“I’m always surprised”

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” Perhaps you’ve seen a shirt, mug, or other item printed with this quote from naturalist and preservationist John Muir.  It’s actually a shortened version of a sentence in a letter written to Muir’s sister in 1873: “The mountains are calling & I must go & I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” For many of the church leaders from across the NC Synod, the mountains call each fall and we must go—specifically the mountains call us to Fall Convocation at Lutheridge from Monday to Wednesday sometime each fall. For those three days, we worship, we pray, we sing, we learn and we play—all incessantly.  We gather each autumn with different keynote speakers and different workshop and worship leaders, but some things are constants. For Pastor Greg Williams (Grace, Hendersonville) the things that are his favorites are those constants: “My three faves: worship, fellowship with colleagues, and keynoters who challenge my continuing growth.”

Another constant is that Tuesday afternoon has always been “retreat time” for the participants; it’s free time for these church leaders to do whatever is most beneficial for them when they return to their congregations. That might be a nap in their cabin, a hike in Pisgah National Forest, a conversation with a colleague or two while sitting in a rocking chair, a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a round of golf at a nearby course, a trip to local yarn shops, a beer or two with friends at one of the local breweries, or one of many other options available in the Asheville area.

Each year Pastor Jennifer Ginn (Cross and Crown, Matthews) organizes a group, usually women, who visit downtown Asheville for a little bit of shopping and a lovely dinner together at Market Place. Pastor Ginn shared, “The Tuesday afternoon ‘retreat time’ makes a space for connecting with folks across the state whom we don’t see often and gives us time to process together what’s happening at Fall Convo. The group varies a little year to year, so there’s a chance to make new friendships. And for me, eating at an upscale restaurant like Market Place is a treat I give myself and look forward to every year. Unusual and delicious food, nice wine, warm conversation, and lots of laughter—you can’t beat it!”

This year Pastor Ginn’s group included “newly-minted” lay preacher Karyn Dalton (St. John’s, Concord) and five pastors from across the synod: Angela Powell (Living Saviour, Charlotte), Susan Bame (Lutheran Chapel, China Grove), Ann Kelly (Trinity, Sanford), Carrie Bishop (Mt. Hermon, Concord), and Kim Carlson (Good Shepherd, Elizabeth City). Pastor Powell shared, “I appreciate Fall Convo for the relationships formed over years, so that in call, in conflict, in colleagues’ joys and sorrows, I know I can find support and a listening ear. Women colleagues have experienced some of the same things I have, so it’s a joy to know they get it! It’s a once-a-year time to speak the same language of professional ministry and not explain it. It’s a chance to catch up with colleagues, male and female, and find out what’s bringing joy and sorrow; find out how to offer prayers for each other.”

Pastor Bame adds, “My favorite part about all Fall Convos is surprise. I’m always surprised at what I learn from folks I have never met. I’ve heard the story of the apostles asking Jesus to increase their faith (in the Gospel of Luke) a thousand times, but it took Pastor CeCee Mills to show me the story through a black female ordained minister’s eyes and explain why she didn’t like the text. The best you can ever hope for at any gathering is to be surprised in faith formation, and CeCee delivered.”

Encourage your church leaders to make plans now to join us next fall (September 28-30, 2020) “when the mountains call” for rest, renewal, fellowship, faith formation, and other surprises!