Even Sherman deserves a break. Don’t fret—we’ll return to Sherman’s march to the sea on Friday, but for now, I want to take Easin’ Along readers to Black Mountain, NC where Helen (adorable wife) and I spent a delightful early spring weekend at a church retreat with other members of our congregation.
One of the most gratifying aspects of retirement for me has been the opportunity to spend time involved in some of the many activities of our church. This past year I was called to serve as an elder, and this has been a very rewarding and uplifting experience that has brought me great joy. I participate as an usher for our early Sunday morning service when in town which gives me a chance to meet and greet many of our members. This is a lot of fun and I look forward to every Sunday. I also attend two meetings a month involving the business of the church and enjoy the sessions greatly.
Service as an officer allows for participation in an outward way, whereas a retreat allows for a personal and inward reflection on our journey of faith. I always come away grateful for the opportunity as well as a renewed sense of spirit. The opportunity for fellowship in such a beautiful setting is always a delightful experience.
This is the third retreat I’ve attended at the Montreat Conference Center. In the past, we’ve had tremendous leadership for the gatherings and this year was no exception. This year our leader was Dr. Kathy Dawson, a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, who has a long list of published works and noteworthy accomplishments. Recently she was honored as Educator of the Year by the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. With her soft, southern drawl and warm smile, I liked her immediately.
The theme for the weekend was to be built around what happens when God breaks into the normal course of our development and into our lives. Our challenge was to explore those interruptions and how they function as a means of grace. If that sounds a bit heavy to you, don’t feel alone…it did to me too. Nevertheless, Kathy presented great examples to illustrate the breaks and transitions we all face in life and how we use them to benefit from both our joys and our challenges. This topic made for lively discussions in the breakout sessions.
In our Saturday morning session, we examined seven daily faith practices and were challenged to look at how several of those practices, woven together, could show God’s intervention in our lives. We were to illustrate that intervention by creating a poster. Our group of six chose the three practices of playing, eating, and consuming. Again, we had a fascinating discussion among ourselves before we finally let our creative juices take over and turn that discussion into art. Using newsprint, catalog pictures, glue, tape, and scissors, we created a poster about family vacations that (with all the modesty I can muster) was the best of the lot. This exercise really was fun and very insightful.
We were free on Saturday afternoon and with the sky a deep Carolina blue, Helen and I chose to use that time to explore the City of Black Mountain, a charming village that is tucked into the mountains about twenty miles east of Asheville, NC. On this particular Saturday, the merchants and shopkeepers were holding sidewalk sales in front of their shops, and things were hopping. As I have told Easin’ Along readers before, I love to browse through antique and consignment stores and took this opportunity to head straight for Key City Antiques, a shop filled with interesting stuff.
My interests are usually narrowed to old watches, model cars, and ceramic souvenirs, but, after spending considerable time debating whether I needed a well-worn pocket watch, I passed. Helen, however, did find some colorful necklaces that she couldn’t do without and left with four strings of Carolina collectibles.
They are pictured here. We probably walked for about a mile shopping and browsing and, while we didn’t find anything else to buy, we did get some great exercise on a splendid day.
That evening the retreat committee served us an outstanding barbecue spread and followed it up with entertainment from a local bluegrass quartet and square dancing for all. I’m told that the children had an evening filled with enough movement to prepare them for an early bedtime. Not being much of a dancer, I retreated to the lobby of the conference center to watch South Carolina take on Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament. We were joined by a group of ladies from Charlotte, many of whom were Gamecock fans, who paused during their retreat to cheer on the team in a losing effort. They were very spirited right up to the last buzzer.
On Sunday morning, Dr. Dawson led us in our final session and someone from each breakout group gave a detailed explanation of the posters created on the previous day. Each of them was done in ways that were both thoughtfully detailed and expressed very well the ways that the seven faith practices allowed us to see our Creator presence in our daily lives. The words inspired or enlightened do not describe completely the thoughts and feelings I took away from those presentations. Let’s just say I looked at my walk of faith a bit differently after that session…it was a learning experience.
After the final session. we held a worship service of hymns, a children’s sermon, and a brief message from our leader before we took to the road and ventured home.
All of us are challenged, and in many ways fortunate, to lead busy lives. There are times, however, when that can get to be quite the battle—even in retirement. On this weekend I reinforced the notion that those are the times to interrupt things a bit…and to call retreat. Thanks to Montreat for blessing me with of the opportunity to do that. So, on a beautiful Sunday morning, we were able to depart refreshed and renewed and grateful that our journey of faith continues, and one in which, joyfully, we’re still… Easin’ Along.