Oldest church on Mississippi Gulf coast celebrates 194 years

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The oldest church on the coast marked a special piece of their history Sunday morning with a plaque. An old mighty Oak Tree deeply rooted to the ground symbolizes the history of St. Peter Baptist Church in Pascagoula.

Members marched from their new sanctuary that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, to the place where their church was founded by a freed slave 194 years ago.

Ann Chapman organized the dedication and said it's all very special to her.

"We're standing on the shoulders of ancestors, parents, forefathers, who had faith, hope, and wanted so much more for generations to come," said Chapman.

Chapman has been working on the commemorative plaque dedication for months, but before they could go forward, Chapman had to get permission from the property's owner, Scotty Greer.

"Ms. Chapman had contacted me several times about the bell. I told her the church could put up the bell as long as I could see it and it's a professionally done thing," said Greer.

During the dedication, several of the church's key figures spoke, but none of them had ties to the Oak tree like Ms. Alberta Martin. Martin is the great-great granddaughter of the churches founder, Dudley Brooks.

"It's just an honor, it just makes tears come. It's such an honor that they're still representing what my great-great grandfather did," said Martin.

Dudley Brooks started the church after he was freed as a slave from Louisiana. To mark the church's spot he put a bell in the tree that still hangs there 194 years later. Historians of the church said it rang to notify the community of worship services and even deaths. The bell has since become a significant part of St. Peter Baptist church's history.

"I am very much in history and genealogy, and over the years we've always included some history about the bell, but I wanted to be able to mark the site for generations to come," said Chapman.

Chapman said her next task is finding out whether or not they are the oldest church, not only on the coast, but in the State of Mississippi.

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