When Be Thou My Vision flashed across the screen of Anderson Auditorium, I gasped and whispered to my friends, “I actually know this one!” Coming from a loosely-religious family, most of the songs we’d sung throughout Montreat College Conference were unfamiliar to me. In fact, basically everything about Montreat was unfamiliar to me. Unlike all the kids who filed into the auditorium and ran to embrace old friends, excited to be back in their second home, I had never experienced anything like this. Despite having gone to a Presbyterian church for much of my childhood, I had never even heard of Montreat until I came to Ukirk. Needless to say, the first night of the conference was somewhat jarring for me. It was a warm, welcoming atmosphere – and yet, I couldn’t suppress the feeling that I was on the outside looking in. So hearing that old Irish hymn was comforting. I’d grown up with Van Morrison’s 1990 cover, and the song was a much-needed reminder that I did belong here.
Over the course of the conference, I realized more and more that these were my people. One thing I love about the Presbyterian church is the openness with which we talk about real-world issues and social justice. Being surrounded by real dialogue for days at a time was such an eye-opening and constructive experience. I’d say that my biggest takeaway was regarding the idea of doing God’s work, and finding your calling helping others. I’ve always been motivated to do some kind of service, and I’m prone to getting carried away with the idea of leaving behind all my material belongings and moving to a third-world country to educate orphans or something. Whenever I hear stories like that of our first keynote speaker, Rev. Rick Ufford-Chase, who dedicated years of his life to bringing water to immigrants in the deadliest deserts of the border, I can’t help but feel like I need to do the same thing.
But inevitably I come crashing back to reality. Even though I desperately want my life to have that kind of selfless purpose, I’m the kind of girl who gets upset when they don’t have my favorite bagel at Starbucks. I’m probably not cut out for toiling in the desert. I grappled with these thoughts, trying to reconcile my own limits with the call to service. But I started to make sense of it during my critical conversation group, which was led by David Lamotte. He talked more about doing God’s work, and explained that it doesn’t always have to be something so dramatic. It could simply be doing what you enjoy – in his case, making music. This stuck with me during the workshop I attended later, where we talked about hip-hop artists like Chance the Rapper and J. Cole who use their music as a form of spiritual expression. But what finally solidified this idea for me was the final keynote speech by Becca Stevens. Being from Nashville, I’ve seen the impact Thistle Farms has had on our community. I’ve admired her for so long, but I could not have anticipated the awe I would feel when she spoke. She was courageous, selfless, and surprisingly hilarious. Here is someone, I thought, who is not only doing God’s work but finding joy in it. She perfectly exemplifies the kind of Christian woman I want to be, and showed me that finding your calling and finding happiness go hand-in-hand.
But of all the important lessons I learned at Montreat, the most powerful was in the quiet moments. Giggling in the aisles of the Black Mountain grocery store with my friends, or playing intense games of Clue in the house. Celebrating a birthday. Eating so many slices of My Father’s Pizza. All of us gathered around the cozy living room listening to our co-moderator Jan Edmiston tell stories. It was funny, in those peaceful hours I didn’t feel like I was with friends and acquaintances. It actually felt like family, like having a bunch of brothers and sisters. So if I were to sum up what I learned at Montreat in one sentence, it would be this:
I, too, was home.
Sophomore English Major
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville