Well, we made it! And although I have to come down to the lobby of the place we're staying to pick up internet access on my computer, I can still access the blog. Of course, at the time this is being written, the conference has barely started yet! Whether I'll continue to have free time enough to to make regular updates is still up in the air.
Michelle and I arrived in Montreat in the late afternoon on July 4th, pretty exhausted from the long flights and little sleep we'd gotten the previous night (in fact, I didn't get any sleep the previous night, knowing we had to leave the apartment to get to the airport a little after 1 am!). We're staying at the Assembly Inn (the view of the city above is courtesy of our room's window). The Assembly Inn is the Montreat Conference Center's main place of residence for conference attendees. For most conferences, anyway. The Youth Conferences are so huge (roughly 1000+ youth and their adult sponsors each week) that it's going to be mostly just the leadership and small group volunteers (that's me!) that will be staying here for the next couple of weeks (there are some youth in the Inn, but mostly they'll have to find other places all over the city--college dorm rooms, the conference center's other inn: the Winsborough, private residences).
By about 7:00 pm (local time, which is three hours later than the Pacific Time I'm used to), we were able to walk around town a bit, and I showed Michelle a lot of the main buildings of the conference center and the college that I attended for my BA degree. Most everything was closed down, of course, due to the July 4th holiday, so I had to settle for this cute little bunny rabbit outside of the student center (Someone would probably be upset to know that we just let it nibble at the plants without trying to stop it!). Nature thrives at Montreat. Very different than the Southern California locales in which Michelle and I spend most of our time these days.
Saturday was the day that most of the Small Group Leaders actually arrived. I'm sure that Michelle and I got here a full day earlier for the simple reason that, even catching the first plane of the morning from LAX, we were unable to arrive in Montreat before 2:00 pm the same day, and 2:00 pm was when Small Group Leader training began. These sessions helped me in two ways: 1) Quite a few of the "veteran" leaders affirmed that this year's Small Group Leader manual, written by Jeff-Peterson Davis, was one of the best-written manuals they'd ever used, making their (our!) jobs much easier; 2) I found I was able to "enter in" and enjoy getting to know the other Small Group Leaders fairly well. On this count, I suppose I shouldn't have worried. I've always found this to be true in conferences of years past, as well. But since it's been so long since I've been at one of these conferences (not to mention never having led one before!), I wasn't sure.
I'll be leading Small Group #37 both weeks, and we'll be meeting on the 3rd floor of the aforementioned Winsborough. It's not a space I've ever considered, and oddly, one of few spaces in Montreat that I can't claim intimate knowledge of. I did stay in the Winsborough with a Youth Conference group back in 1991, but I don't think I've ever been up on the third floor before. Anyway, I was able to get in the room on Sunday night and set up a bit, although I think I'll need to move a few things around Monday morning (today, from the standpoint of the reader, but I'm having to get this all written Sunday night, since I know I won't have time tomorrow morning!), since the small groups are said to be 32 members strong this week (That's nearly twice the normal size, and I already know that there are only 25 chairs in that circle in the picture. There are more chairs in the room, but I'd hoped to have a table set up off to the side.).
The conference started Sunday night with a "preview" of upcoming events. The theme for this year's conference is "Throw Open the Doors!", so it seemed appropriate to close with this picture I took just as that event was beginning. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to debrief on how the first couple of days went by mid-week.