By: Christa Meland
The Minnesota Conference Board of Trustees last week gave the green light for construction on a new Tabernacle at Koronis Ministries to begin this fall—which will put the new Tabernacle on track to open in time for the 2020 summer camp season.
“We are so excited to see this long-awaited project come to fruition,” said Keith Shew, director of the Dakotas-Minnesota Camp and Retreat Ministry. “Koronis is growing by leaps and bounds, and the new Tabernacle will allow it to provide better amenities, accommodate larger retreats, and attract more groups in the years to come. The new Tabernacle will allow us to provide even better Christian hospitality to our churches, the state of Minnesota, the Upper Midwest, and beyond.”
Plans for a new multi-level, multi-use Tabernacle at the Paynesville camp have been in the works for some time, and the former Tabernacle was razed in spring 2015. Since then, a capital campaign has been underway to raise funds for the new structure. While estimates initially put the cost at $2 million, that amount has increased to $2.6 million over the past several years in large part due to inflation and recent tariffs.
To date, churches and individual donors have given more than $600,000 for the new Tabernacle, and Trustees just authorized the camping ministry to use up to $2 million in proceeds from the sale of former Minnesota camps Kingswood and Decision Hills to fund the remainder of the cost; when the annual conference approved the sale of those properties, it was with the understanding that proceeds would be reinvested into the camping ministry. However, the plan is to continue to raise additional funds from donors so that the camping ministry can retain more of its current assets for future projects: The Dakotas-Minnesota Camp and Retreat Council is also looking at possibilities to expand and grow Northern Pines Camp in Park Rapids.
The new two-story Tabernacle will overlook Lake Koronis and have capacity for more than 300 people. Unlike the previous structure, this new facility will be available year-round with state-of-the-art technology, modern amenities, and full accessibility. The top floor will consist of worship space that can be divided into separate meeting rooms, and the bottom will have unfinished space for a future dining room and commercial kitchen.
A new Tabernacle has long been part of Koronis’ master plan for development—and camp consultant Kaleidoscope, Inc., in 2012 affirmed the plan to build a new tabernacle and cited it as a key leverage point for Koronis’ long-term vitality.
When the increased project estimate recently came in, the Dakotas-Minnesota Camp and Retreat Council talked about the possibility of reducing the scope of the Tabernacle project to make it one story rather than two. But that would have eliminated the space later intended for a new dining hall and commercial kitchen, both of which have been identified as important for Koronis’ continued growth. The Council felt it was important to build the originally intended two-story structure, and to do it now—and the Trustees agreed.
“The longer we wait on this project, the most the costs are likely to increase,” said Rev. Nate Melcher, who serves Richfield UMC and is the co-chair of the Camp and Retreat Council. “If we build a one-story building, we literally put a ceiling on camp ministry for the future. The costs to add a second story later are astronomical, if not impossible.”
Koronis has seen substantial growth in recent years. Summer camp registrations this past summer were 28 percent higher than 2016, and retreat group user days have increased 60 percent during that period. This growth is exciting—but it also presents some space-related challenges.
“Practically speaking, we’re not able to say ‘yes’ to larger groups right now because of meeting space,” said Koronis Director Dan Ziegler. “In fact, we just lost a group that comes twice a year because we didn’t have large enough meeting space for them to grow into.”
That will change with the construction of the new Tabernacle.
“The time to invest in a place is when you’ve got momentum to carry you forward,” said Ziegler. “This will allow us to take momentum we’ve already got and take us to a place we’re maybe not even imagining yet.”
Both Melcher and Ziegler said that in our fast-paced culture and during this challenging time in the life of The United Methodist Church, places where people can get away to connect with Christ, creation, and community are more important than ever.
“It feels like a time when morale is a little shaky in our larger church—and to do something bold and daring that steps into the future as a church really excites me,” said Melcher.
Ziegler echoed that sentiment.
“In an age and time when we’re more scattered than we have been, a place like Koronis Ministries could be the glue that holds us together as the people of God,” said Ziegler. “We build relationships by finding common ground, by developing community. The hope is to adjust and adapt along with the times to serve our constituency in a vital, relevant way going forward.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.