Sunday, March 8, 2015

Holy Snow

Every year as Ober prepares for their Spring Fling event, a patch of snow is melted into a small, extremely cold pool of water that is used for a pond skimming event. For the past few years, this body of water has also been a holy spot for a few who choose to make public commitments of faith by being baptized in this freezing pool. This morning before the slopes opened, another member of our Ober family made her faith public as she stood before her friends and family. We are thankful for her faith that is stronger than the bitter chill of winter; we pray that each person present on the mountain today is blessed by her commitment as they touch this holy snow and this holy water.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Living Mission of SMRM

Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries has operated under one mission statement since its beginning: to reveal the presence of God to those who live, work, and play in the resort settings of Sevier County and the Smoky Mountains.  This mission statement has never been made more real to me than in my time with Ober Gatlinburg during this winter season.

Each Sunday afternoon begins with a worship service at the top of a ski lift. These services are open to anyone who is interested—visitors, employees, ski patrol are all welcome to join on any given Sunday. This last Sunday’s service was filled with people who have been attending these services for many years. Two were members of ski patrol who are frequent visitors to Sunday worship. Two local families also attended, both of which were very familiar with the services we’ve had for so many years. We praised God together for the pause from a morning of fun and movement. The love of God is alive through SMRM for the people of Sevier County.

Ski ministry involves countless hours spent working alongside the employees of Ober while not actually being in place as an employee. Even from an outsiders’ perspective, it is a joy to see the family bonds that the employees share with one another and a joy to be welcomed in as a trusted friend. Aside from the usual banter, there are also many opportunities for quiet and personal conversations. We are trusted as friends, as wisdom givers, and as pastors. The love of God is alive through SMRM for the employees of Ober Gatlinburg.

And of course, among the joy of services and conversations throughout the day, there is always time to take advantage of the season and play on the snow. Sunday is a day off for many of the international employees, so it is not uncommon to see many of them taking the time to enjoy skiing or snowboarding on a beautiful sunny morning. There is no better opportunity to better know a friend than by being stuck together on a chairlift! It’s these times that allow us to understand each other better—to have intentional and meaningful conversations. The love of God becomes tangible in these moments to the students through SMRM.

Each day working at Ober Gatlinburg solidifies the mission of SMRM as God brings this mission to life in every person we encounter. Thanks be to God.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ober Gatlinburg Donut Devotional

A Donut Devotional begins in the early morning darkness at the Donut Friar in Gatlinburg, TN with good friends who make the best donuts anywhere. These donuts of grace are God blessed --even the cake donuts for a special few. Setup at Ober Gatlinburg is followed by a moment of sunrise breathing and praying --placing ourselves in the beauty of a Smoky Mountain morning and the beauty of God's love. Then comes the joy of sharing with every employee as they arrive on the mountain. A donut and a written devotional and wake up hugs and blessings. This is resort ministry and ski ministry at its best. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Welcome SMRM, Inc.!

Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries, Inc. is now a legal entity with a Board of Directors, a new Director (Bill Black), a promising future, and a God-guided hope. The Board of Directors met for the first time on the evening of September 18th and voted SMRM, Inc. into existence! The Board is currently comprised of four individuals: Eric Spivey, Charlie Shields, David Lambert, and George Carriker. Each of these members offer unique perspectives in business and ministry that will help advance SMRM, Inc. into the future. Their support is highly valued, as well as their commitment to SMRM, Inc. 

While this is a huge step forward in being able to continue our work in Sevier County, there is still much work to be done in advancing this ministry with funding. Our goal is still to reach $14,000 a month in order to continue the regular operations of the ministry that is known and loved within this community. Now is the time for you to help generate future funding and to give personally. We need the support of individuals, churches, and communities in order to advance into the future. Our first Board meeting was a joy with taking the legal steps needed. Thanks be to God. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Be Prepared

“Be prepared.”   The Boy Scout motto.  “Be prepared” stands as a wonderful work phrase for my life.  From my Scouting experience as a Tenderfoot through Eagle Scout, it guided me. Practical lessons from Mr. Boyd, our Scout Master, about setting up camp: “tents first, water second, fire third, food fourth, then fun” still ring true in my setting priorities.  “Be prepared” speaks into daily life, adventure, travel, work, and so many other life expressions.

Sidebar:  To Be Prepared is greater than having a plan.  In the dynamics of business and ministry of this century, preparation is greater than planning.  The focus of the late 1990’s on “long range plans”, “current action plans”, and “goals, plans, actions” no longer speaks into the fluidity of current climates.  Plans cannot keep up with the pace of action around us.  The current action of deterioration in denominational status and programs moves rapidly.  The present and real recession in business and economic life continues to spin out consequences.  The current action of building new expressions of Church for God’s people carries a momentum all its own.  While we cannot anticipate what God is doing or where God will lead, we are to Be Prepared to see, be amazed, and to move when directed (see Bill Black on Behold! Isaiah 43: 19). 

(Editorial subnote question:  How does last sentence compare and contrast to Blackaby’s Experiencing God lessons?)

