GULFPORT, Miss. (BP) – Members and friends of First Baptist Church in Gulfport bid farewell March 26 to their beloved beachfront facilities brought down by the wind and waves of Hurricane Katrina last year.
By William Perkins
Mississippi Baptist Record Editor
GULFPORT, Miss. (BP) – Members and friends of First
Baptist Church in Gulfport bid farewell March 26 to their beloved
beachfront facilities brought down by the wind and waves of Hurricane
Katrina last year.
“The church of Jesus Christ is not at this
location,” said Ken Parvin, who was reared in the church and currently
pastors Heucks Retreat Church in Brookhaven, Miss.
Gesturing to the hundreds of people gathered in and
around the large tent pitched alongside the ruins of the church, Parvin
said, “I am looking at First Baptist Church. Ladies and gentlemen,
never forget that the church of Jesus Christ is in you.”
Church members have made the decision to relocate
and are searching for land north of Interstate 10, several miles inland
from the present location.
Karen Simmons, who has worked at the church for 26
years and been a member since 1966, recounted that her parents first
met each other 52 years ago while attending Training Union at the Beach
Simmons spoke of her wedding at the church to her
husband, Frank, manager of Gulfshore Baptist Assembly near Pass
Christian, and the marriages of their children in the church.
Gulfshore, owned by the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, also was
destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A study committee appointed shortly
after the storm by then-Mississippi Baptist Convention President Gene
Henderson is studying the condition of the conference center and will
explore various possibilities related to future conference ministries
Herbert “Coach” Wilson told the afternoon service he
first attended the Gulfport church in 1945 and said he is encouraged by
plans to secure land farther inland less susceptible to the effects of
major hurricanes. “If God leads us to buy that land, God will lead us
to build facilities on that land,” Wilson said.
First Baptist pastor Chuck Register spoke of the
many special memories the church evokes — comical, sacrificial and
eternal. Delivering a message from the third chapter of the Book of
Philippians, Register urged the congregation to “reflect, refocus and
recommit” in order to be “people just like Jesus Christ.”
After the final service, people lingered on the
broken street in front of the city block where the church’s rubble is
fenced off. Cane-carrying older members were joined by young parents
holding infants in taking one long, last look at the venerable church
complex. The property soon will be listed for sale.
First Baptist, Gulfport, was constituted in 1896 and built its first
building in 1899 at the corner of 14th Street and 23rd Avenue. In 1915,
the church moved about one block to its present location at 22nd Avenue
and U.S. 90.
Hurricane Camille pushed about four feet of water
into the church in 1969, but Katrina gutted most of the buildings on
the property and reduced the sanctuary to its steel superstructure.
The stark photographs of the ruined church quickly became an
international symbol of the fury of Hurricane Katrina and the
unprecedented destruction wrought by the storm.
The church body is presently meeting at Gulfport High School.