Downtown Biloxi Church Moving North

A group of ladies gathered for their monthly meeting Tuesday, to make plans for upcoming charity projects. Penny Groves is one of the youngest members of the Laura White Circle, a group that's been part of the history of First United Methodist Church of Biloxi for 56 years.

"I was born and raised in this church," Penny Groves says. "And my husband and I were married in the church."

That's why it was so tough to make the decision to sell the church to a condo developer.

"I have not been extremely emotional," Groves says as her eyes filled with tears. "Today must be my emotion day. It will be a sad day when we actually go."

Her mother, Hazel Jones, is a life long member of the church. She watched the sanctuary go up near her house in 1950.

"Very mixed emotions," says Hazel Jones. "I really was very adamant about it at first.  But then I think you realize what you have to do. You can't stay still. You got to grow. I'm glad they made the decision and it will be wonderful to see it grow, and be built."

"You have this kind of deterioration and it continues to worsen, week by week," says Dr. Gary Thompson as he pointed to cracked walls and the moldy ceiling of the sanctuary.

Dr. Thompson is the church pastor. He says it makes financial sense to move, because it will cost too much to repair the storm damage, half the congregation has moved away, and insurance rates keep rising.

"Yes, it's been a very difficult decision," Dr. Thompson says. "But we've prayed a lot about it, and sought the Lord's leadership. Given the financial realities of where we were, it seemed very clear that God was pointing us in the direction for a new day."

"We thank you for this great church Lord, which has been a lighthouse for this community for so many years," Dr. Thompson says as he prayed with a group of volunteers.

Church members believe a new, bigger building will allow the church to expand its ministry. And parts of the old church will go with them, like the stained glass windows, pipe organ and steeple cross.

"I'll miss this church greatly," Groves says. "It's a beautiful facility. The people are beautiful and the people will go though. We'll all have a new adventure together."

After the church sells its current property, it has up to a year to move out. The church is in the process of buying at least 15-acres of land, two miles north of the Woolmarket exit.  A new multi-purpose center will go up first, then the sanctuary. The cost is estimated to be $4 million.