Walking on the grounds for Montreat Youth Conferences is like coming home. Home is never perfect, home has it quirks and home always is better to the members of the household than to those on the outside. Still, this home is also a place where – believe it or not – I enjoy a little nature, I have become friends with folks from across the US and feel like folks are transformed in order to do some good work in the world.
For those of you who have been part of this institution over the years you know the critiques:
- Most of the kids are southern White folks;
- It is not a cheap event to attend;
- It has the aura of "this is where God" lives;
After attending this event in all capacities for about 12 of the last 16 years, there is some truth in each of these concerns, but I have seen and experienced a real effort to change the realities and perceptions of Montreat Youth Conferences.
But enough of that . . . this year is different for me. I come back to the place without a role or an identity beyond that of Robin’s husband or that guy chasing down those three adorable little girls. I am not complaining as this is totally intentional, but it IS different. In past years I was the "Keynoter" or was "the guy who preached last year." While certainly there are some places where my ego would love to be recognized for eternity for a few good runs of keynoting or preaching, overall I LOVE the fact that the only thing that has remained constant have been the relationships that have been made.
While I will never doubt the impact that we can have on the 1000+ young people that gather here each week through our service as leadership, I think that the most important aspect of leadership here is to provide a spark upon which relationships can be built. I have seen this done by folks who don’t simply hold their attention but masterfully open up new areas of faith, challenge folks to stretch and provide meaningful ways to continue to engage in the journey beyond this particular mountain top experience.
By far, the biggest joy of being at Montreat are these wonderful relationships that have been formed over the years centered on the Montreat Youth Conference experience. Just the first day after being away for a few years, I am reunited with such great folks as Kathryn, David, Ashley, Steve, Bruce, another Bruce, April, George, Wanda, Jeff, Kerri, Bob, Loli, Bob, one more Jeff, Cristy, Vi and I am sure many more before the weeks are over.
So for a few weeks I am at my North Carolina home. Home, but hanging at The Dripolator Coffee House. Home, but getting the girls to and from camp. Home, but throwing some pottery. Yes . . . it’s good to be home.