By: Christa Meland
Since the tabernacle at Koronis Ministries was constructed in 1922, the year the camp started, thousands of people have gathered and dedicated their lives to Christ in the historic building.
But the tabernacle no longer aligns with the needs of today’s visitors—and Koronis has begun the process of planning a new tabernacle that would eventually replace it; both the conference’s Camping and Retreat Board and Board of Trustees have given the necessary approval for this process to begin.
About 12 years ago, a new tabernacle was identified as part of Koronis’ master plan for development. But the new tabernacle was put on hold as the Minnesota Conference stepped back to complete a comprehensive review of its entire camping ministry.
With that review complete and a solid ministry plan in place, camping leaders partnered with nationally recognized camp consultant Kaleidoscope in 2012 to study camp properties and suggest key moves to position them for growth and financial stability well into the future. Kaleidoscope affirmed the plan to build a new tabernacle and cited it as a key leverage point for Koronis’ long-term vitality.
“Large group experiences in the tabernacle are at the core of generations of faithful campers, and it’s a place where many people have sensed God’s call in their hearts and lives,” said Keith Shew, the Minnesota Conference’s director of camping and retreats. “As difficult as it is to say farewell to the tabernacle, it’s exciting to dream of new possibilities to reach the next generations. A new tabernacle allows for Koronis to provide the same warm Christian hospitality that it always has, but in an updated facility.”
Needs have changed dramatically over the past 90-plus years of the tabernacle’s existence. Groups gathering became smaller over time, and the tabernacle’s 1,500 seats are no longer needed; most groups meet in the remodeled assembly hall at the rear of the building.
As building standards, technology, expectations of camp groups, and the use of the facility have evolved, they have created needs that the building can no longer accommodate. The tabernacle has no restrooms, air conditioning, ceiling fans, or heat and can’t be used year-round.
Additionally, the structure’s poor lighting makes it difficult to read hymnals at night, and its minimal technological capabilities are unable to accommodate large musical groups. Years of use have resulted in a leaking roof and a cracked foundation that cause water to puddle inside. These challenges have made it difficult to use and maintain the space.
Modern amenities and meeting space are needed in order to attract year-round groups to camps and retreat centers.
“So many of us have rich and meaningful memories of this grand old building: great worship times with joyous and soul-stirring music, quiet prayer, and decisions to follow in the steps of Jesus,” said retired Rev. Dave Schneider, a longtime attendee of Koronis. “But just as none of us drive a 1935 Ford or heat our water in a tea kettle, so Koronis Ministries must make changes. The Christ who called people in that holy place now walks ahead, calling us anew. A new building will enable that same Christ to reach out to strengthen us and to reach new people for Christ and His way.”
Koronis’ vision for a new tabernacle is a multi-level, multi-use worship and meeting center. The goal is for it to have one large worship space that can be divided into smaller meeting rooms, a dining room and commercial kitchen, rest rooms, air conditioning, heat, improved lighting, and advanced technological capabilities. The new structure will also have intentional outdoor gathering areas where visitors can enjoy creation, which has always been an important part of the Koronis experience.
The amenities in the new facility will enhance the experience of longtime groups that return each year and attract new groups whose needs couldn’t be accommodated by the current structure. Because the new tabernacle will be designed for year-round use, more groups than ever before will be able to make Koronis part of their lives and faith journeys.
Koronis Ministries is working with an architect on conceptual plans for the new building. Preliminary plans include recreating the picture window that’s part of the current tabernacle and incorporating the bell and some of the large timbers from that building in the new structure order to serve as a reminder of the tabernacle’s rich history.
Eventually, Koronis Ministries’ current kitchen and dining space (located in the nearby Lakeview building) will be remodeled into much-needed smaller meeting areas.
A farewell service for the current tabernacle will take place at 1 p.m. Sept. 6 at Koronis Ministries in Paynesville. All are invited to the event, which will feature music and worship, a brief history of the tabernacle and an opportunity to share memories of the building, a celebration of the faith-building that’s happened at Koronis, vision-casting for the future of the camp and a new tabernacle, and an ice cream social.
The new tabernacle will be a place where people of all ages can continue to be touched by God’s wonder-filled creation and come to know Christ, themselves, and each other more deeply.
“I’m so excited about this project and the new life it will breathe into an already great ministry!” said Shew. “Koronis leaders have listened closely to camp visitors over the years and will continue to listen as they develop plans for the new facility. The new tabernacle will provide campers and guests with a modern experience, year-round, that includes all the amenities and technology that would be expected in this day and age. It will be a thing of beauty for sure!”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church