By: Christa Meland
The Tabernacle at Koronis Ministries in Paynesville has been part of Dwight Rieke’s life for 91 of the 92 years he’s been alive. Not a year has gone by when he hasn’t spent time at the cottage that his father built on the grounds of the camp.
“At the time I was in my teen years…I completely accepted the Lord there,” said Rieke. It is a place where “everybody feels the love of Christ.”
Because the sacred structure has played an important role in his faith journey, Rieke was one of the first individuals to make a decision to support the building of a new Tabernacle—one with modern amenities that he hopes will serve as a “hallowed place of worship” for future generations.
Rieke is among thousands of people who have gathered and dedicated their lives to Christ in the historic structure built in 1922. But needs have changed dramatically over the past century. As building standards, technology, expectations of camp groups, and the use of the facility evolved, they created needs that the building could no longer accommodate. The historic Tabernacle had no restrooms, air conditioning, ceiling fans, or heat, and it wasn’t able to be used year-round. Years of use had resulted in a leaking roof and a cracked foundation that cause water to puddle inside.
A new Tabernacle
The beloved Tabernacle was razed in spring 2015—and a capital campaign for a new Tabernacle began. Plans have come together for a new year-round, multi-level, multi-use worship and meeting center overlooking Lake Koronis with capacity for more than 300 people. The new Tabernacle will be available year-round with state-of-the-art technology, modern amenities, and full accessibility. Groundbreaking on the new building is slated for Labor Day.
Koronis is on the verge of building its new Tabernacle (with unfinished space on the bottom floor for a future dining room), but churches’ and individuals’ help is needed to bring it to fruition. Through the generosity of individual donors and the 2013 sale of Camp Kingswood, $1.6 million has already been promised toward this $2 million project, but another $400,000 is needed to make it happen. Each congregation is asked to designate one Sunday between now and the end of August to give “S’more for Camp,” with a goal raising $1,500 per church. (Click here for resources to help you plan a special offering—including three videos of varying lengths, a bulletin insert, and a PowerPoint template.)
Since 2012, the Minnesota camping ministry has become debt-free, seen a 21 percent increase in summer camp registrations, grown in the number of guest groups it serves, and ended its third consecutive year financially in the black.
Meanwhile, by the end of this summer, attendance at Koronis Ministries’ summer kids’ camp will have grown almost 75 percent in just four years and the camp will serve more guest groups than it has in almost a decade, said Dan Ziegler, director of Koronis Ministries. The facility can house well over 400 people in the summer and more than 200 year-round, but right now the largest meeting room holds just 125 people. This has limited the camp’s ability to say “yes” to ministry opportunities for the church. For example, earlier this spring, the Minnesota Conference confirmation gathering had to turn away over 40 confirmands, in part because Koronis lacked meeting space—and leaders of other large gatherings, like The Event (for fifth- to ninth-grade youth), can’t even consider Koronis at this time.
‘A holy place’ for the church of tomorrow
Rev. Wayne Walther, who’s now retired, remembers worshipping in the Tabernacle 50 years ago, when he was 14 years old and just beginning to discern his call to be a pastor. “We would worship there and you could feel the Holy Spirit present,” he said. “The Tabernacle was always a holy place when you stepped in there.”
Years later, things came full circle for Walther, when he served as director of Koronis Ministries from 1999 to 2005. He remembers having electricity put into the Tabernacle so that computers and amplifiers could be used to enhance the worship experience. But even then, it was clear that other modern amenities were needed.
“I love knowing that the new Tabernacle will be on the footprint of the historic one but will have what today’s camp groups are needing,” said Walther, an early supporter of the new Tabernacle. “Since the 1920s, people have been meeting Jesus in the Tabernacle. My hope is that my grandchildren too could come there to worship and offer praise to God.”
Rev. Paul Marzahn, lead pastor at multi-campus Crossroads Church and an early supporter of the new Tabernacle, said Red Rock Camp—a summer camp for all ages that annually meets at Koronis—will celebrate its 150th anniversary this summer. But this year, its 250-plus campers will meet in a large tent because there is no new Tabernacle that can accommodate the group.
“We can go ‘retro’ for a season, but in order to go strongly forward, Red Rock Camp will depend on the kind of 21st-century meeting space the new Tabernacle represents,” he said. “It’s time for our generation to help ensure…that the church of tomorrow has a place to experience s’more Christ, s’more creation, s’more community, and s’more camp!”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church