I’ve always been amused by how the mind plays tricks with the passage of time. Some rich, dense experiences seem to slow time to a standstill – “I know I just got here last Monday but I feel I’m a completely different person.” Of course, some memories carry the realization that time is ever so fleeting – “It seems like just yesterday she was taking her first steps, and now she’s graduating.” These days, however competing senses of time have been reconciled; nothing seems like it happened “just yesterday” anymore.
And yet, the New Year always brings the opportunity to reset expectations, to open up the windows and invite inside the expectation that the new year will bring better days. If we can’t always wish those better days into existence, we can at least consciously beckon them forward! I have a friend who ritually says out loud on each New Year’s Day, “I think it’s going to be an outstanding year,” as if to will such experiences into existence.
That’s the spirit our leadership team is taking into 2021 and it’s the spirit we’re adopting when we address the question everyone who loves Montreat seems to be asking: What’s the summer going to be like this year?
Because the conference center’s fiscal year begins on May 1st, the winter months habitually include a good bit of forecasting, planning, and finalizing a budget for the coming year. Prudence and caution are always warranted and, of course, this year especially so. Still, we are optimistically planning for a year that we expect will be demonstrably better from the one just passed. That means that we are actively meeting with planning teams for upcoming conferences. We are seeking summer staff applications and accepting conference registrations and housing reservations. In summary, we’re for budgeting for a return to normal – or at least to semi-normal – activities, programs, and mission.
What’s the summer going to be like this year? The answer is that we still really don’t know, of course; the power of positive thinking extends only so far. We can, however, make Montreat ready for the best possible outcomes while preparing for alternatives, and so that’s what we’ve decided to do. Below are some important dates that you might want to consider:
- 2/13: Webinar on Celtic Spirituality with John Phillip Newell
- 4/15-4/18: Spiritual Formation with Columbia Theological Seminary (online)
- 5/3-5/8: Arts, Recreation, and Worship (ARW)
- 6/6-8/7: Montreat Youth Conferences
- 6/20-6/25 & 6/27-7/2: Worship & Music 1 & 2
- 7/6-7/9: PASSport Kids
- 7/15-7/17: Middle School Conference
- 8/13-8/15: Women’s Connection
Find out more about each events by going to www.montreat.org/events
The pandemic continues to be a force beyond our control and will likely place some limitations on our highest hopes. In the face of our current uncertainties and difficulties, optimism can seem like a foolish lark. If anything, however, our experiences over the last year have taught us not only about the precious fragility of life but also something about our capacity for resilience as a people, as a church, and as a nation. The coming year will demand that we employ what we’ve learned even as we continue to stretch through new challenges. As we grieve the present circumstances, our charge is to look forward and to rely on forecasts for the year which include the possibility of a late spring or early summer return to a more normal life together. We’ve built up and renewed muscles for adapting as to what lies ahead. Buckle up – I think it’s going to be an outstanding year!
Many of you have also raised questions about how the conference center continues to weather the financial impact of the pandemic. We are fortunate in that there has been much to celebrate. Montreaters everywhere have responded to our calls for support with unprecedented generosity, for example, and the Montreat Fund is currently running well ahead of last year’s record pace. Further, we received a second round of funding last week from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in the form of a loan of $634,100. (Students of PPP might be wondering whether we applied under the hospitality provisions of the program, which might have entitled us to greater relief. We did not, reasoning that while our hospitality programs certainly serve the heart of our mission, Montreat is not just a ministry of hospitality.) Meanwhile, the first loan of PPP funding, which we received last spring, has been forgiven. Blessings like these as well as some significant austerity in spending have enabled us to stay open and to continue to offer programming, online and otherwise, as we are able.
Nevertheless, we’ve also had to borrow from reserves for the first time in almost two decades, and we expect to end the year with a deficit. I confess that the notion of running monthly deficits and borrowing from reserves strikes such a dissonant chord with our Board and management team that we have vowed not to get used to it. Restoring those reserves will be a key emphasis of our fundraising efforts as we begin to climb out of COVID in the months ahead. If there were ever a year that demonstrated how important unrestricted reserves are to the conference center’s continued vitality, 2020 was it.
I’ve written before that “leading Montreat right now is like piloting a plane on a moonless night. We’ve hit some turbulence, but our instruments confirm we’re stable, and have some fuel in reserve…Now, if someone could just tell us how far away the airport is, we’d be grateful.” Last week a friend emailed me and asked if I had started “looking for a cornfield to land your plane in.” The answer was a rather fortunate “no”; our heading remains fixed on a point of the horizon where, we have faith, dawn will be breaking.
More to come,