In Isaiah 43: 19 God declares “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

The context of the passage is a new way home from Babylonian exile for God’s people. 

The implication for God’s people is to prepare themselves to move.  The command to move is not there.  But the anticipation is there.  Be Prepared for the moment and the movement. Be Prepared sits at the end of hope.


Be Prepared also speaks into survival.  The following thoughts on survival point me and those of us in resort ministry to be prepared.  They are not intended as anticipation of looming disaster nor are they intended to be a “self-fulfilling prophecy” (to borrow from Scott Capshaw).  They do recognize that we are on the edge of great changes in systems of support and affirmation. 

To go into Boy Scout tradition and material once again, I would quote from the Fieldbook For Boys And Men that I often studied as a Boy Scout:

“Most of us, in doing fairly ordinary things, are close to disaster at one time or another.  Mostly things work out fine and we blink away any sense of danger.  But then up crops the broken ankle, the dry radiator, the turn of weather, wheels deep in sand, or the flapping rudder—and suddenly things are different.  In itself it may not seem to serious, but things seem to snowball, and you realize you are alone, lost, adrift, cut off, wrecked, stuck, the radio is dead, or the electricity is gone for good.  Now you are on your own …you need help.

How soon will help come?  Will it come?  Does anyone know?  When will they start looking? How?  Can you manage until they come? What are your urgent needs now and until help arrives?

…You must survive until safe.  So after sustaining life through first aid, STOP!  Try to figure out what kind of a jam you are in.  Relax, if only for a few minutes, and fight off any feelings of panic.  Saying a prayer might not be a bad idea.”

“Then see how these things might fit into the puzzle somehow:  signals to searchers or possible rescuers; shelter to prevent injury from the elements; fire for signaling, cooking, and cheer or warmth; water to sustain life; food for cheer and energy; tools to obtain food, improve shelter, and afford protection; and finally, some means of travel if that is your only hope.  Keep first things first.  Survive until safe.”

“If morale is your strongest weapon in your fight for life, probably the greatest defense you can have against adversity and despair will be your reliance on inner strengths developed through your religion.” 

Fieldbook For Boys And Men;  Boy Scouts of America;  1967,  pp. 300, 301, 332


Signals:    Face facts:  we have been abandoned;  we are on our own;  we must recognize that we must have outside help; 

Clear message of who we are; what has happened;   (without recrimination on those who set us free and without seeing as judgment of God on self or ministry)

Clear message of what our hope is; what our goals are

Clear message of where we are going; what our work is; invitation to join with us; 

Accurate communication   --what instruments of communication needed and necessary to get message out


Shelter:   protection from the elements that seek to draw our energy

Place of security and home

Biblical image of pilgrims in camp and on journey with God watching over (Ps 121)

Breathing space; comfort;

What this looks like in survival mode:  less than where we were;  roughing it;  gradually into greater    From Tom Hanks in Cast Away to Swiss Family Robinson—not instantaneous


Fire:  “The Church exists by mission even as fire exists by burning.”  Emil Bruner

Hold on to passion  --beyond the blows to identity and selfhood;  this is not about “you”

Keep mission:   clear vision and task

Avoid mission creep where we are doing more than supposed to do, thinking that is necessary for money or survival


Water:  Sustainer of life; Greater need for water than food;

Finding God as source of spring of life;  

Flow of Holy Spirit;   Going with flow of where Spirit leads;  Staying in channel of what God wants us to do;   Point about flow:  we are not in control  --God is;  we do not paddle to go against current but to stay in it;  we float with flow;


Food:  Food groups:  meat; grains; fruits and vegetables; dairy  

Versus  my food groups of barbeque; seafood; chocolate; potato chips

Food groups:  Identify what is needed:  Money; church support; friends united in caring; board with mission; ability to continue to work (we get our identity from where and how we minister) –point is that we are not spending all our time on development or management;

Hunting, Fishing, Edible plants (section in Fieldcraft book)  ---learning new skills necessary for survival   --boards, economic development, non-profit management, sales (of organization), program development, capital improvement, etc.


Tools:  New systems for:   volunteers; partners; equipment; offices; housing; etc.

New styles of ministry funding

New ministry possibilities (without limits of denominational requirements)  (again, avoid mission creep)
New ministry styles and expressions (with freedom of self/board determination)


Some means of travel:  Most survival is “stay in place”   “Get found”    Rare and powerful occasion:  Move

Find the right system for accomplishing call; for ministry

Denominational vehicle / system ending;   

Find new;

Create new

Search out correct models; Establish correct and accountable system; Adapt it as necessary;

Point:   God called person for God called ministry;   Search out the God given means of getting there


Keeping morale in times of stress:   outside help; inside help;

Keep the faith;  

Trust as stepping out /   Trust as letting go

A new way to struggle

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chronos and Kairos in Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries


Chronos In SMRM
Chronological time is sequential time.  It is that simple recognition of what has happened.   As one who loves history, chronos provides for me a framework to understand story as when it happened and who was involved in it. 

