I got in late last night – 2 a.m., to be exact – after attending a college conference at Montreat as a discussion group facilitator. Montreat is a 4,000-acre retreat center outside Asheville, North Carolina, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a beloved place for many folks that I know. (Click here for a hundred years of history.) I’d never been to Montreat before this week so my expectations were all over the place. One thing is for sure: I should’ve packed a better winter coat.
One of the first things I noticed upon getting my feet wet at Montreat was that I am indeed a whole generation apart from the attendees. I’m not sure why that fact didn’t register earlier in my brain, but when I did the math and realized that Jeremy is only six years younger than the college freshmen, while I am a solid twenty years older, it put the entire event into perspective. While we’re all still sorting out aspects of our faith and belief systems well into adulthood, most of these students are closer to the starting line. I remember that place. It’s both scary and beautiful.
As a board member at UKirk UTK and supporter of the retreat concept itself, I applied to be a group facilitator months ago along with my board co-chair. The fact that Nadia Bolz-Weber was one of the keynote speakers offered a slight pull. (I don’t identify as a Nadia groupie, which is a real thing, but I enjoy her perspective for the most part.)
And though I may be in the minority, I also enjoyed and appreciated the other keynote speaker, Jason Brown, former center for the St. Louis Rams, who spoke about his evangelical interpretation of John 3:16 and how leaving the NFL to start a farm to feed the hungry was an act of wild obedience.
As a discussion facilitator, my primary roll was to ask questions, to encourage discussion, and tuck little nuggets of thought into the brains of young people. I led them to no conclusions, minus two: 1) Loving one another is our greatest and hardest calling, and 2) Live in the tension between faith and doubt because that’s where growth happens.
The organizers of the conference made sure we were placed in groups with strangers, which meant no UTK students were in my group and none of group members knew one another prior to the event. Since I can be honest in my own internet space, I’ll tell you that some of the discussion remarks gave me pause. Some students said things I disagreed with, while a couple of students said things that worried me. A few said things that made me want to question aloud whether or not they had ever truly suffered. But I kept all those thoughts to myself and continued to give them an open floor to speak. That was my job, after all. I silently loved them through the disagreements, knowing full well that some of their – and my – hardcore tenets have yet to be tested.
The tests are coming though.
On the whole, I enjoyed my first experience at Montreat. I loved meeting other UKirk folks and I especially enjoyed getting to know our own UTK students a little better. I really do care for them. I want the world for them, and I’m happy to play the tiniest roll in their journey.
For now, I need a good nights’ sleep. A really good one. I need to get my boys back on track with school and I need a date with the hubs. This was a great way to start a new year. Cheers to 2016 and whatever it may hold.