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Ridgecrest turns 100 this year


Randy Hughes

A $1 million donation from the Rutland Family Foundation in Decatur helped make construction of the 300-seat Rutland Chapel possible.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, N.C., is a place many people are surprised to learn is not only one of the largest religious conference centers in the nation, but also is celebrating a century of ministry this year.

From humble beginnings in a single log cabin, LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center has grown into a 1,300-acre campus with 90,000 square feet of conference space and housing accommodations for more than 2,000 people.

“Ridgecrest has been a center not only for inspiration and blessing to people that live in western North Carolina, but to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country,” wrote Billy Graham in a letter commemorating the 100th anniversary. Graham was a frequent speaker at Ridgecrest, especially in the early years of his ministry.

More than 3 million people have visited Ridgecrest, and that number continues to grow. Some have met their spouses there, while others have developed friendships that have lasted decades.

Ridgecrest Conference Center

Jennifer Hannah, Mark Broome, center, and Bryan Culvreth, all of First Baptist Church in Abbeville, S.C., relax after morning sessions of the 2003 Singles Labor Day Conference held at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center. Ridgecrest celebrates its 100th birthday this year.

“There are many thousands of pastors, missionaries, and church staff members who can point to a moment at Ridgecrest when they committed their lives to Christ or to vocational ministry,” said Byron Hill, national director for LifeWay Conference Centers. “Marriages and entire families have been strengthened or transformed, and numerous laypersons have received training to better equip them for ministry.”

While Ridgecrest began as a retreat for Southern Baptists, in recent years the conference center has drawn visitors from Christian leaders and a variety of Christian denominations throughout the nation.

“When Christian leaders are in our area, it’s not just good for the economy but for spiritual impact as well,” noted James Walker, senior pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Asheville.

Said Asheville Mayor Charles Worley, “There is a strong recognition that the Asheville area is a spiritual center, and Ridgecrest has been a big part of that.”

A new hotel opening, a centennial luncheon, and a staff alumni reunion are among the events that will be held to commemorate the anniversary, which kicks off this month. In the coming months LifeWay will release a series of news releases based on real-life stories from individuals who had meaningful experiences at Ridgecrest.

Randy Hughes

A guest at Ridgecrest Conference Center takes a shot at scaling the climbing wall.

Last summer, B&H Publishing Group released Ridgecrest: A Century of Spiritual Renewal, a 96-page, full-color coffee table book that takes readers on a nostalgic journey at Ridgecrest.

Chapters include testimonials from Billy Graham and the late Adrian Rogers; a look at the volunteers and donors who make Ridgecrest’s work possible; and a section that focuses on camps and programs for young people.

Interspersed throughout the book are stories submitted by people of all ages whose lives have been influenced by their time at Ridgecrest.