Gulfside: The Journey Continues

Gulfside Conference Center has been a place of retreat and education for Black United Methodists for almost a century. Situated right on the shore, it had suffered considerable damage from hurricane Camille in 1968, but had been repaired and a new building dedicated shortly before Katrina hit. The destruction was total. All that was left were some of the slabs on which buildings had once stood.

It is from the debris gathered along the Gulf coast that Sylvia earlier created her “Katrina Cross,” which is being held by the conference staff until a new chapel can be constructed.

Mosaic cross made from debris from Hurricane Katrina

The cross has been carried to many meetings and services since then and serves as one of the symbols of the new vision for Gulfside as well as for the work of restoration in many areas of our lives.

We stayed two nights at the office/guest house that has since been constructed inland. Mollie Stewart, the current Director, had issued a standing invitation to Sylvia and offered us her gracious hospitality. The next day we explored the area, visiting the lovely town of Bay St. Louis, which is on the verge of renewal along its shore as well as in some of the downtown.

We also drove inland to try to find the Lazy Magnolia Brewery, which makes the Southern Pecan Ale that I had enjoyed on previous nights. Brewed in the town of Kiln, home of Brett Favre, it was nowhere to be found, since Kiln is a dreary crossroads in the midst of pine forest and bayou. In spite of being 15 miles inland, Katrina’s storm surge found its way up the Jourdan River and tossed boats into the tree tops.

Gulfside has ambitious plans to rebuild in several spots, including its historic location, to house not only educational programs but also retirement residences. They are now seeking funding to bring this vision to life. Like everyone else, they will have to meet much more stringent building codes and take into account the rising sea level as well as the possibility of increasingly vicious storms due to global warming.

Saturday we drove to Jackson in a torrential rain and found our way downtown, first to our hotel, and then to the Mississippi Museum of Art. A large complex of art institutions, including the ballet and concert hall, is under expansion, with the museum in new quarters for an exhibition on Japanese influence in Western art as well as items from their collection of Mississippi art. Well worth a visit, it gives special attention to art education for children in its exhibition space as well as in its program.

Jackson’s downtown reminded us of Raleigh – the center of state government during the week, a ghost town on the weekend. Until they find a way to get people to live, eat, shop, and seek entertainment downtown, it will not revive.

Guided by our good friends Joy and Jimmy Carr, who have retired to Jackson, we enjoyed the evening and went to Galloway United Methodist Church the next day. Galloway is the oldest downtown church and was one of the major churches involved in opening up a progressive path in the civil rights struggles of the sixties. It continues to be a lively church with a multitude of programs in its sprawling facilities. It would be the site for our meetings with the JustPeace group, which I will report on next.