By Keith Martin
Now in its 178th year, the Valle Crucis Conference Center (VCCC) is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina. Located on 450 acres of mountain woodland and verdant farming valley, it is truly one of the more beautiful places on Earth. With its beauty comes a sense of timeless spiritual grace that transcends denomination or faith tradition. With offices located in the historic Mission School, the property features buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th Century, nearly all of which are on the National Historic Register. It is open year-round to accommodate groups of five to 150.
According to the VCCC website, there has been an Episcopal presence in the valley since 1842. Legend has it that Bishop Levi Stillman Ives saw the image of a St. Andrew’s Cross, in either the two streams in the valley, or in their accompanying mist, and named the area Valle Crucis, which is Latin for “Vale of the Cross.” Bishop Ives bought about 2,000 acres, much of it with his own money, and started a building project, of which only the Bishop Ives cabin still stands today.
Ives had a dream of starting a monastic order in Valle Crucis, and in the intervening years, the property has been mission school, church, apple orchard, dairy, saw mill and wagon factory, power plant, girls-only boarding school, another missionary training school, and today, a thriving conference center serving groups of people with common cause. These include youth groups on skiing trips, Diocesan events, vestry retreats, women's programs, and events by many non-profit agencies.
Perhaps the best known of the VCCC programs is the annual Valle Country Fair, a collaborative project with Holy Cross Episcopal Church held the third Saturday of each October with all net proceeds going to charity. As of 2019, together they had distributed over one million dollars in grants to approximately 115 non-profit organizations since the fair’s inception in 1979. This year being what it is, the Valle Country Fair will be held virtually, which will widen the reach of this charitable event further and enable folks from across the globe to participate in this “overgrown church bazaar.”
Now entering her sixth year at VCCC, executive director Margaret Love has led a dynamic board in repositioning their mission and purpose: “To enable rest, renewal, and transformation through care for natural beauty and a true commitment to hospitality.” She has reaffirmed the core values of the center as follows:” We embody Christ in the world through a ministry of hospitality, by preparing a safe, comfortable, beautiful space; honoring the seeker, refreshing the weary, and nourishing the hungry; and being careful stewards of the Thin Place that is Valle Crucis.”
Love says that, “Of the many industries that have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis and shutdown, conference and retreat centers have been particularly hard-hit. VCCC has experienced about 85% loss of group revenue through 2020.”
VCCC Board trustee Walter Browning says, “Margaret Love is a rockstar, and the perfect, visionary leader we need to guide the center through the challenges presented by the current pandemic.”
“Mountain folks have always been resilient and resourceful,” said Love. “Our staff have gotten creative about alternative ways of raising funds and connecting with community. From a small general store in the spring to co-working space for local professionals in the fall, VCCC is re-imagining ways of sharing the beauty of this little haven in the bowl of the mountains. Be on the lookout for drive-in concerts and affordable options for families and individuals to rent space in the historic buildings. What could be a better spot to be socially distanced?”
Regardless of which projects come to fruition, the resilience of the Valle Crucis Conference Center is being demonstrated yet again as it continues to model the “ministry of hospitality” that has been its trademark since 1842.
To support their continued ministry, go to www.vcconferences.org.
(Keith Martin is a member of Holy Cross, Valle Crucis and on the board of the Valle Crucis Conference Center. This story first appeared in Carolina Mountain Life magazine and is reprinted with permission.)