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Why Laity Lodge?

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Part 8 of series: Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God
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To read this series, Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God, from the beginning, click here.

In my last post I told the story of how my sermon on new wine and wineskins confronted me with a choice: either be open to the possibility that God had new wineskins for my life, or be a hypocrite. Since I’m generally allergic to hypocrisy, I chose to be open to changes in my life that I had previously rejected. Specifically, I agreed to have a second conversation with a man named Paul, who served on a pastor search committee of a church on the East Coast. In sixteen years as the pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I had never before engaged in such a conversation with another church. But, as I discussed this with my wife, I said, mostly in jest, “Well, maybe this conversation with Paul is God’s way of getting us to Laity Lodge.”

That turned out to be an ironic statement, of course. I had known for over a year that Laity Lodge was looking for a Director and an Executive Director. As I mentioned earlier in this series, they had sent me an attractive information packet, and had made an effort to contact me through Laura, their executive search consultant. Moreover, one of my best friends, who had spoken with Laura, had strongly encouraged me to consider a position at Laity Lodge. “This is perfect for you,” he told me. Nevertheless, I rejected his counsel and I dodged all conversations with Laura. I didn’t want to complicate my life with thoughts of Laity Lodge.

But there was a part of me that felt drawn to this place in Texas, a part I managed to suppress for over a year. My attraction to Laity Lodge requires some explanation, because most Californians have never heard of Laity Lodge, let alone feel some desire to work there. But I had, in fact, heard of Laity Lodge for most of my life.

Early Visions of Laity Lodge

It all began in the 1960s when I was growing up in Glendale, California. My uncle, Don Williams, was a pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Somehow he became connected with Howard E. Butt, Jr., a groceryman from Texas who, as a layperson, had a powerful ministry of preaching and a passion for lay ministry (the ministry of all of God’s people in the church and the world). In 1961 Howard Butt founded Laity Lodge along the Frio River in the Hill Country of Texas. Not long afterward my uncle began speaking there and at other venues where he teamed up with Howard Butt.

flat-plainWhen I was in elementary school, I heard stories from my uncle about Laity Lodge and its marvelous ministry. I never saw pictures of the retreat center, however, so I imagined that it looked like the only parts of Texas I had ever seen: the dusty, hot plains of the Panhandle. Frankly, I couldn’t quite figure out why anybody would want to build a retreat center there. (The photo to the right is not the location of Laity Lodge, but it is rather like what I once envisioned. The reality is immeasurably better.)

Howard Butt Impacts My Life

One time when my uncle spoke at Laity Lodge, he invited his parents to a retreat there. They were both quite involved in their church, though my grandfather had never accepted Christ in a personal way. Christianity was, for him, simply part of a disciplined, decent life. While at Laity Lodge, my grandfather heard Howard Butt preach. When he ended his message with an invitation for people to receive Christ as Lord and Savior, my grandfather did so. Hearing him tell this story gave me huge appreciation for Laity Lodge and for Howard Butt in particular. He had helped one of the people I loved most in the world become a Christian, and for this I was (and still am) profoundly grateful.

On one of my uncle’s speaking trips to Laity Lodge, Howard Butt asked if he might listen to cassette tapes of my uncle’s teaching. My uncle replied that he didn’t have any tapes or any way to make them. This inspired Howard to help my uncle get the equipment he needed to produce cassettes of his messages. While I was in high school and college, I worked for the little ministry spawned by this effort, which further increased my appreciation for Howard Butt, a man I never expected to meet in order to say “Thank you for helping to put me through college.”

Laity Lodge Once Again

I didn’t hear much about Laity Lodge for the next twenty years, until a friend of mine, Dave Williamson, became a Director there in 1999. Dave had been one of the pastors at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, where we met and became friends, even though we never worked on staff together. I was surprised when Dave announced his move to Laity Lodge, partly because I wondered how a Minnesotan transplant to California had ever even heard of the place.

Not long after Dave began at Laity Lodge, he invited me to speak at a retreat there. I was pleased, not only to teach the Bible to a fine group of Presbyterians from Texas, but also to see Laity Lodge at last. My wife joined me there for a retreat in 2001.

On the way to Laity Lodge from the San Antonio airport, I was surprised by how many trees filled the landscape. This wasn’t the Texas Panhandle kind of scenery I had for so long imagined. Though I teased Dave about the smallness of the “hills” in the Hill Country (remember, I’m a California boy), I was impressed by the beauty of this part of Texas.

Yet none of what I saw on the way to Laity Lodge quite prepared me for my first experience of Laity Lodge itself. I’ll pick up the story in my next post.

Topics: Why Move? |


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