LONG BEACH, Miss. (BP)–After Hurricane Katrina wiped out its downtown campus, First Baptist Church in Long Beach, Miss., began planning its new complex with an eye toward the future.
In addition to moving farther inland and incorporating the most up-to-date ideas on church design, electronics and other equipment, First Baptist members insisted on seven-inch-thick prefabricated concrete walls and one-inch-thick polycarbonate windows — commonly referred to as bulletproof glass.
They want to withstand the wind and storm surge of the next hurricane -– and to a serve as a shelter and place of ministry for the community. A powerful generator will provide power after the next storm, and even the kitchen has been designed for double duty: for the church’s everyday needs and for post-disaster mass feeding.
“God has been at work in a beautiful, orchestrated way,” pastor LaRue Stephens said at First Baptist’s dedication during a worship service attended by more than 750 people in the multipurpose area of the new facility Aug. 24.
The 60,000-square-foot initial phase was completed at a cost of about $16 million. Stephens said the church’s vision is to begin planning for phase two construction as soon as the former downtown property is sold.
“Dedication day was the culmination of a three-year journey of faith,” Stephens said. “God has proven His faithfulness to His people. Not only did this help us see God more clearly, God helped us see more clearly who we are.”
Stephens said the church has a firm grasp on their mission as the storm recovery continues along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “The dedication day celebration was not only about what God has done in the life of this church, but what God has called us to do, and that is simply restoring hearts and homes, one family at a time. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Two weeks earlier in nearby Gulfport, the words of Psalm 122:1 — “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’” – began the worship service part of First Baptist Church’s opening weekend for its new facility. More than 900 people were in attendance.
Like so many churches along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, First Baptist Gulfport was ripped apart by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. The church’s expansive beachfront property along Highway 90 took a direct hit from the storm, with every building receiving massive damage.
All that remained of the church’s worship center — closest to the beach of all the church’s buildings — was the steel superstructure.
The church’s new facility, the first of several building phases, is now farther inland. The $18.75 million structure contains 58,000 square feet of innovative ministry space, including a children’s theater, coffee shop and multipurpose worship/activities area.
Pastor Chuck Register preached from 1 Kings 8:54-61, when King Solomon determined he would focus the Israelite’s attention on heart issues.
“Today is not about a hurricane named Katrina, nor is it about the ‘First Family,’ our loss, our heartache or our journey toward recovery,” Register said in remarks after the worship service. “Today is about the goodness of God and His faithfulness to the family of faith known as First Baptist, Gulfport. Today, we celebrate His grace.
“For generations to come, residents in south Mississippi will use these facilities for worship and discipleship,” Register said. “Therefore, our prayer must always be that through this facility and the ministries offered on this campus, God will be glorified and His Kingdom will grow.”
William H. Perkins Jr. is editor of the Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.