Gulfport Church Repairs Will Be Finished By Christmas

Beautiful music will soon flow from a new pipe organ at St. Peter's By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in downtown Gulfport. The instrument is a gift from a parishioner.

"Our other organ, they found on the railroad tracks," said Mary Alice Bailey.

Bailey has been a member of the church since 1946. She is waiting to unwrap an even greater gift -- her beachfront church that's been under repairs for more than seven months. Katrina's storm surge washed out the sanctuary.

"Sick to my stomach, I guess is the best word to say," Bailey said. "But I somehow knew we'd come back."

There were other signs, like the St. Peter's statue that remained intact.

"That was my indication that he's here, and he's waiting for us to come back," Bailey said. "I mean, we're St. Peter's By the Sea. We were St. Peter's IN the Sea for awhile."

The church is coming back bigger with 100 additional seats, a larger choir area and chapel, and more spacious bridal room.

"I'm just amazed at our contractor, how they have all pulled together and it's almost like they're racing to get it finished for us. That's great," Bailey said.

That means the congregation's wish will come true. For the first time since Katrina, 125 families will get to celebrate Christmas Eve service in their home church.

"I think everybody thinks it's a great Christmas gift," Bailey said. "I'm real excited about it."

And during that midnight service, the congregation will hear more than just organ music. They'll hear the bell in the tower toll once again.

The repairs cost about $1.8 million. Work is also underway on the expanded parish hall. That building should be ready by March, just in time for Easter.