As it has been for many institutions and individuals, planning for the future with our leadership team at the Montreat Conference Center has been a challenge over the past few months.
Looking back on the summer, there is much to celebrate. The presence of COVID in the valley was minimal. Online conferences were well received, as were the recreation activities we were able to make available. The Montreat Fund has continued its momentum of the previous fiscal year, which saw a record number of gifts and donors. At the same time our program modifications took a toll on revenues overall, and so we must continue to make significant budget adjustments and rely on reserves as necessary.
With this unprecedented season behind us, we look ahead and, like everyone else, face continued uncertainty in the near term. Over the latter half of July and into August, our team engaged in planning for various scenarios that may unfold over the next twelve months, and finally settled on the following:
- We expect to host an increasing flow of individual and personal Sabbath experiences at our facilities this fall. (See further details below.)
- Fall conferences will experiment with hybrid models that combine in-person and online convening.
- Church groups will begin attending retreats again, in smaller numbers at first and growing slowly thereafter.
- We are imagining that our constituency will continue to respond generously to the Montreat Fund and other appeals.
- Notably, we are planning for a full conference schedule for the summer of 2021.
These are assumptions, not predictions. This week, we received good news when North Carolina moved to “Phase 2.5” of its reopening plan. Still, we don’t know how the coronavirus is ultimately to be contained or tamed, nor do we know the timing or character of further economic recovery (and regarding both, we are skeptical of those who claim to know). I’ve analogized to many that leading in this environment is like flying a well-built plane, fortified with reasonable-but-not-boundless supplies of fuel. Now, if you could just tell me how long the trip is going to last, I’d be grateful.
We still have to fly the plane, though, and with purpose. While the bullets above describe a future that is subject to unpredictable variables, in our planning meetings we’ve learned that the horizon is too vast to imagine every possible destination (and flying in circles would accomplish nothing). Instead, we’ve set a heading based on that vision, mindful that our journey may not proceed in a straight line and that course corrections will be necessary.
On Wednesday, our staff leadership hosted a Zoom call with our Board of Directors to discuss our plans and perspective. The good discussion, questions, and firm affirmations of commitment served as only the latest reminder of how well-endowed the conference center is with resources that truly matter: staff, volunteers, donors, and friends… people who love Montreat as well as a fifteen-year track record of financial stewardship. They serve as a reminder of the conviction we share that this ministry does have such an important role to play both in the present and in whatever future comes our way.