The chronological story of Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries (SMRM) makes for a story of God guided moments and people that is a joy to reflect upon.   Chronos in SMRM is long and rich and filled with powerful people who appear in the story at the right time to move this ministry through time. 

Chronos in SMRM is organizational in the 1970’s with active beginnings and creative and new mission expressions.   It is names like Glenn Cardwell, W.A. Galyon, Melvin Carr, and all of Sevier County Association of Baptists working together to birth something new.   The story of the 1970’s involves Randy Hurst and Stan and Joanie Albright and such things as campground ministries and The Fishnet Coffeehouse.  

Bill and Cindy Black arrived in 1981 as SMRM was made a full time missionary position.   The 1980’s became a time of program development and skill development as resort missions took its place in mission awareness.   The ski ministry at Ober Gatlinburg was begun.  As Pigeon Forge came into its own as a resort destination, SMRM expanded again with puppet shows at the first outlet malls and outreach into the water parks.   Special event ministries were designed for such things as the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair.  The chronology of the 1980’s reveals programs, people (summer staffs of 20 or more!), and numbers.

The 1990’s deepened the story SMRM through celebrating long relationships with churches such as Thomson, GA First Baptist or Lebanon, TN First Baptist who send mission teams each year (both began in the1980’s and continue to this day!).  Those long relationships were celebrated and utilized through our house parent corps.  The story deepened through the development of the Dollywood chaplain’s ministries through Eric Spivey and others.  The death of Art Holloway through cancer and the death of Kelley Shelton through an accident made real the SMRM community with the Art Holloway Missions Endowment Fund and with a soul-searched and God-guided redefining of SMRM in terms of mission, vision, and character statement (how is “risk” at work in SMRM?).

The timeline of the 2000’s and this current decade is marked with relational ministries done by small staffs with deep community involvement.  Scott and Jenn Capshaw, Lizzie Sessions Kirk, and many of our now-grown-up-former-summer-missionaries-who-come-back-to-serve have made real our key missional words of intention, initiative, purpose, and action.  The presence of international workers in our resorts has led to SMRM becoming a global force for missions.  SMRM is blessed by God in ministry action every day.

Kairos In SMRM
Understanding SMRM in the fullness of time provides for an even deeper appreciation of this ministry.   Kairos is the Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment. Kairos interprets the meaning of time and recognizes the qualitative nature of time.  Kairos is the fullness of time.

Through time, SMRM has functioned (1) to allow creativity to become a key expression of missions; (2) to provide worship and Christian interpretation of life in outdoor and unexpected places and moments; (3) to express Christian care into the lives of those in need and in hope; (4) to share God’s love and invite others into that loving and saving presence through Jesus Christ; (5) to develop and set the standards of the language and action of resort missions; (6) to model the Church as it can be known in resort settings and to leisure lifestyle people; (7) to grow Christians in their understanding of mission; (8) to allow people to discover God’s will for their lives and to test the meaning of that will in a Christian community of acceptance; (9) to become a deep and connected missional community; (10) to reveal the presence of God active in peoples’ lives; (11) to move people out of their comfort zones and into God’s world on the edge; (12) to be a celebrative and joyful people connected all over our world as SMRM’ers; (13) to impact the world with God’s love as people with whom we minister go from this place; (14) to be the Church in this moment of time in this place! 

(I wrote this list at 4:30 a.m. without hesitation or design.  I would invite you to think of SMRM’s impact on you or God’s use of you through SMRM for more such phrases.)
The Chronos Of Now
The chronos of now, however, has become a key moment for SMRM.   This is the new age where SMRM must stand on its own feet.   Denominational support that has worked from its beginnings has been lost.   Southern Baptists and Tennessee Baptists no longer support SMRM with any financial help.  Sevier County Association of Baptists believe in resort missions and SMRM.  They have affirmed Bill Black as Director. 

Now, SMRM is an independent non-profit corporation with ministry guidance from the Sevier County Association of Baptists.  Now, SMRM must raise its own money for both salary and program.  Now, SMRM needs $168,000 a year to meet its budget.  Now is the new and powerful moment for SMRM to secure its future and continue its powerful story. Now, SMRM needs you to give and to become involved in its funding and its future. 

The Kairos Of Now
The kairos of now is also a key moment for SMRM.  Our ministry model remains strong and God-blessed.  Our business model is being developed new and fresh.  We need you as God’s people to become involved in giving at present, funding for the future, and finding funding for the future. 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, before the Divine Liturgy begins, the Deacon exclaims to the Priest, "Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio" ("It is time [kairos] for the Lord to act"); indicating that the time of the Liturgy is an intersection with Eternity.  How is that for putting pressure on the minister to speak what is Holy!  

It is time (kairos) for the Lord to act.
It is time for the Lord to act in and through you.
Now SMRM needs you.
Now is the holy moment of making SMRM new and interpreting SMRM new.
Now the future is here.
Now the chronos and kairos come together for SMRM.
Now is our holy word!

Get involved Now!
Give Now!
Plan for giving Now!
Develop funding for SMRM

Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries
Bill Black
PO Box 114
Gatlinburg, TN 37738