Each summer, the hills around Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina come alive with the sound of organ music, congregations singing and sermons shared by special guest preachers each Sunday morning from May 31 through August 2 in Montreat’s Anderson Auditorium.

One of the highlights of Montreat’s year-round programming is the Summer Worship Series where leading theologians and preachers from across the country join with visual and performing art professionals and volunteers in a service of worship open to the surrounding community. Organizers say all are welcome and all are invited to attend the services.

Leading off the series as guest preacher on Sunday morning May 31 was the Rev. Cláudio Carvalhaes, associate professor of homiletics and worship at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Carvalhaes grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. As a child, he worked as a shoeshine boy to make money for his family.

“I later studied theology in Sao Paulo, thankful to my local church who gave me most everything I needed to be there,” he said. “I was ordained in the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil and served a very poor community in the outskirts of Sao Paulo.”

He came to the United States in 1997 through a partnership with the Presbytery of Southern New England and started a church in Fall River, Mass. In time, he received a full scholarship at Union Theological Seminary in New York where he earned his PhD in worship and theology.

Carvalhaes chose Luke 1:39-57 as his preaching text which includes words of the Magnificat, the song Mary sang as she glorified God after learning of her role as Jesus’ mother. In explaining this sermon topic, Carvalhaes said, “If we don’t sing God’s loving and liberating song in the public square, the song of exclusion, hatred, and death will sing louder and make us deaf.”

He offered this caveat to the community: “If you don’t believe God will transform you in this worship service, stay home. Why bother? But if you do believe it, come with fear and trembling, for God will do wonders.”

Eric Wall, director of music at First Presbyterian Church in Asheville, is the conference center’s resident musician for the summer. The Rev. Ann Laird Jones and her staff of visual artists will design and implement unique ways to celebrate the act of worship and the message for the day.

In underscoring the importance of the summer worship series and anticipating its role in the Montreat experience, the Rev. Carol Steele, vice president for program at the conference center said, “Worship, like all of life, is our offering to God: the offering of our praise, prayer, gifts, and time. In the community of worship, we celebrate the abundance of ages, diversity, and creativity that are God's gifts to us. Our prayer is that we worship gratefully and faithfully, so that gratitude and faithfulness permeate all of life.”

Summer Sunday services are at 10:30 am in Anderson Auditorium, just off Assembly Drive in Montreat. Childcare is available for children six months through kindergarten at the Updike Child Care Center on Texas Road. As is the summer tradition, the community is invited to the lunch buffet at 11:45 am in the Assembly Inn’s Galax Dining Room following worship.

For further information or to learn about other worship, educational and recreational opportunities at Montreat Conference Center, one of three national conference centers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), please visit http://www.montreat.org, or call 828-669-2911.