LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. – Lake Junaluska is unique because “it’s the largest conference and retirement center in the United Methodist Church,” according to Executive Director Jimmy Carr.
Furthermore, it’s the only one in the Southeast owned by the Jurisdiction. Not only it is the location of Southeastern Jurisdictional meetings; “it’s seen by many around the world church as a gathering place for United Methodists,” the Rev. Mr. Carr said, noting its meetings of the Council of Bishops two or three times a quadrennium and its draws of many international groups – such as the World Methodist Council with 500 members bringing together churches in the Methodist/Wesleyan family, and the Foundation for Evangelism, an affiliate of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church that provides venture capital to develop leaders with a passion for evangelism. Both are headquartered at Junaluska.
The lakeside setting, wrapped in the blue mountains of North Carolina, also hosts district superintendents and the directors of Connectional Ministries.
Other jurisdictions or conferences have small sites, but they are not like the 1,200-acre Junaluska that currently can accommodate up to 3,000 at one time and has plans for more. For example, Mount Sequoyah, overlooking the Ozarks, is 30 acres and can accommodate 400 people. Simpsonwood Conference and Retreat Center accommodates North Georgia United Methodists in groups ranging from 5 to 350 people in on 227 wooded acreage along the river in Metro Atlanta. The Life Enrichment Center in Leesburg, Fla., is a 400-bed conference and retreat center with an RV campground as well.
Lake Junaluska, now reorganized with its own board of directors as opposed to its former oversight by Southeastern Jurisdictional Administrative Council, has dreams as it prepares to celebrate its first 100 years in 2013.
Already its board has given Shackford Hall, its youth meeting hall with 12 break-out rooms, a $2-million renovation with state-of-the-art multimedia to welcome 650 youth and counselors. It has refurbished its 1950s youth quarters, Mountainview and Sunnyside, which holds 392 people. There are also 50 apartments nearby that, in combination, can accommodate 640 youth and counselors.
Ministries planned by LJ staff
The Rev. Roger Dowdy, director of Ministry and Event Development, and his staff plan “internal events,” such as the Rev. Carl Arrington’s events specific to being an African-American United Methodist.
An example is the Ebony Youth Retreat April 9-11 to address potential callings. “It will help them to appreciate traditional music of the church and also to appropriate the music to which today’s young people are accustomed,” Arrington said. A December Multicultural Conference is planned in connection with the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century. Dowdy said their ministry events are moving away from the “talking heads syndrome” and seeking the best ways to present ideas that will be taken home.
The Rev. Carolyn Poling, director of Ministries with Young People, is catching her breath after seven ski weekends, beginning with New Year’s Eve and hosting 4,500 youth during their “Thaw” events.
In addition to three months for summer day camp, there are seven Surge weeks and weekends planned, as well as other special events, with a special focus based on John Wesley’s rules for life.
“We offer one-stop shopping for youth ministers” – a pre-planned package of speakers and activities, Poling said. “They get to have the best of both worlds.”
Poling will be wrapping up summer hires this month, although there may be spots for cafeteria workers and such still available later.
Dowdy said he and his staff want to be sure that all voices are heard at the lake and that a spectrum of voices is heard. “We are trying to get better feedback. How are they touched?”
External events, those planned by or in collaboration with other organizations, are a “win-win for both of us,” Dowdy said. An example of that is the Alban Institute at Junaluska, an ecumenical and interfaith organization based outside of Washington, D.C., and sponsoring leadership development training for congregations – pastors and laity. Or there’s Time Apart for rest and spiritual growth, organized by the Intentional Growth Center housed at Lake Junaluska.
There are many ways to enjoy the Lake, Sales and Marketing Director Ken Howle likes to point out, such as Easter – family fun and worship – at Lake Junaluska; Elderhostel’s programs – from mountain ballads and stories to golf; art and worship programs on emerging worship patterns featuring Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity for the Rest of Us. There is liturgical dance instruction family time at Appalachian Christmas at Junaluska.
The center is becoming a wedding destination, Howle said, offering “a place inspired by the Spirit.” Families often hold reunions there as well.
The older facilities that can’t feed more than 350 in one location present problems for today’s event planners, however.
Forty-five people from across the jurisdiction were selected to help dream the future of Lake Junaluska.
While it’s still a paper feasibility study, there is now a graphic wishbook that divides the campus into three areas – “Active” (i.e., sports) on the western portion of the campus, Conference in the center and Contemplative (Lambeth Hall and the area of the cross). A new conference center might gather 3,000 in an assembly and seat 800 at a meal, while lodging 6,000.
Stuart would still be used for smaller assemblies and exhibitions.
“What they will remember is the study or worship or fellowship or a contemplative respite of the big conference the church put on here with the intention to grow in their faith as a disciple,” Carr said. “We’re re-imaging the ministry and keeping the important heart of Lake Junaluska.”
The Office of Development and the Foundation raises money to support these dreams and the ongoing work. The Glenn and Lounelle Draper Endowment for Music Ministries ensures the ministry of the Junaluska Singers.
Brenda Hook, a member of Mount Hebron UMC in West Columbia, serves on the Lake Junaluska’s Board of Directors, and has been affiliated with the SEJ leadership since 2004. She is joined by Katherine Scarborough and Conference Layleader Joe Heyward. Bishop Larry Goodpaster of the Western North Carolina Conference is president and serves along with Bishop James Swanson of the Holston Conference and S.C. Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor.
Each conference has a representative. “They are the most dedicated people,” Hook said. They include Joy Melton, a pastor and attorney who constructed the national UM Safe Sanctuaries program; Ken Partin, executive director of the UM retirement community in North Carolina, Givens Estates; people with financial skills and people of different races and ethnic groups, Hook said.
Hook had high prais
e the top-notch staff as well as for Goodpaster’s leadership. She likes the new structure put in place in 2009 that, among other things, gives the community council and property owners votes for the first time.