First Baptist Gulfport Headed North

People across the country have seen what Hurricane Katrina did to First Baptist Church in Gulfport . Its storm-shattered sanctuary has served as a backdrop for network news stories.

The church promises to rebuild, but not at the current location.

"This would have been the foyer in this area. That then opened up into the main floor," said Dr. Chuck Register, as the senior pastor walked through the rubble of his downtown church.

Katrina showed little mercy on First Baptist Gulfport. Wind and water destroyed six of seven buildings on the three acre campus.

"The feeling of sadness and heartache is there because the picture here at First Baptist represents what's happening in the lives of people," he said.

It's a picture of brokenness. Rubble and ruins litter the floor of the sanctuary and adjoining buildings. And though "the church" is reflected in the faith and lives of believers, brick and mortar buildings are places of special moments and memories. Feeling saddened by the loss is natural.

"Especially some of our senior adults, who've had so many of the great celebrations of life take place in this facility. The baptism of their children, marriage ceremonies their children were involved in," said Register.

First Baptist will hold such celebrations in the future, but not at its present location. Katrina hastened an ongoing discussion to move north.

"We own three acres here. And that confined us and restricted us in certain ministry opportunities. So, we began this discussion about four and a half years ago. Katrina of course brought it raging to the surface," the pastor explained.

A 34 acre site just north of I-10 and Lorraine Cowan Road represents the future of First Baptist Gulfport. Construction of the new church facilities will begin next January, with plans to begin worship there on Easter Sunday 2008.

"When you look at scripture, you see bad things happen to God's people throughout history. In the Old Testament and the New Testament. So, I've tried not to deal with the question of why. But to look at the aspect of how God has blessed us, even in spite of Katrina," he said.

The pastor says First Baptist will rise again, shining the same light from a new location.

First Baptist Gulfport was organized in 1896. The remains of the storm-damaged church will be demolished in the next two weeks. The church plans to sell the three acres of property downtown.