Overflowing with hope: An interview with NOAC coordinator Christy Waltersdorff

This week, Newsline editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford interviewed National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) coordinator Christy Waltersdorff. The NOAC Planning Team has made the decision that the conference, held every two years, will be fully online in 2021 instead of in-person at its usual site in Lake Junaluska, N.C. Dates are Sept. 6-10. Registration starts May 1 at www.brethren.org/noac.

The theme is “Overflowing with Hope” inspired by Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Christian Standard Bible).

The NOAC Planning Team includes (from left) Paula Ziegler Ulrich, Karen Dillon, coordinator Christy Waltersdorff, Glenn Bollinger, Pat Roberts, Jim Martinez, and (not shown here) Rex Miller and staff Josh Brockway and Stan Dueck.

The planning team for NOAC 2021. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Why take NOAC online?

We made the decision last October, and at that time there was no vaccine yet. We felt like for the common good for everyone, we shouldn’t meet in person. We were concerned about things like if the bus lines would be running. There were so many uncertainties. We decided it would be better to have it online rather than not at all. The NOAC demographic is in the highest risk category, and even now who is to say who all will be vaccinated by September?

This is all brand new. We’re making it up as we go along! We’re asking people who know what they’re doing to help us figure it out.

What will be the highlight of this online conference?

People who have not been able to attend can attend–people who can’t travel, or who are unable to get off work, for example. I’m hoping that this will especially help people with health issues.

I am hoping that congregations and Brethren retirement communities will safely invite people in to watch it together at viewing parties. And I am hoping that people will register to help pay for the costs such as speakers and technology. People think that because it’s not onsite, it’s not going to cost us anything, but it is. Even if people are watching it as a group, we’re encouraging each of them to register.

Will you be offering help for people to participate if they have trouble using the Internet or have difficulties accessing the online sessions?

Yes, I am going to be asking district offices to get information out to congregations to help people. That’s why we thought viewing parties would be a good thing, to help people who don’t know how or who don’t have the tech. I really am counting on local congregations and the Brethren retirement communities to help people figure it out. The churches that have the capacity for going online have really stepped up their game, and hopefully that will work to our advantage.

What are you looking forward to at NOAC this year?

We are really putting together a good conference. It’s the same speakers we were going to have in person, and the preachers, everything from our onsite plans are going to carry over. It’s going to be a good, powerful, strong experience.

Our keynote presenters are Karen Gonzalez, Lisa Sharon Harper, and Ken Medema and Ted Swartz. Our preachers are Andrew Wright, Paula Bowser, Don Fitzkee, Christy Dowdy, and Eric Landram. Our Bible study leader is Joel Kline.

I know that people will miss being together, however it’s a year of a pandemic. To keep everyone safe is our priority. Loving our neighbor, and all that stuff!

What will the schedule be like?

We are maintaining the same week as usual and are picking up the major pieces of NOAC, just figuring out how to make them work online.

We’re starting with Monday evening worship. Worship will be held each evening, Monday through Thursday. The mornings, starting Tuesday, will be Bible study with Joel Kline and then the keynote speakers. There will be afternoon workshops. We have ideas for virtual ice cream socials with the colleges. There will be a virtual fundraiser “Walk Around the Lake” and an opportunity to buy books for the Lake Junaluska elementary school. Libby Kinsey is working with the school librarian on a list of books about diversity that the library doesn’t yet have, and Brethren Press will be featuring the list on their website.

Exact times are still to be determined. In planning the daily schedule, we have to be aware of the different time zones from west coast to east coast. I’m always aware of how unfair the time schedule is for the western folks. But because everything will be recorded, that will help people catch up if they missed something.

What does the future look like for NOAC?

The plan is to be back at Lake Junaluska in 2023. We’re hoping that offering this year’s online will encourage new people to come to the next NOAC. We’ve looked at other locations but it’s hard to find any other place that’s comparable. Lake Junaluska offers the setting and the facilities.

How can people follow along with the planning?

Follow along on our Facebook page and our web page. And give input! The Facebook page recently asked what kinds of workshops people want, for example. Registration opens May 1 and that link will be available on the webpage. We will have paper forms available too.

— Find NOAC on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cobnoac. The NOAC webpage is at www.brethren.org/noac.