It was not our first trip to Montreat but possibly just the second or third time we had come. From our first retreat, Warren, Marie, Douglas and I were in love with this place and the experiences we had here. On this particular trip, an event was loosely organized by some of the high school students, and they even enlisted the help of our minister at the time. Our son Douglas was probably about seven or eight and was invited to come along on the Snipe Hunt.
He was excited to be going on such an adventure with the big kids out there in the dark! The group went over instructions, assured the safe return of my child, and they left. They really weren’t gone all that long, I don’t think. That might have been the “year of the bears” and the hunt was called for safety reasons. But later, in the great room down there, Douglas urgently beckoned me to him and confided: “I saw one!”
“A snipe? Really?”
“What did it look like?”
His eyes widened with sincerity: “Just like they said it would!”
In 1996 we moved to Charlotte from Richmond, Virginia where we had attended a wonderful Presbyterian church. Warren and I understood then that choosing a church in Charlotte was more than just finding a place to hear a sermon a few times a month. A church home would be as important as the neighborhood we lived in and the schools our children attended, probably more. We knew that we weren’t raising these kids alone. A place for them to learn about God’s grace in a compassionate and caring congregation was important.
We visited many, many Presbyterian churches. Eventually, Warren, Marie and Douglas weren’t so interested in attending yet another church every Sunday. They were tired of always being the outsiders and hearing from me in the car on the way home that the church service they just sat through wasn’t “it.” When they demanded that I say what I was looking for, I didn’t have a very satisfactory answer for them. Suddenly, I had a revolt on my hands.
So, the first time I visited Trinity, I was by myself. And it was a little different: After the service, people in the congregation sought me out and spoke to me; they told me that they were glad I had come. In the next couple of days, I got phone calls from Ed Montague wanting to know how I liked the service and when I was coming back. I had never been called by a member of the congregation who really seemed to care what I thought about his church. So, I went back with my family. In a couple of weeks, my children were drawn into Sunday School. Then Warren and I with nothing else to do between 9:30 and 10:30 began attending the adult Sunday School class with Dick and Ruth Gault, Mary Louise and Al Stuart, Bill Archer, Betty McLaney, and Frances Moore. These people and lots of others showed us “congregation.” They told us their stories and listened when we told them ours. We struggled with the complex and contradictory. We laughed. We were just and handful of strangers around a table in a room sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups trying to understand what Frederick Buechner meant when he wrote, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
So, after a couple of months, we looked around us and realized that Trinity was our new church home. And it looks just like I thought it would.