“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.” For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:1-4)
On this Ash Wednesday, the 90th Psalm reassures us of God’s unfailing, unchanging nature, and simultaneously reminds us that our own circumstance is one of staggering impermanence and constant change. “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” says the pastor as ashes are imposed upon our forehead. With that, we enter into the 40 days of Lent, a time of taking stock of our lives, examining our choices and priorities, and seeking God’s guidance as we lean toward greater faithfulness.
In many ways, the strategic discernment process of the Conference over this last year has been a similar exercise. We deliberately carved time out in our lives together to take stock, to examine our priorities, and to seek God’s wisdom for our future. We have acknowledged in this journey the unrelenting change that swirls around us; we have wondered what newly calls us, and what must be left behind.
Our outdoor ministries at Pilgrim Point Camp have been a key component of our discernment process. A Pilgrim Point Camp Working Group, composed of the PPC Committee and additional members with deep dedication to that ministry, was convened in the aftermath of the July 4 fire that destroyed the camp’s dining hall. Working in parallel to the Board of Directors during these last several months, it examined our ministry at Pilgrim Point from every angle, and generated a list of seven scenarios for the future of outdoor ministries in the Minnesota Conference. Ultimately, the Working Group delivered to the Board two options for its consideration: 1) make a major capital investment of an estimated $3 million at Pilgrim Point to convert the property to a year-round, adult retreat center; or 2) sell Pilgrim Point Camp and develop a new model for outdoor ministries in the Conference. The Board and Pilgrim Point Camp Working Group met together in January to weigh both options over the course of a full day. The Board set a special meeting in February for further discussion of these options.
At the same time, the Board was engaging in other due diligence. We sought Conference-wide input through a series of surveys, focus groups, and individual interviews. We engaged a consultant to analyze the Conference’s financial position and make recommendations about long-term financial sustainability. Another consultant team helped us sift through all the feedback and collected data to begin identifying areas of ministry that were emerging as priorities. Along the way, we conducted listening sessions to “check in” and gather your collective wisdom.
This past Saturday, our Board of Directors met and again devoted a significant portion of its agenda to considering the future of Pilgrim Point and Outdoor Ministries in the Minnesota Conference. After much discussion and prayer, the Board voted unanimously to sell the Pilgrim Point Camp property. It also voted unanimously to use the proceeds of the sale of Pilgrim Point Camp to support a new model of outdoor ministries and other missional priorities and core values of the Conference.
The weight of this decision was palpable for the Board of Directors; in the moments after the vote was taken, tears were shed as we paused in silence. We know that this decision will be deeply painful for many in our Conference. Generations of family members have been fundamentally shaped by their time on the shores of Lake Ida, and youth and adults have found profound welcome and acceptance in that place. Pilgrim Point Camp has truly been “holy ground” for countless people.
In the coming months, the Board of Directors will be hosting a series of “Conference Conversations” across the State, sharing more details about the Pilgrim Point Camp decision and other priorities emerging from our discernment process. Annual Meeting will also provide an opportunity for a “town hall forum” where the Board will make a presentation and offer space for questions and dialogue. In addition, a mailing will be sent to every church with resources that summarize strategic discernment work accomplished thus far and some of the data that has driven decision-making. And you will hear more about the new model of outdoor ministries that will unfold in the Conference in the months and years ahead. We ask you to share this information widely as you receive it, and to participate in the “Conference Conversations” as you are able.
As Lent begins, Christians everywhere turn to a period of confession, prayerful self-examination, and a deep longing to be faithful amid constant change and challenge. It is in this same spirit that we continue our Conference’s season of discernment, and invite your prayers and engagement as we humbly seek God’s call for a new day.
In Christ’s Service,
Minnesota Conference UCC Board of Directors
Janet Bartz, Moderator
Jane McBride, Vice Moderator
Don Fancher, Treasurer
Maureen Engelhardt, Secretary
Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister