In the midst of current programming and planning for the upcoming summer, I’ve suddenly found myself in a new conversation entirely as news has broken locally that the Montreat Conference Center is in a conceptual design phase to construct a new lodge on Assembly Drive.
Specifically, the proposal our board has been discussing – and approved in concept at its November meeting – calls for the redevelopment of a portion of our campus currently occupied by three lodges – Galax, Chestnut, and the Lord Apartments – that are outdated for their current use. The new conceptual design proposes replacing those three lodges with a new, larger lodge that would expand the number of conference and retreat guests we can host and enable the conference center to bring more people to Montreat.
On one level, there is nothing remarkable about the conference center’s desire and ongoing work to improve its lodging facilities. The proposed site for this plan involves property that is already being used for this purpose – the lodging of conference center guests who wish to visit Montreat. That the conference center should seek to update, expand, and improve its facilities to serve its mission is an enduring condition in the valley as old as Montreat itself.
On another level, however, the new lodge project IS a remarkable step forward as a Montreat lodge. As currently conceived, the plan would not only increase the number of guests who can stay in our housing for conferences and retreats; it would also directly improve the quality of our programming in myriad ways. Further, remember that the cost of just about everything the conference center provides in Montreat – from conferences to square dances to clubs and recreation programming and on and on – is subsidized and supported by the revenue the conference center earns from paying conferees and retreat guests. The new lodge project will stabilize our financial foundations significantly, providing a real return not just to those who stay there but to everyone who participates in our life in the valley.
So why am I suddenly in this new conversation? As conceptual planning turned to schematic design work in January, I began reaching out to adjacent neighbors to notify them and discuss their questions and concerns. That initial outreach has sparked a range of reactions, including good constructive feedback from some and adamant opposition from others. As such, we expect to continue to solicit feedback and to incorporate good suggestions into the designs as our plans move forward.
Looking ahead, our board meets on March 15, at which point we will discuss the ongoing feedback, vet our architects’ updated designs, and consider alternatives, some of which come directly from neighbor feedback. Our board is committed to taking whatever appropriate steps are necessary to make the best informed decision on our plans.
For those who wish to know more, stay tuned. Beginning today, I will be posting regular community updates in this space, and there will be further opportunities for community input before final decisions are made. I won’t speculate on where these plans will land, but I’m looking forward to the day I can share our excitement about the new lodge and the ways it promises to serve Montreat and the church for generations.
That brings me to the final level of this conversation. Among the many traditions and customs that make up Montreat’s history and heritage, the most enduring and important is simply a shared understanding that Montreat exists to offer widespread welcome and hospitality to all who come through the Gate. We believe in the power of Jesus Christ to reveal Himself and His purposes in this thin place to all who journey here. Our opportunity is to advance and grow that mission to serve the world in the present day and in the years ahead as faithfully as we always have.
My own view is that this lodge project closely follows the tradition of our founding purposes, and my prayer is that the conversations about this lodge will reveal new opportunities for an abundant life together and renew our communal understanding of what makes Montreat the unique gift from God that it is.
More to come!