NORTH WEBSTER, Ind. – Under the threat of rain, more than 200 United Methodists and their guests broke ground Sunday, Sept. 20 at Epworth Forest Conference Center in North Webster at the first of several cottages and other building sites on Webster Lake’s shore. The ground breaking began a $22 million renovation project at the United Methodist-owned center established in 1924. It has been 45 years since the center has built a new facility.

Taking the lead in the groundbreaking, Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner shared the importance of Epworth Forest in his life. He called it a “holy place” where he said, as a seventh grader, “I stepped forward and gave my life to Jesus. Epworth Forest is where I claimed my faith.”

During his third year of what was know as Senior High Institute, Coyner said, “This is where I responded to God’s call to ministry. It’s already a holy place. We need to help that process along… Our vision is about changed lives, not new buildings.”

He concluded his remarks, saying, “I am grateful for today. It reminds us God has blessed this place.”

After a short prayer of gratitude, Coyner and a dozen other participants turned the first soil of the first of four new waterfront cottages. Others present were invited to write prayers on thin foot-long stakes and place them in the ground.

The Rev. Chris Nunley of Hebron, Ind., and Epworth Forest Board of Directors chairperson, welcomed participants to the ceremony and said more than $2 million has been raised so construction can begin. Part of these funds includes an insurance settlement of the Redwing Lodge destroyed by fire in January 2009.

Reflecting on what the groundbreaking meant to him, Nunley said, “I confirmed my call (to ministry) here. I am a pastor because of what it means to me and my children and I want that same opportunity for my two grand-kids.”

Retired United Methodist Bishop Sheldon Duecker led the ceremony in prayer. Duecker was ordained in Indiana and served both in the former North Indiana Conference and as Bishop of the church’s Northern Illinois Area. He now lives with his wife Marge in Fort Wayne. The Dueckers are strong advocates of the campaign for the camping ministry at Epworth Forest.

According to campaign information, the total long-term renovation goal is $22 million. Phase one will cost $10 million and includes: two large waterfront cottages, four small waterfront cottages, infrastructure, parking, boat house, tower, utilities and administration. Phase two includes: infrastructure, utilities, demolition, auditorium, dining, classrooms, a ministry endowment fund, program start up and administration.

The groundbreaking was in done conjunction with the fall “Illuminate” youth retreat. Approximately 1,000 youth also were present at Epworth Forest that weekend which concluded with a Gospel concert following the groundbreaking.

For more information and a video about the Epworth Forest campaign, visit

Tribute Donors to Campaign for Camping Ministry at Epworth Forest

Dr. David and Linda Allen, Norma Bloom (Bloom Family Trust), Bishop Sheldon and Marge Duecker, Craig and Connie Fulmer, Rick and Vicki James, Judith Johnson, Marge and John Shoup, Bill and Jean Tyler, Auburn First UMC, Bluffton First UMC, Fort Wayne Good Shepherd UMC, Fort Wayne Sonrise UMC, Leo UMC.

Photo courtesy of Epworth Forest Campaign

Bishop Mike Coyner leads in turning the first soil of one of four new waterfront cottages planned for Epworth Forest.

“This is where I responded to God’s call to ministry.”

-- Bishop Mike Coyner




United Methodist broke ground on one of four cottages that will appear like this elevation picture displayed Sunday, Sept. 20.

Ground breaking participants saw this drawing of how Epworth Forest will appear after a $22 million renovation.

Together photo

Tribute Donors Laura Shatto and her mother Norma Bloom review plans of the Epworth Forest expansion prior to the groundbreaking at the conference center Sept. 20.