Victoria’s Blessing House is open to the community

Sherry Dorf, Karel Oddo, Ellis Noone and Gail Berger meet for a prayer group at the Blessing House in Victoria.

Another chapter of the Blessing House is written every day. Each guest adds to its story, a tale of hope or happiness, sometimes defeat and personal pain. Open since 2013, the 6,500-square-foot home serves as a community gathering space. On the shores of Wassermann Lake, the Blessing House is thoughtfully decorated and furnished with beautiful comforts of home—thanks to its founder and executive director, Rev. Gail Berger.

While Berger may have set the table, the guests serve up a buffet of uses and experiences in the home. “I’m surprised every day by who comes here and how they get here,” Berger says.

Groups gather for spiritual reflection. Clubs discuss recent book titles. Mothers and daughters bake treats or watch movies. Business teams confer. Couples enjoy a date night. Women and children seek refuge from abuse. Reunions are celebrated. Birthdays are fêted.

Classes are also offered, including oil and watercolor painting seminars, a Fellowship of Cooks series and faith-based programs, examining prayer, the Bible and other related topics. Jeanne Savitt, who served on the advisory team that developed the site’s programming, says it draws people together like a spiritual town square. “It is what you want it to be,” says Pastor Mike Sindelar of Valley Evangelical Free Church. “I’m thrilled to have something like this in the community.”

Sindelar and his congregants have used the space for personal study, group meetings, church planning sessions and a team Christmas party. “I like that you can just walk in,” Sindelar says.

While groups and those wanting to stay overnight should call ahead for availability, the doors are open daily; after sundown, guests can ring the doorbell. Berger has separate living quarters in the home, but she’s doesn’t worry about the open-door policy. “I live without fear,” she says. “The key is, fear comes with ownership. I’m not afraid of who’s at the door. This is His house. It belongs to Him.”

There is no charge for ministry-related events, but guests are asked to leave a donation to help with operating expenses. Suggested donations for the overnight guests are $40 for a single and $60 for a double.

Every inch of the home has a purpose. The main level’s open floor plan offers a full-service kitchen for visitors to use, a dining area, screened porch and comfortable individual and group seating, set with the ambiance of a cozy fireplace. Private meeting and counseling spaces, three guest bedrooms, a charming café and children’s playroom, brimming with creative and classic toys, make up the lower level.

Even the four-acre outdoor space is outfitted with private and group spaces. Decks, a courtyard, gardens, a bog walk, fire pit and dock invite visitors to find whatever they are looking for.

The concept of offering space to whomever needs it is not new for Berger. Prior to her moving into the Blessing House, she lived for 36 years in a home along Lake Waconia, where she raised three sons. Her home was a perennial gathering spot for family and friends. After her first husband died, Berger asked herself, “What can I do to bless my world?” The cornerstone of her plan began with identifying her gifts—hospitality and teaching. “You are blessed by what you are given,” she says.

Widowed for a second time, Berger began offering her home as a ministry center to those in need of spiritual or personal renewal and respite. Over the course of 13 years, word spread and more guests appeared at her door. Berger began thinking of broader possibilities, and asked herself, “What would I do if I had more land?”

In 2012, she sold her Waconia home, purchased the Victoria site and financed the Blessing House’s construction.Regardless of whether Berger is a silent presence or active participant, she finds joy in listening to the sounds of the house. “I love the interaction of the people who are here,” she says.

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