Landmark Church In Biloxi Considers Moving

"I was pretty empty. Just overwhelmed with it. Numb," Father Harold Roberts recalled Thursday.

For Father Roberts, every visit to the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer site brings back memories of the day he first saw the destruction.

"This was all that's left, and I was just amazed," Father Roberts said.

Hurricane Katrina decimated the historic property that serves as a place of worship for parishioners and a home for the Hurricane Camille Memorial for the community.

Father Roberts says church leaders are considering building a new church north of the Biloxi Bay.  Just last month, they bought some land on Popp's Ferry Road so they can have that option. Father Roberts says they've already lost two houses of worship on the site and it would cost too much to rebuild there.

"To move is possible. Most of the people that have been here lost that church, and lost this church. I think they are beginning to say we need to get some place where we can keep the church longer than 36 years. It hurts, but that's just a fact of life."

Father Roberts says if the church moves away from the beach front, his vision is to keep the steel beams that survived the storm and create a Hurricane Katrina memorial garden.

"We can fix it up, clean the grounds, and it would be open, sacred space," said Father Roberts.

Ron Edwards started attending services at the church after Katrina. He's offering to use his welding skills to help save the arches.

"I think it would give hope to a lot of people. I think it would mean something to a lot of people, other than than to tear it down and throw it away. Let's put something up and say 'Hey, we're still here,'" Edwards said.

And Father Roberts says the memorial could serve as a reminder of the church's 157 year presence in the community, even if the congregation moves.

"I like the historic city and the impact the church has had on Biloxi. But at the same time, the church is not just a building. It's the people," Father Roberts said.

Katrina also destroyed the rectory next to the church. Father Roberts says he would like to see some sort of commercial development there to generate income for the church.

As for "De Miller Hall," which was severely damaged by the storm, he says it could be converted to affordable housing, a preschool and maybe a smaller chapel.

Again, these are only preliminary plans. Church leaders and parishioners should have a clearer picture about their future in about a month.