On the mountain

Each year, the Mountain T.O.P. ministry holds an event called Friends Weekend, at which friends of the ministry show up to work on Mountain T.O.P.’s base camp, Cumberland Pines, to get it ready for the busy spring and summer camp seasons. It’s a bit more relaxed than the normal home repair ministry; if you want to take some time off to visit old friends or favorite place on the mountain, you’re free to do so.

A few years ago, they added a fundraising event called the George Bass Brick & Mortar Fund Dinner. This is held on the Saturday night of Friends Weekend, and it’s open not only to Friends Weekend participants but to anyone. It’s named for the late George Bass, who founded Mountain T.O.P.

I haven’t been to Friends weekend in years, and I’m ashamed to admit that while I have meant to attend the George Bass Fund dinner numerous times over the years, I haven’t ever made it. Sometimes it was my fault, sometimes it wasn’t.

I thought about going this year, but didn’t get my reservation in in time.

Friday night, I got a text message from one of my Mountain T.O.P. friends, Jan Lloyd-Gohl. Jan lives near Chicago, although she’s about to move to Colorado, which will make it harder for her to attend Mountain T.O.P. events going forward. Jan was in town for Friends Weekend — as usual, she came down a day early for sight-seeing, this year in and around Murfreesboro. She said wasn’t planning on working Saturday. She wanted to know if I wanted to meet her somewhere between Shelbyville and Cumberland Pines.

We settled on Jiffy Burger in Manchester, where I was met by not only Jan but several of her friends.

That’s Jan next to me on the right.

I had planned to have a leisurely lunch and then head home to Shelbyville. But as soon as I sat down, Jan told me that a) somone with a ticket for the Brick & Mortar Dinner had backed out, and b) it had been suggested that Jan invite me to the dinner to take his place. Jan made it sound like Mountain T.O.P. executive director Ed Simmons had suggested this to Jan, but I suspect it was probably the other way around.

Well, I figured this was a sign that I needed to be at the George Bass Brick & Mortar Dinner. I didn’t want to drive back to Shelbyville, only to have to turn around and head back to the mountain, so I decided to kill some time. After our lunch, Jan and her friends headed straight back to camp and then Jan headed from there to Mountain Goat Market in Monteagle, where she met up with two young women, now adults, whom she’d worked with in Summer Plus in years past.

I, meanwhile, took I-24 over Monteagle Mountain and headed down to South Pittsburg, Tennessee. I’d been meaning to visit the Lodge cast iron factory outlet store ever since they moved into a bigger building several years ago. I had visited the old store several different times, and loved it. They have all sorts of cast iron cookware and other kitchen stuff. There’s a special section of the store with bargain-priced factory seconds — usually some minor nick or scratch that makes no difference whatsoever to the piece’s functionality.

I bought a round griddle — it looks like a skillet with a lip instead of sides — a couple of cheap kitchen widgets, and some cheese grits.

I headed back to the Interstate, and stopped to make a pit stop. While I was sitting in McDonald’s sipping on a Diet Coke, it occurred to me that instead of taking I-24 back up the mountain, I should go the back way, through Jasper, Whitwell, and Palmer.

For several years, Mountain T.O.P. had a week of Summer Plus ministry in Marion County, picking up teens from South Pittsburg, Jasper and Whitwell and taking them to Camp Glancy. I have a lot of fond memories of this period, and I hadn’t driven through that area in many years, probably since I was there doing Summer Plus. So it was fun to take the back way up the mountain and remember some of those days.

I got to camp and immediately started seeing familiar faces — Rich and Dottie Campbell, Jan Schilling, Ray Jones, Curtis Piper, Doug Warner, Sonja Good, Marge Kollar, Reed and Deeda Bradford, and on and on. Rene Bass was there, and George’s daughter Trish Holliday was one of the speakers. Sadly, I did not get a chance to speak to Trish. I was actually standing near her after the event, waiting to go up and say hello, but she was in conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt. I should have.

The Jan Club: Jan Schilling and Jan “Jan-Jan” Lloyd-Gohl.

There were live and silent auctions, and the live auction was a hoot. Craig Wright, a Mountain T.O.P. stalwart, was unable to attend due to recent heart surgery, so Jan Lloyd-Gohl had him on Facetime, communicating with him about bidding on the reserved camp parking space that has borne Craig’s name for several years. Sadly, Craig was outbid, by (if I remember correctly) Phil Swords.

By the way, here I am in October 2017, trespassing on the space in question:

After the auction, there were awards, and I was tickled that Jan Lloyd-Gohl was selected as one of several additions to the Mountain T.O.P. Fisher of People Hall of Fame.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and I am so grateful to Jan for getting me to attend.

Last August was the 25th anniversary of my first Mountain T.O.P. event. It was kind of bittersweet. Mountain T.O.P. as a ministry is stronger than ever, and more focused than ever on partnership ministry in its service area. But the market for adult volunteer events has shifted over the years. The week-long AIM events which have meant so much to me over the past quarter-century have declined in attendance; in the adult ministry, focus has shifted to weekend-only events, which are typically home repair-only, without the option of programs like Summer Plus or Kaleidoscope. (There is one fall weekend where you have the option of participating in Mountain T.O.P.’s Fall Festival.)

I knew from my last few AIM weeks that something would have to change, and sure enough, I found out last year that no week-long AIM events, in the form I knew them, were being scheduled for 2019. Care of the Kaleidoscope and Summer Plus programs was being shifted to Mountain T.O.P.’s flagship Youth Summer Ministry, which involves church youth groups and the adults who come to camp with them.

After I realized that the week-long summer events had officially been spiked, I agreed to be a chaperone with the youth of my church to Youth 2019, a conference planned for Kansas City in July. That, not Mountain T.O.P., will be my week of ministry this summer.

Since that time, Mountain T.O.P. has announced a new program that allows small groups of adults to attend during the summer and participate in AIM-like activities, including Kaleidoscope and Summer Plus, in conjunction with YSM camp weeks. Maybe I’ll try to do that in 2020. I’d also like to get back up to Fall Festival this October.

I will always consider myself a friend and supporter of the Mountain T.O.P. ministry. When I start to get nostalgic about my own experiences — such as on my drive through Marion County this afternoon — that’s fine, as long as I keep in mind that Mountain T.O.P. isn’t primarily about my own experience; it’s about ministry.