.

You may view the list of our ten summer preachers and other details about summer worship here.

Clubs Programs

Several factors informed our decision to cancel traditional clubs programs this summer, principal among them our effort to determine whether widespread testing would be available in Western North Carolina for the summer months. Based on the best available information, we do not believe that will be the case.

Further, we looked at the structure of daily clubs, which gather hundreds of youth and children for several hours each weekday throughout the summer season. While statistically speaking the participants of these programs may face little risk of contracting COVID-19, it is fairly obvious to us that, in daily mixing with each other and with families around the valley, even a few Clubbies could become significant vectors for spread of the virus in the valley. Try as we might – allowing for close staff supervision, social distancing and other mitigating practices, available facilities, and a reduced enrollment – we simply could not design a quality clubs program that met standards for minimal risk.

Community Activities and Events

Under the current circumstances, we believe that the large-scale gatherings that typify a Montreat summer would provide significant vectors for community spread of COVID-19. To cite one example, close your eyes and imagine a “Friday Night at the Barn.” Even if current government restrictions would allow such an activity, the enclosed space and tight bathrooms, the diverse mix of the crowd, and especially the very nature of a good square dance make this activity potentially dangerous for participants and our community.

Sadly, therefore, we will be unable to host these gatherings that in a normal summer do such a wonderful job of bringing our community together. Traditional events that would convene people in large numbers – like square dances, Summer Club gatherings, The Montreat Cottagers activities – will not be held. Requests for the use of Anderson Auditorium, Upper Anderson, The Barn, and Convocation Hall will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis but will generally not be available for public use.

Fourth of July Parade and Celebrations

For many decades the parade has attracted thousands of residents and visitors to the Town of Montreat each year. Unfortunately, when viewed through the lenses we are using to evaluate programs in the time of COVID, the parade fails just about every test. We have consulted with our friends at the Town of Montreat and they concur that the threat to public safety could be significant. While it is painful to interrupt this decades-long tradition, this year that is what we must do.

Conversations are ongoing about other appropriate ways to celebrate the holiday in Montreat this year.