ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP)–Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, N.C., is a place many people are surprised to learn is not only one of the largest religious conference centers in the nation, but also is celebrating a century of ministry this year.
From humble beginnings in a single log cabin, LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center has grown into a 1,300-acre campus with 90,000 square feet of conference space and housing accommodations for more than 2,000 people.
For generations, this grand retreat in the mountains has provided a place where people can escape from the noise and interruptions of everyday life to enjoy fellowship and experience spiritual renewal.
“Ridgecrest has been a center not only for inspiration and blessing to people that live in Western North Carolina, but to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country,” wrote Billy Graham in a letter commemorating the 100th anniversary. Graham was a frequent speaker at Ridgecrest, especially in the early years of his ministry.
More than 3 million people have visited Ridgecrest, and that number continues to grow. Some have met their spouses there, while others have developed friendships that have lasted decades.
“There are many thousands of pastors, missionaries and church staff members who can point to a moment at Ridgecrest when they committed their lives to Christ or to vocational ministry,” said Byron Hill, national director for LifeWay Conference Centers. “Marriages and entire families have been strengthened or transformed, and numerous laypersons have received training to better equip them for ministry.”
While Ridgecrest began as a retreat for Southern Baptists, in recent years the conference center has drawn visitors from Christian leaders and a variety of Christian denominations throughout the nation.
“When Christian leaders are in our area, it’s not just good for the economy but for spiritual impact as well,” noted James Walker, senior pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Asheville.
Asheville Mayor Charles Worley, “There is a strong recognition that the Asheville area is a spiritual center, and Ridgecrest has been a big part of that.”
A new hotel opening, a centennial luncheon and a staff alumni reunion are among the events that will be held to commemorate the anniversary, which kicks off this month. In the coming months LifeWay will release a series of news releases based on real-life stories from individuals who had meaningful experiences at Ridgecrest.
Last summer, B&H Publishing Group released “Ridgecrest: A Century of Spiritual Renewal,” a 96-page, full-color coffee table book that takes readers on a nostalgic journey through time and examines how generations of Southern Baptists and others have had their lives changed in dramatic ways at Ridgecrest.
Chapters include testimonials from well-known Christian leaders such as Billy Graham and the late Adrian Rogers; a look at the volunteers and donors who make Ridgecrest’s work possible; and a section that focuses on camps and programs for young people. Other chapters relive highlights of the past century, examine how Ridgecrest has changed and look at what’s in store for the center’s next 100 years.
Interspersed throughout the book are stories submitted by people of all ages whose lives have been influenced by their time at Ridgecrest.
In recent years, Ridgecrest has undergone a revitalization plan that includes renovations and construction of new facilities for lodging, conference meetings and worship space.
“While we continue to undergo extensive revitalization efforts to ensure Ridgecrest remains an attractive and relevant spiritual haven, the real story of Ridgecrest has always been –- and always will be –- about people,” Hill said.
Ridgecrest is a ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information, visit www.lifeway.com/ridgecrest.