By Neill Caldwell
United Methodist News Service
The Lake Junaluska Conference and
While some groups have decided not to return to
"Lake Junaluska Assembly is in a good place," says the Rev. Jimmy L. Carr, a clergy member of the Mississippi Conference and executive director of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Connectional Table. "We have a strong staff in place and great ministry offerings. We have a wonderful list of preachers for our summer preaching series. Everyone feels good and is anticipating a strong summer."
"People want to come," says Ken Howle, director of communications and marketing. "We're on a par from this time last year, and it's been a very positive thing."
The center has some 150,000 guests a year, he says. Those are people who use the facility in some way, including overnight visitors as well as people who use the golf course, attend concerts, walk around the lake or attend other events and programs at the assembly.
Surprised by reaction
Carr says he was surprised by the level of anger that was expressed toward the staff of Lake Junaluska Assembly and the jurisdiction office at the height of the "Hearts on Fire" debate.
"We felt we were offering Christian hospitality to a group, and although we knew there would be some people who would not like it, I didn't think we'd be so targeted. The saddest part is that people didn't have more faith in
While there was a negative campaign against the facility,
He sees the facility's mission as being about education, leadership development and enabling people to become better disciples. "Junaluska is a faith-based assembly in the United Methodist tradition that welcomes all of God's children to come and grow in their faith in Jesus Christ. We're working to provide the best resources available to strengthen discipleship," he said.
'A spiritual place'
Carr has been at
"There are few places like
The assembly's promotional materials tout something called the "Junaluska experience."
"Everyone has their own kind of experience," Carr says, "and it takes a lot of energy to make that happen. The beautiful flowers are not just there. But it is all God's creation, and people long before us have enjoyed the beauty of these mountains."
"It's something intangible and unique to each person," says Bob Ray, director of the
The Southeastern Jurisdiction has made about $750,000 in improvements to
The assembly includes 434 rooms, three restaurants and 90,000 square feet of meeting space. A campground across the road has 56 camp sites, and the Lakeview Motel beside the campground has been purchased and renovated.
The facilities have been spruced up for the summer season. A renovation project of the rooms in the Terrace Hotel is complete. There's a new miniature golf course near the pool, a new lodge at the campground and other small changes. The Foundation for Evangelism has moved into a new building.
And just up the road from that new building, major construction is expected to get under way this summer on the
Reconciling racist past
The building is named for Joseph and Shirley Bethea. A
"This facility will be an important statement for
Carr says the importance of the name goes beyond an important bishop who has strong ties to the
"That the center is named for an African-American couple will hopefully be a statement of reconciliation of the early racist history of this facility," he says. "Since the mid-1950s, the leadership here has worked diligently as a place that is seen and experienced as a place that serves all of God's children."
It will also eliminate some confusion. "We have housing registration and event registration in different locations, but this will put everything under one roof," says Ray. "Plus the Haywood County Chamber Visitor's Center will be housed in the building, so we hope to have even more folks exposed to
Plans are on the drawing board to build a new clubhouse for the public golf course across the road, which is also part of the jurisdictional facilities. Plus, plans have been discussed for some time about expanding Stuart Auditorium, the centerpiece of the assembly grounds, and add heating and air conditioning to the facility so that it could comfortably be used year-round.
"We could host youth events during the winter," Ray says. "That would give us a real boost."
Plans are in place to make the entire grounds "technology friendly. "Our goal is for you to be able to take your laptop down on the beautiful Rose Walk and use it," Carr says.
For 38 years, the Lake Junaluska Associates group, comprising homeowners and friends from across the jurisdiction, has supported the facility and contributed funds for the beautification of the grounds.
While the organization is a business, its workers would rather claim what they do is a form of ministry.
Carr hopes future programs will be responsive to the church's needs. "We want to be a little more focused on what we offer and provide more things that are cutting edge. We're constantly searching for new things that can be done to accomplish our mission."
And is there a message for people who might be concerned that
"Come and make your decision for yourself," Howle says. "We want everyone to come and be a part of our ministry."
"If people come, they'll find the same kind of experience they've had in the past 10 or 15 years, the same balanced ministry offerings," adds Carr. "I hope people won't let themselves get caught up in all the continuing hype, and experience Lake Junaluska as pro-Jesus Christ and pro-ministry of Christ."