A couple of years ago, Willie Hale, a member of the then Dickinson Adventist Church in Dickinson, North Dakota, United States, saw a picture of an igloo someone built out of blocks of ice. An idea formed in his mind of involving the church family in a similar project. It turned out to be a fun day for the church family, and the local newspaper The Dickinson Press featured the colorful igloo in one of its pages.
A year later, Hale began thinking about what shape this project might take in the future. The idea of making something out of ice that would have more meaning—a replica of the biblical sanctuary—caught his imagination.
Hale knew it would take a considerably greater number of ice chunks to accomplish the task, so last Fall, he began to get ready for the project. He put the word out with the church family that he had bigger and better plans in store and asked everyone to save their half-gallon milk cartons for this purpose. It seems the almond milk industry has a loyal following in western North Dakota, as Hale collected almost 1,000 cartons, most of them of almond milk.
When winter arrived and the weather turned cold enough, Willie and his wife, Briana, along with their friends, Jarod and Frankie Fields, began filling the cartons with water and a few drops of food coloring. At the end of January, the date was set for building the sanctuary.
It was a cold and windy Sunday on Invitation Hill, the site of Dickinson’s new school and church facility overlooking the city, but Willie, Briana and those recruited to make ice hauled the cartons to the building site where, and with help from the students, construction began.
Invitation Hill Adventist School head teacher Janna Wright and her students rotated in and out of the building warming up their fingers and toes, as they took turns to help in the construction.
It is not an altogether pleasant task to have one hand in a slushy mix of water and snow—the mortar—and the other hand clasping the frozen brick while the temperature is hovering around 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 degrees Celsius), not counting the wind chill. Yet a faithful few stuck with the project for hours until the tabernacle was finished—complete with two compartments, the ark of the covenant, the seven-branched candlestick, altar of incense and table of showbread, as well as the laver and altar of burnt offering outside the igloo sanctuary. To get it right, they followed as much as possible the model God told Moses to build, according to Exodus 25-27.
The local newspaper sent a reporter to the building site, who snapped some pictures of the building process before deciding the day was too cold for being outside, said Frankie Fields, who is the school secretary and took part in the project. “She left before we finished, but made us promise we would send her pictures of the completed building,” Fields said.
“It was a fun exercise to do with the kids, working together and completing a project,” said Hale.
Fields concurred, even though she explained they knew their tabernacle was not designed to last. “Unfortunately, a week later or so, warmer days meant the ice tabernacle melted slowly away,” she said with a sigh. She nevertheless thinks it was an unforgettable experience for church members and students who worked together for making this project a reality. “No doubt, it was a very original way of reviewing the various parts of the earthly sanctuary,” she said.
Invitation Hill Adventist School opened in 2015 as Dickinson Adventist Christian School in the local church basement, but in its second year, local members launched the construction of a new building. According to a report in The Dickinson Press, the new school has four classrooms, a cafeteria, a gym, a stage with a baptismal pool and office space. Teachers and students recently moved to the new facilities, which are adjacent to a brand-new church building.
Local pastor Donavon Kack told the newspaper that church members want to encourage the community to use the space. “We've talked about a soup kitchen [and] having some senior citizen nights,” he said. “[Our goal is] to get the community involved in a lot of different ways.”
As proof of the members’ renewed commitment, the local church also changed its name to “Invitation Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church.” In its foyer, Nathan Green’s “The Invitation” painting depicts Jesus calling people to come to Him. Now the church hopes the new facilities will last much more than the fleeting tabernacle made of ice.
An original version of this story first appeared in the Mid-America Outlook magazine.