A little over a year ago, in the early days of the pandemic, we were sorting through unprecedented challenges at the conference center on an almost daily basis. In the midst of the highest days of anxiety, I particularly remember some members of our staff chuckling over a strangely comforting thought:
Someday, long after this is over, somebody is going to rush into your office one day in a panic and announce, “We have a BIG problem!” And you’ll remember the pandemic, and you’ll just look up and smile a little bit, and you’ll think to yourself: Oh yeah? I’ll bet it’s not THAT big a deal!
As the summer of 2021 dawns there is so much to feel thankful for that I’m tempted to believe that the imagined future of a year ago has already arrived. I’m ready for all future challenges to feel minuscule by comparison. The truth? We’re not quite there yet.
Yes, many of the conference center’s summer programs will proceed on schedule this year. After so much online programming and physical distancing, we are ready to be together. Many traditional and elemental activities that make up a Montreat summer are returning:
- Clubs and Child Care are opening June 7th and continuing through August 6th.
- Youth Conferences are beginning June 6th and continuing through August 7th.
- Sunday worship series are starting on June 6th at 10:30 in Anderson Auditorium and continuing through August 8th.
- Two weeks of Worship and Music Conferences will commence on June 21st.
- Recreation opportunities including public hikes, crafting classes at the Currie Craft Center and Sally Jones Pottery, the pool, boats, and tennis courts will all open on a normal summer schedule.
- We are glad that we will be dancing again! More on that below.
To support these endeavors, we are welcoming a summer staff of nearly one hundred young people. Further, some summer activities that involve community partners are in planning stages, including Friday night square dances, and the Independence Day Parade. For all of this, I say simply, thanks be to God!
When asked in recent weeks I’ve reported that we’re imagining something like “a sixty percent” return to normal. That means specifically a sixty percent return to normal conference attendance and participation in most activities, but it also means generally a sixty percent return to normal in the way we traditionally carry out our programs.
When the CDC and authorities in North Carolina loosened mask mandates and social distancing requirements in the state a few weeks ago for many venues and circumstances, we all rejoiced. At the same time, recommendations for camps remained more stringent than those for most endeavors, as health authorities cautioned that activities involving intergenerational participation – and particularly unvaccinated, younger populations – should remain more vigilant. We’re going to follow the more stringent guidelines until further notice, in large part because each of the wonderful activities bulleted above serves significant numbers of young people who are vulnerable to the coronavirus as summer begins. Therefore, until further notice:
- All staff, conferees, and participants in conference center programs and activities will continue to wear masks indoors in each place that supports our intergenerational programs, including the Assembly Inn, Anderson Auditorium, the Montreat Store, and all meeting spaces.
- We will be maximizing use of our outdoor spaces this summer, reducing the length of time spent indoors, and using precautions when we are indoors. Science has formed a consensus that it’s very, very rare to contract COVID outdoors. Conferees and participants, therefore, will not be required to wear masks outdoors except in crowds or in circumstances stipulated as high-risk situations.
- While scientists once believed people could get COVID-19 by touching a surface that had the virus on it, we now know that the chances of contracting the disease this way are vanishingly small. Still, there are still lots of great reasons to keep your hands clean, and so hand sanitizer will remain available around our campus.
We are grateful that the vaccines’ real-world/post-trial experience has been as effective as the trial data indicated they would be, and also that the vaccines have been shown to be effective at preventing people from transmitting the virus to others. We are further grateful that some ninety percent of our staff members for the coming summer are reporting having already received their vaccinations. Yet with so many people coming in and out of our programs daily, it would be logistically impossible to require the sizable number of unvaccinated participants who will be here to mask and social distance from each other. To summarize, the camp guidelines continue to encourage masks and other protective measures indoors for intergenerational populations like ours, and so that’s what we’re going to do.
We recognize that in hewing to more restrictive guidelines than you will find at your local Home Depot, we are asking for further patience from you and from each other. We know especially that the young ones among us will find some of these requirements unnecessary and difficult to understand. Especially, we know that you won’t necessarily memorize or carry around with you our list of do’s and don’ts, and may be left wondering at times what you’re supposed to do. When in doubt, my advice is to just use good judgment and grant the utmost consideration to your neighbor on the next pew, at the next table, or in the next line.
Finally, if despite your efforts you still worry that some continuing modest restrictions will threaten your enjoyment of a particular activity, perhaps you should do what I plan to do. I’m not going to compare anything this summer to a normal summer. Rather, I’m going to compare the summer of 2021 to the summer of 2020. I’ve got a hunch that the challenges we will face in the coming weeks just aren’t THAT big a deal!
Perhaps no two events have prompted more questions about the coming summer than our plans for square dancing and hopes for activities around the July 4th weekend, the parade in particular. Both of these activities are dearly loved by all of us, and both involve broad community participation. Because these events are intergenerational and can be crowded, extra attention has been given to plan them carefully, with several adjustments made to promote safety and enjoyment for all. (In fact, it’s important to note that even the plans that I’m sharing below may require further adjustment as the summer progresses.)
We are all excited that Friday Night Big Circle Mountain Dancing will resume its rightful place as an integral activity of the Montreat community this summer. Here are the new basics:
- Dates: Dances will begin June 18 and continue weekly through August 6.
- Time: Dances will begin at 7 p.m. and end by 9 p.m.
- Place: Dancing will take place on the tennis courts at the Bill Wilde Youth Center.
- Those attending the dance inside the fence will be asked to wear a mask and soft-soled shoes. (No boots!) We will be reminding you of these requests at the gate as necessary.
Likewise we are planning for an Independence Day celebration on the first weekend in July. Here are some important notes about this year’s activities:
- We will celebrate Independence Day on Saturday, July 3rd.
- The parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. on July 3rd.
- Games on Moore Center Field begin at 2:00 p.m. later that day.
- The Big Circle Mountain Dance for that weekend will take place on Friday, July 2nd on the tennis courts. There will not be a square dance on Saturday night, July 3rd.
- We will worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 4th in Anderson Auditorium.
Again, the plans announced here are based on what we know today. I want to express my gratitude to our staff, to the Bannerman family and the Stoney Creek Boys, and to all of our volunteers who contributed to these plans and who make these events such a wonderful part of our summer experience in Montreat.
Other important information:
- The Huckleberry is not serving food this summer but instead will be the central space for some community events around Montreat during the summer.
- As for information distribution, you should pick up a copy of the This Summer in Montreat flyer for information about summer hours and other important details. On that flyer, you will also find links to This Week In Montreat, our weekly newsletter, which will be online this year. You can also find This Week in Montreat and other vital information by downloading our app (https://my.yapp.us/MONTREAT). The Montreat app is a great way to stay connected to upcoming events and Montreat news.
- The Galax Dining Room will only be available for conferees and staff Monday through Saturday but WILL be open for Sunday lunch.
More to come!
Montreat Conference Center