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St. John’s Lutheran goes on retreat at Lutheridge

By Judy Trexler
For The Salisbury Post
As the sun set over Arden on a recent Friday evening, members of St. John’s Lutheran Church began gathering at Lutheridge Camp and Conference Center for a weekend retreat.
By 8 p.m. about 225 people had gathered in the Faith Center, happily anticipating the beginning of the church’s first-ever congregational retreat.
We had headed to the mountains following our pastors and other lay church leaders with faith that a retreat was just what our Lord had in mind for us.
Pastor John explained our retreat’s theme was “One Church, One Weekend, One Purpose.” The congregation has three services each Sunday: chapel, contemporary, and sanctuary. Two years ago, Unity Sundays were instituted for combined worship of the three services. A retreat was a natural outgrowth of this desire for congregational unity and fellowship.
Pastor Tim Caniff-Kuhn, program director of Lutheridge, told us we were the largest congregational group ever hosted by the center. We had taken every room on the campus, and some people were being housed in nearby private homes.
He led us in song while playing his guitar. No camp experience can ever be truly complete without guitar-led music, can it?
He was followed by his wife and codirector, Pastor Mary, who told us “Agatha’s Feather Mattress,” a story about an old woman who could spin and weave masterfully.
All this wonderful old lady wanted was a feather bed in which to rest her weary body. Finally, she was able to purchase one, and once it arrived she could hardly wait to try it out.
She slipped into her nightgown, let down her long, long, really long silky white hair, and nestled into her sumptuous new bed.
Before sleep could overtake her, a tapping at the window caused her to rise to see what was there. Before her were six shivering featherless geese who simply wanted their feathers back. The old lady simply had to help them. She gave them her credit card and told them to check in at a nice local hotel. She asked them to return in three days.
The geese had a marvelous vacation and returned in three days as asked. The old lady, now with very, very short hair, showed them six beautiful white coats she had made for them.
The story reminded us beautifully that we need and should care for one another.
Next, the youth were treated to a campfire while the adults finished their evening talking and singing.
Early Saturday morning found many people enjoying “Morning Watch,” a Lutheridge tradition of starting the morning quietly communing with God and nature.
After breakfast the children set out for an exciting morning of activities planned by Jason Huebner, our director of youth and family ministries, and led by Celia Jarrett, Barbara Jo Corriher, Sharon Agee, Rita Bolick and Sally Taylor.
Children learned liturgical dance with Donna Cesario and later participated in the Sunday morning worship service. They also enjoyed making handprints into animals and were treated to a story time.
Middle schoolers enjoyed a group interaction course on unity, while the senior high students enjoyed a ropes course and softball.
With the children happily engaged, adults turned to the Faith Center for Bible study, singing and faith sharing. Singing “Lord, Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary” opened our hearts for whatever the Holy Spirit had planned for us.
Pastor Rhodes began by pointing out a replica of a well which had been created by Montye and Hal Furr, Eric Soderberg and Tim Klusman. Rhodes then used the Bible story of the woman of Samaria who had come to Jacob’s Well alone, an outcast among her people. When Jesus asked her to give him a drink of water, she was surprised he would speak to her since he was a Jew and she a Samaritan. Jesus replied, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”
Jesus then told her of the living water that would well up to eternal life. The woman stated her belief that the Messiah was coming, and Jesus acknowledged that it was he. The woman, forgetting her water jar, hurried into the town, telling people what Jesus had said to her and asking if he could be the Christ. Many believed her story and went out to seek Jesus. The outcast became the messenger and was now in communication with her people again.
Rhodes asked us to think of a time when we had encountered Christ in an unexpected way or place and how the encounter had changed us. We drew pictograms of our experiences, which we then shared with each other. Our stories required us to open ourselves up to each other and to trust that we would be heard and accepted no matter what we said.
People told of their first encounters with faith and those who led them there. Some told of crises of faith and how they came through their spiritual deserts. Others said God had a sense of humor and showed them that by how he answered their prayers.
Another told of a Bible being left at her home by “accident” and how reading it led her to faith. Another told God, “I’ll do anything you ask, except become a pastor,” which is exactly what he eventually became.
We then transferred our pictograms to cloth squares. When we entered the Faith Center for Sunday morning worship, we would find hanging on display our pictograms assembled into a huge multicolored quilt with a yellow cross in its center.
We may be a patchwork of personalities and experiences, but when we share our faith journey we find common ground, understanding and unity in our goal of knowing and loving our Savior.
In the afternoon, people were free to enjoy numerous activities at Lutheridge, such as crafts with Carol Hair and Libba Willingham, board games, rock wall climbing, canoeing, hayrides with Preston Mitchell and Pastor John, fishing, Frisbee golf, volleyball, scavenger hunt with Dave Roof, golf with Jerry Lawson and Chip Bridges, or quiet time hiking. Members would later marvel at seeing wild turkeys in their natural mountain setting, free and unafraid.
Others took advantage of local sites such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina Arboretum, North Carolina Farmers’ Market, Folk Art Center, Asheville area shopping or Biltmore Estates. A group led by Boyd Hough took on a service project ó painting chairsó funded by Thrivent for Lutherans. Our members wanted to be good stewards by leaving our host area better than we found it.
At 6 p.m. everyone gathered in the dining hall for barbecued chicken prepared by our own master chef Steve Jarrett and friends. Member Tom Isenhour and friends entertained with lively bluegrass music and led us in singing favorite hymns and folk songs.
After dinner the adults gathered in the Faith Center for further entertainment. Little did we know that we were to be the entertainment.
Divided into groups, we were given a large brown grocery bag full of props and a skit theme. We enacted unusual events and let everyone guess what the scenario was. When Jill Jones led her group around the center, some of us were sure she was leading a gospel train, but it was really worship on a roller coaster. Choir practice underwater included a wonderful version of Yellow Submarine. Remind me to look for that in the service book. I must have missed it.
Later we marveled at the willingness of young and old to join in the fun as even bald parishioners “let their hair down” for the occasion.
As evening closed in, we gathered for vesper service. bringing our evening to a quiet, reverent close.
Members were then invited to enjoy a campfire and marshmallow roast in Efird Hall with songs led by Jason Huebner.
Before we left the next day, Rhodes asked us to gather around the well and to remember that, like the woman of Samaria, we could leave our burdens there. We held hands and sang our final hymns.
Rhodes, looking back on the weekend, said, “It warmed my heart to see folks sitting at round dinner tables in deep conversation with people they didn’t even know belonged to St. John’s, to watch ‘traditional worshippers’ feel the emotional tug of the heart in worship, to hear ‘contemporary worshippers’ sing old standbys like ‘Beautiful Savior’ and ‘Come Thou Font’ with gusto, and to listen to B.J. Connor wrap it all up in a heartfelt speech on Sunday morning. What fun. The weekend couldn’t have come at a better time for St. John’s.
“God certainly knew what he was doing when he led us to make a phone call to Lutheridge just one day after a large group had cancelled and when he placed on the hearts of some generous folks the idea of making this trip affordable for all. He also assembled two great leaders, Celia and Barbara Jo. Who knows where this will lead us? I’m sure God has great plans.”

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