When I was a teenager I attended the Montreat Worship and Music conference every year. Literally every year from the time I was a rising sixth grader until I was a rising senior in High School, and then two more years after that as a young adult chaperone. People who have never been to Montreat don’t understand the magnetic pull it has on the soul. And even those who’ve been to the campus but haven’t experienced a conference have yet to taste Montreat for all its goodness and soul-thirst quenching worth. Riding through the gates is like entering a realm set between heaven and earth. The summer air is clean and cool, like it’s morning all day long. The creek is audible from just about anywhere on campus. The mountains stretch high above like sentinels looking over the pilgrims seeking retreat from the world below. Even the rain falls fresh and lovely; welcomes pause for a sleepy nod.
I was once asked following my first or second Montreat getaway what was the most impactful element in my retreat experience (bear in mind I was 12). I said without hesitation, “the girls”! Yes, there was that too, and my youthful vigor and delight in singing and making music with a hundred girls my age was definitely a drawing card. I sang soprano and alto for my first several years of Junior High Choir… But as the years went by, and my experiences stacked up, I found myself paying more attention to the speakers and the worship. I found myself learning the hymns of the “new” blue hymnal, and I learned about SATB singing while standing beside our organist Pam Cobaugh during worship; I was forever changed by her beautiful alto voice. I was moved by the communion intinction services. I’ll never forget Thomas Troeger dancing across the stage in his flowing robe while teaching on the “wind” of the Holy Spirit. I was inspired by “Christmas in June”. I was humored by the antics of Darryl Cluck, yet challenged by his call to live out my faith in a culture that seeks to suppress it. The small groups gave space for my questions, and my back home groups gave foundation for the answers. I began singing tenor, and eventually bass! All this in a place set aside to draw me closer to the Living God; and it worked!
Our teens are departing for Montreat this Saturday for their very first Youth Conference. My prayer for them is that their eyes will be opened to the incredible plans God has for their lives. Like their lives, Montreat is just a moment in time. Yet when God graces our time together with His presence something celestial happens. That moment in time becomes a memory that forms a building block in the foundation of our faith. My prayer for them is for new eyes with which to see the world; that they come to understand the sweetness of relationship with Jesus, and His call to them to be extensions of His love to a people that yet need to know Him.