This week I’m at the Montreat Youth Conference at the Montreat Conference Center in Black Mountain, NC. I’m here with 6 youth (4 freshman, 1 junior and 1 senior) and 2 adult advisors from Colesville Presbyterian Church in Silver Spring, MD where I serve as the general associate pastor. We’re staying on the second floor of Assembly Inn, the conference center’s main lodging year-round.
When I was a youth from 1990-1994 my home church of Shades Valley Presbyterian in Birmingham and other churches in the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley stayed on the second floor of Assembly Inn three of those four years (the exception being my junior year when we were in the Winsborough, another lodge on the campus).
Although I’ve attended Montreat Youth Conferences as an adult advisor 7 times since my youth days, it’s been 14 years since I stayed in Assembly Inn. Once I entered the hallway on the second floor late Sunday afternoon, my mind traveled back even farther to when I was a 9th grader attending my first youth conference. I remembered hanging out with friends in the hallways which, with the exception of some fresh paint and updated wood paneling, still look the same. As I passed by the small wicker couch that sits atop the stairs and in the breezeway of the two 2nd floor wings, I immediately recalled a picture I have of me, Amy Van Emst and Kath Potts. Sitting here in the room, I can’t help but remember the friends that I had in my youth group at Shades Valley and at Southminster Pres, Independent Pres and Mountain Brook Pres.
All of us, despite going to different churches and schools in the Birmingham area, hung out a lot in those days. And not just on Sunday nights or retreats or Montreat. We spent time together on the weekends, going to movies, chilling out at people’s houses, shopping at the mall, playing in the park, and sitting in our church parking lots discovering the taste of canned beer, spin the bottle and the fun of watching stars as you swung as high as possible on the playground swing.
Some of the friends of my youth and young adulthood have died unexpectedly over the years like Kathy Potts. I’ve been thinking about her a lot these past couple of days. Her spirit is definitely in Assembly Inn and all through Montreat. I can see her laughing in the hallway or sitting on one of the beds listening to other friends play guitar very much like I see youth from other churches doing today.
Passing by one of the rooms earlier today, I heard a couple of guys from one church playing guitar as their friends, guys and girls, sitting around listening, laughing and telling stories. I grinned to myself and thought, “It’s good to see that some things don’t ever change.” And at the same time, I was amazed at how much had changed, how much time had passed, since I was a youth sitting with my friends in one of these rooms listening to the sound of guitars, singing worship and 60s rock songs, and anticipating all of the wonder that the theme and activities would bring into our lives.
I still carry that same anticipationg but the perspective has changed. As an adult conferee, I anxiously wait to see how God’s presence at Montreat transforms the youth I bring here and how that will then change me and mold my own faith.
This particular week and theme, “Throw Open the Doors,” seems particularly significant considering the doors Elizabeth and I have thrown open the past two months. At 1:29 am on June 1, I threw open the door to the waiting room at Shady Grove Hospital in Rockville, MD, and announced to Elizabeth’s parents that our daughter Katie had come into the world. A few days later, Elizabeth and I, along with our moms, threw opened the door to our apartment to welcome Katie to her new home. That same week, we also shared with our congregations (Elizabeth is the youth director at Rockville Pres) that God was calling us to throw open the doors of the church and leave the places where we’ve been for three years to journey South toward home and the opening of doors in a new church and community. And once we arrive in the Southland we hope to open, for the very first time, the door to a house and a new life with Katie–a daughter who is throwing open all kinds of doors in our life, particularly the doors to our hearts and souls.
Throwing open doors and crossing through can be exicting and scary because you never know fully what to expect on the other side. I remain forever hopeful that I don’t go through any open door alone and that God always go with me even when going through the door means leaving others, like the youth and members of Colesville, behind.
As the Colesville youth and I throw open the doors this week that lead us to new and exciting paths as followers of Christ, I hope and pray that despite the different paths we’ll remember always the doorway which we crossed through together.