The Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ plans to sell Pilgrim Point, the 46-acre church camp on Lake Ida it has run since the late 1950s, church leaders said.
A March 6 message from the board to church members that is posted on the church's website said it had met to consider 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," the message read.
While the decision was a wrenching one for board members and church members who spent time at Pilgrim Point, it had also been a long time coming, said Conference Minister Shari Prestemon.
Ten years ago, the camp hadn't been doing well financially, so the board decided to suspend programming, she said. But conference members overturned that decision. During the past decade, the church tried to make the camp more accessible and financially sustainable, but it was still used by less than a third of its members, and even fewer used it regularly, Prestemon said.
Those who used it, though, loved it, she said. It created bonds between members, provided a place to reflect on God's creation and helped to deepen their faith.
"It's been a property that's been part of our faith life together for a lot of years," she said. "There's a lot of memories attached to it."
She called it "unlikely" that conference members would again overturn the board's plans.
Douglas County values the land and buildings at about $9.5 million, although Prestemon said its actual value is "much, much lower." As a religious organization, the conference does not pay property taxes, but if a private owner bought it at the county's estimate, it would bring about $136,000 in tax dollars into the county, said Douglas County Assessor Keith Albertsen.
Pilgrim Point has more than 5,500 feet of shoreline, buildings with sleeping space for close to 150, plus a campground with eight electric hookup sites. It also has a recreation hall and program center and an outdoor worship space on the lake.
Prestemon called Pilgrim Point a "sacred space," and said the church would like future use of the property to be consistent with its own values, although it doesn't need to be another church camp.
"As a Christian denomination, we believe that God requires us as people of faith and as human beings on the land, the creation given to us by God, to be caretakers and stewards of that creation to the best of our abilities," she said. "We would hope that moving forward, whoever has that property, brings to that sacred ground respect and care and understands it as a precious resource that we understand it to be."
In a very real way, the conference has encountered what any vacation home owner finds to be true: Expensive recreational property becomes the default destination for all trips.
"When you don't own a camp, that opens up the possibilities," Prestemon said. "You can be more creative. ... Quite frankly, some people want to go to the Boundary Waters. Some people want to go rappelling."
Plus, the set-up, with bunk beds and lack of private bathrooms, was more geared toward youth, while programs were aimed more at adults and families. The conference estimated that keeping it would cost about $3 million to convert it to a year-round adult retreat center.
Proceeds from the sale of Pilgrim Point Camp will help support other conference priorities, church leaders said, including a new, more flexible model of outdoor ministries.
Pilgrim Point had to cancel much of its 2018 programming after a July 4 fire destroyed its dining hall. It also does not plan to have any programming there this year. Some camps will be held at Luther Crest Bible Camp, about two miles away, while others will be held in other counties.
The property is not yet listed for sale, and the conference has not engaged an agent, Prestemon said, as it is still communicating the plans to conference members. The conference includes 128 congregations, including one in Alexandria.
Prestemon acknowledged that the changes will mean fewer interactions with the local business community.
"We really treasure the relationship we've had with the Alexandria community and with the Lake Ida community," Prestemon said. "Alexandria has been a good home for us. ... I believe we've been a partner of good integrity and a good neighbor and we hope whoever the next owner is will also be a good neighbor in that community."