One of the more crowd-pleasing activities at Grace Ridge Retirement Community is our “mystery trips.” Interested residents show up on a designated day, hop on a bus and Life Enrichment Director Evelyn Beaver takes them someplace interesting or fun or unbelievable – like a moonshine distillery, butterfly farm or musical.

The March 25 outing took a divine turn when 13 residents, driver Wanda Miller and Beaver hit the road for Grace Ridge’s first mystery trip with a spiritual focus.

“We welcome people of all faiths for weekly worship services, gospel music and enlightenment in our on-site chapel,” Beaver said. “Residents are also invited to join our Spiritual Life Committee and take part in weekly prayer and Bible study groups.”

She added, “But spiritual fellowship doesn’t have to happen inside the walls of Grace Ridge. It can happen on walks in our gardens while communing with nature, or by learning about the fascinating stories and history of area places of worship.”

So Beaver asked resident Ken Humphreys, a reverend and chairman of the spiritual life committee, if he would help plan and organize a spiritual life mystery trip.

“He was more than happy to oblige. He began making calls to the oldest churches in Burke, Caldwell and McDowell counties and setting up what would be a most memorable day,” Beaver said.

In all, the group visited six churches and met with church members who discussed each church’s history and showed off their beautiful stained glass: Quaker Meadows Presbyterian Church in Morganton, founded in 1774 and believed to be the oldest Presbyterian Church in Burke County; St John’s Episcopal Church in Marion, founded in 1881; First Presbyterian Church of Marion, founded in 1845 by a group of 15 Presbyterians from various churches in McDowell County; Siloam Presbyterian Church in Old Fort, founded in 1778 and one of the oldest continuous Presbyterian churches in Western North Carolina; Dulatown Presbyterian Church in Lenoir, the first church of the Dulatown community, founded in 1922; and Waldensian Presbyterian Church and Museum in Valdese, founded in 1893 and the “oldest evangelical church in existence.”

“Rev. Humphreys happens to minister at a couple of the churches we visited, so he led those discussions. Those visits were particularly special because we got an insider’s peek into the life and history of those churches,” Beaver said.

The biggest surprise of the spiritual life mystery trip came at the end of the day, when Beaver took the group to a private home in Drexel. “After a full day, I had one last stop planned for everyone including Ken, who was aware of everything but this,” she said.

Soon-to-be-resident Maxine McCall invited the guests to view a “very old, spectacular piece of stained glass” that features an angel she named “Genevieve.” It was rescued around 1970 from D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. in Greensboro, and is now “alive and well” in McCall’s living room.

Beaver said, “Everyone had such a wonderful experience and I hope to plan future mystery trips that have a spiritual nature. This amazing piece of stained glass that dominates the room was the perfect finishing touch after a long day of appreciation and humbleness.”