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Safe Harbor United Methodist Church - Moss Point - Mississippi
By: Jennifer-Walker Journey

Safe Harbor United Methodist Church in the coastal community of Moss Point, Mississippi, is a culmination of four different congregations peacefully united under one strong, new roof. To understand story of this new church, one first needs to learn the history of three other neighboring churches.

In 1858, Escatawpa United Methodist Church was established in the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Its original church building was destroyed by a hurricane near the turn of the century, and more than 50 years later, in 1968, its second building was heavily damaged by another hurricane. The congregation continued to hold services the church.

In early 2002, Wilson Springs, a nearby United Methodist Church founded in 1946, merged with Escatawpa. The two became known as Safe Harbor United Methodist Church and operated out of the old Escatawpa building.

Another United Methodist Church, known as Kreole, was established in the area in 1924. It lost its first church building to fire in 1961 and had rebuilt a cinderblock building in which to hold services.

Both churches were struggling to grow their congregations. The neighborhood demographics where their buildings were located offered little hope for expansion. Then came Hurricane Katrina. The enormous storm of 2005 flooded both church buildings and left the congregations with thousands of dollars in repairs. As the congregations met and discussed their plans of action, one idea began to shine above all others to merge and use the insurance money and sales of their current properties to build one united church close enough to accommodate its current membership but in an area that would attract more members.

"When it came right down to it, 98 percent voted to merge and relocate," said Roy Parker, Safe Harbor congregation member and then-chairman of the church's building committee.

Parker was devoted to moving the project forward and sought out a contractor who would work quickly and efficiently. He talked to other local churches that had recently undergone construction, which is how he found Randy LaCoaste.

LaCoaste is vice president of Brook Cherith, Inc., located in Mobile. He says his goal is to develop a good rapport with a client, which makes the process go swiftly and effortlessly.

The church purchased land in a nearby but more populated location on a busy four-lane highway. For the church building, the members' needs were simple. They wanted to maintain the same amenities they had in their individual churches but also be able to accommodate anticipated growth. LaCoaste developed a design-build plan that included the construction of a 21,432-square-foot building that would include a 400-seat sanctuary, classroom space along corridors on either side of the sanctuary, and a gymnasium/family life center with a commercial kitchen.

Because so much of the area was in repair mode from Hurricane Katrina, and the church felt moved to house many of the visiting groups who traveled there to help with the rebuild in the area, the church included in its plans a visiting group area where visitors could rest, shower, and sleep. This area was built to Red Cross standards to serve as a shelter in times of crisis.

Since construction prices in the area were somewhat elevated because of the damage left behind by Katrina, LaCoaste understood how important it was to make the building not only cost-effective but also durable and attractive. Thus, the church was designed as a metal structure with a standing seam metal roof, gutters, and downspouts. For the exterior walls, he used an exterior insulation and finish system, EIFS, a synthetic stucco product known as Dryvet. When used properly, according to LaCoaste, Dryvet offers good insulation for the interior, an attractive, low-maintenance exterior surface, and a manageable construction cost.

The plans also included a drive-up entrance, outside storage, and asphalt parking lot. The final cost rang in at just under $1.8 million.

In February 2007, just 13 months after construction began, Safe Harbor moved into its new home. It also welcomed a new pastor, the Rev. Tom Potter.

The Rev. Potter understood the opportunities and challenges of a newly merged church. One challenge is that the church was made up of four unique congregations one from each of the three churches that merged together and one made up of newcomers who were not familiar with the other churches that created the new church. The Rev. Potter saw this as an opportunity to change the personality of the worship. Services became more casual and inviting to members and guests, and the new building seemed to complement that change.

The new facility was equipped with state-of-the-art multimedia in the worship services, and the layout is simple and flowing.

"The idea is that anybody can come in and feel comfortable right from the start," the Rev. Potter said. "The building is nicely laid out, and it is easy for people to find their way around."

The change in location and worship style has helped boost membership, as well. The church has enjoyed some of the fastest growth in the area.

"The neat thing about it is that 99 percent of the church members were on board with moving out to the highway, and that was the way to go," the Rev. Potter said. "Not a lot of churches get that kind of support. This has really given us a great opportunity to start fresh and grow."

Brook Cherith, Inc., is a Mobile, Alabama-based contractor specializing in design-and-build church projects along the Gulf Coast.









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