NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When city slickers from the East headed out for the Wild West 150 years ago, they hitched up their wagons, loaded their trunks with a few cherished belongings, took sacks of corn meal and salt and carried the treasured family Bible.
When 99 people from Crievewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., headed west to Glorieta, a LifeWay Conference Center, the trip was much easier.
We hitched up our air-conditioned buses (equipped with video players and a restroom), loaded our rolling suitcases with lots of cherished belongings, took our homemade chocolate chip cookies and bottled water and, like our 19th-century counterparts, carried our treasured Bibles.
First of all, let me say, we love Ridgecrest. People from Crievewood have been going to Ridgecrest, a LifeWay Conference Center, in North Carolina for years for training in Sunday school and discipleship. But for this year’s training, pastor Cris Cannon, minister of education Martha Minardi and minister of youth and recreation David Reed decided to go a different route … literally.
“Last year during our staff retreat time, Martha and David brought up the idea of going to Glorieta instead of Ridgecrest this year,” Cannon recounted. “So, they took the initiative and started putting the trip together.”
The adults and children would attend Sunday School Leadership Week at the New Mexico conference center, while the youth would do Centrifuge camp.
So, my 13-year old son Tyler, 11-year-old son Travis and 11-year old nephew Matthew from St. Louis and I packed our bags and were off with the group. My husband, Sam, who is editor-in-chief of LifeWay’s HomeLife magazine, would meet us at Glorieta later.
Since reporting on Sunday school is one of my responsibilities as corporate communications specialist at LifeWay, I attend a lot of Sunday school-related events. So, going to Glorieta (which I would have done anyway) with friends from my own church on a 2,600-mile bus trip sounded fun.
By mutual agreement the adults and children loaded onto one bus, while the youth and youth leaders filled the other.
As our group pulled away at 7 a.m., spouses, parents and siblings who were left behind waved goodbye. (Hmmm, while some parents were teary-eyed; some were smiling way too big.)
Since we would be trusting our lives to the driving skills of our bus driver, Marla Forrest, for the next nine days, it was good to know she was a friend and fellow Crievewood member.
The first day the youth bus was mostly the “sleeping bus,” while our adult/children bus was buzzing with activities, ranging from bus ride bingo to movies on video.
Our minister of education/cruise director Martha Minardi had prizes for everything. You bingo, you’d win a prize. You share a little known fact about yourself; you’d get a prize.
Marla seemed glad when Libby Eaton announced with that mom look, “A clean bus is a happy bus” and hung a trash bag on an empty seat to collect gum wrappers, candy papers, water bottles and the like. The kids actually kept their trash picked up and in the bag.
After two long days on the road, and one night in a hotel in Shawnee, Okla., the Crievewood group arrived at Glorieta.
We gave a collective cheer when we saw the first glimpse of the Holcomb Auditorium steeple from Interstate 40. I think it was mostly because we were really glad to be at Glorieta, not just that we were very glad to be getting off the bus.
The youth and their leaders headed for Centrifuge and the adults and children headed for Sunday school leadership classes and day camp. After that, we mainly just saw each other during mealtimes.
The Crievewood members attended training conferences for leaders of different age groups and special track conferences on a wide variety of topics. We learned a lot about “how to do Sunday school.”
Lori Campbell, director of our adult Sunday school division, said she got “a new appreciation for our church” out of a general leadership conference.
“We are so fortunate to have such a good support system in place,” she acknowledged after meeting several people who said they felt isolated in their rural communities, some being the only Southern Baptist church in their area.
Lori added, “They really see this time at Glorieta as a way to recharge their batteries. It was neat to all come together and support each other in what we’re doing. We found out all of us struggle with a lot of the same things, no matter what size our churches are.”
Terry Reeves, a computer programmer who made the trip with his wife, Cindy, and two daughters, brought his telescope to Glorieta to take advantage of the “big sky.”
“My most significant personal worship experience happened on Sunday night,” he recounted. “After setting up my telescope in a dark area, I looked up. My heart almost stopped! God’s majesty was written across the night sky in a way I had not seen in decades. My soul was compelled to praise and glorify the almighty Creator.”
Prayer for rain also became part of our Glorieta experience, and God answered.
New Mexico had experienced disastrous wildfires in May and June. Glorieta had offered shelter and food at no charge to people who had to flee their homes in the anticipated approach of the fires. When we were on campus, firemen were still staying there, “on call,” in case lightning started more fires in the area.
God blessed the area with about three inches of rain during the week. One evening, not long before sundown, a heavy rain came through the area, leaving in its wake a glorious rainbow. A complete ground-to-ground arch. God’s promise. It seemed appropriate.
Mike Boyd, pastor of Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., was our pastor for the week, and his sermons were outstanding. He had a great sense of humor and told lots of stories on himself.
One evening he preached on the “Parable of the Titanic.” My first thought was, “This is going to be a stretch.” But his sermon turned out to be thought-provoking.
He compared the passengers on the “unsinkable” Titanic to non-Christians who are living their “unsinkable” lives.
He said with both:
— There was a false sense of security.
— There was a lack of preparation for a crisis.
— They were going too fast.
— The problem was beneath the surface.
— There was a question regarding the quality of the materials.
— There was a preoccupation with things.
— They failed to heed all the warnings.
— They waited until it was too late to take necessary action.
That was a lot to think about.
As our week at the conference center was almost over, I realized I hadn’t been in the prayer garden yet. It is the most beautiful area of the entire campus. I walked through there twice — once with a group of the older children who enjoyed the water trickling from the fountain down the rocks into the pool. The sound of their laughter as they walked barefoot in the water was a delight.
Then later, I made another trip back with a couple of friends. As Melissa Lanz, Libby and I walked through the garden, we talked about what the week had meant.
Melissa, our church media librarian, said that as good as the conferences had been, what she had enjoyed most was the time to just get away and to get to know everyone so much better.
She was right. So many of these wonderful people I spent the week with had been acquaintances — people I’d pass in the hall on my way to Sunday school or people I’d see across the sanctuary on Sunday morning. But now, they’re more than that. We’ve had a common experience. We’ve been the same place. We’ve talked.
Maybe that’s what the people who established Glorieta and Ridgecrest were thinking when the idea for conference centers was born.
As the bus was nearing Nashville and the trip was almost over, Martha, using the bus public address system, told the group, “It’s so true that with any trip like this, there are so many things that come up, so many frustrations. But looking back, they don’t really seem that important. What are important are the relationships we’ve formed and what God has taught us this week. He’s worked in our lives.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: GLORIETA TRIP.