In March 2005, I arrived at New Paltz, New York, accompanied by Alan Wright, Bob Roach, Leonard Robinett and Bill Simmons. Bob and I piloted our five men to Newburgh, then made the forty-minute trek by car to our final destination near the Catskills. Eventually, we arrived at Mohonk Mountain House for the 2005 New Canaan Society Retreat.
The unusual architecture of Mohonk is impressive. Albert Smiley had built the house in several stages beginning in 1870. Smiley, who was a prominent leader in the Quaker Church, must have chosen the location and style of the architecture to reflect the sense of peace and nonviolent conflict resolution that were so important to him. Famously, Mohonk hosted the International Conference on Arbitration for many years, with a tower built upon the mountain to honor Smiley’s dedication to this peaceful effort – and eventually led to the founding of the Hague’s International Court of Justice.
This setting had quite a history with peace or shalom – and while I didn’t know it at first, it would become the perfect inspiration for the launch of a Christian men’s group in my home city of peace, Winston-Salem.
So how did I end up at Mohonk?
A friend and business colleague, Scott Castro, alerted me to the retreat and suggested I attend. As I checked out the list of speakers, I recognized two names, Jack Deere and Dudley Hall, who I had heard speak in Winston-Salem. A featured teacher was Tim Keller – someone else with a Winston-Salem connection having a relationship with Don Flow and Clyde Godwin. I went into the weekend with an open mind and thrilled to be surrounded by many other men filled with a contagious level of expectancy.
What started out as socializing in front of a burning fire in the lodge with the beauty of Lake Mohonk sparkling through the windows evolved into a directive from the Holy Spirit.
During the early stage of the conference, I felt Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, instruct me to launch an NCS men’s group in Winston-Salem. No one had set this up as a goal for the weekend or announced anything about new chapters. However, the vision which came to me was unmistakable; it grabbed my attention and my immediate agreement to comply.
In hindsight, I see my obedience to this vision from the Holy Spirit as embracing one of the “good works” which God had planned for me. The resulting relational fruit, changed hearts, and impact which our weekly gatherings, focused on friendship through Jesus, are clear examples of this.
COVID has caused many of us to spend more time reflecting – and as I thought about that weekend in 2005, I decided that maybe one of my first trips, as travel reopened, should be to Mohonk Mountain House. I suggested to Jane and our two high schoolers that we could go for spring break this year. I had not been back to Mohonk since 2006, as the NCS retreats moved to other locations in subsequent years. I assumed it would take some convincing to get the family to head north into colder weather for our vacation, but to my amazement everyone agreed.
Mohonk Mountain, Lake Mohonk (a glacier lake which depends upon rainwater to remain filled) and the Shawangunk Ridge are an amazing piece of God’s natural craftmanship, revealing his creative, life-giving Spirit. Returning to Mohonk has been special for me. It’s where Todd Chase accepted Jesus. It is where Chris Welch and I took on cross country skiing. It is where our Broom Ball Team (think hockey without skates and a puck but with brooms and a ball) secured a respectable defeat against the “Brothers of Thunder” from Boston. Most importantly, it is where a group of men, from Winston-Salem and beyond, decided to invite others into a welcoming, relational network of friends based on a personal friendship with Jesus.
Mohonk is a unique Ebenezer – a biblical form of a memorial – to the men who gathered to lift up the name of Jesus while they invested in relationships with one another. Ebenezers are important as we remember the steadfastness of God’s grace, mercy and love for us. To have an Ebenezer like Mohonk Mountain House, which anyone can visit with friends and family, is a double blessing.
Brothers, ask God to show you the works He has planned for you…as he did for me in 2005 at Mohonk. When He does, act upon His words and show up to connect with fellow Believers while encouraging and celebrating their callings with them.
Written at Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, NY on March 16, 2021