|Roots run deep for Gulfside
Aug. 30, 2006
|A UMNS photo by Linda Green
Rev. Renita Thomas, Lawrence Johnson and Carolyn Dandridge, members of
the National Black Staff Forum, read the Gulfside Assembly sign, which
was bent over by winds and water from Hurricane Katrina.
By Linda Green*
WAVELAND, Miss. (UMNS)--The sea and wind swept away the 64 acres and 14
buildings that once were Gulfside Assembly. Only one mighty oak tree
that framed the entrance to the historic African-American conference
center still stands.
According to Wilma Dunbar, Gulfside's business manager, the tree is a
reminder that roots run deep and the roots of Gulfside run so deep that
she and African-American church leaders from across the country are
confident that the concrete slabs that remain on the grounds will once
again host people seeking a place of refuge.
"Gulfside got blown away by Hurricane Katrina. It is painful," said
Dunbar, who became the business manager in 2001. "I loved the mission
that Gulfside was on, making people whole through reconciliation and
healing. It reached out to all people of all colors and all religions.
"No matter how well you plan, the force of nature is something that no
one can contain," she added. "When it moves, it is only by God's mercy
and God's will as to what ends up there. But, we have a strong faith and
belief that God put Gulfside here in the first place and by his grace,
it will be back, bigger and stronger than it was before."
Before Katrina, more than 5,000 people of all ages and backgrounds
annually came to the assembly for spiritual retreats, training of clergy
and lay leaders, meetings, workshops, and family reunions. Only two
weeks prior to the Aug. 29, 2005, storm, the facility dedicated a new
A year after Katrina's destructive winds and water, debris still hangs
from the remaining trees and also remains strewn around the grounds.
Piles of concrete are all that is left of building and homes that once
surrounded the assembly. With no signage remaining and without prior
knowledge of the grounds, it would be impossible to identify which
buildings stood where.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Mississippi Coast CARE
(Community Aid Relief Effort) and Amish Relief have set up shop on the
grounds to host work-teams who come to assist in the rebuilding of
Waveland and surrounding communities. But, not much work occurs on the
Dunbar urges teams of all kinds to come to Gulfside and work on the
grounds. "Before any rebuilding is done, cleanup has to take place," she
Staff members work on Gulfside cemetery
The group planted flowers and erected a new trellis to flank the graves
of Bishop Robert E. Jones, his wife Elizabeth and Bishop Robert Brooks,
three people who were instrumental in creating the retreat facility.
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
of bleach bottles await use by cleanup teams outside a temporary
shelter at the United Methodist Church's Camp Gulfside in Waveland,
Bishop Robert E. Jones, the first general superintendent of the
Methodist Episcopal Church, founded Gulfside in 1923 as a residential
school for African-American boys living in rural areas of the country.
The center became a popular vacation and meeting spot during a time of
racial segregation in the South. When the United Methodist Church
integrated in the late 1960s, the retreat center declined in usage but
still hosted meetings and conferences. In recent years, it regained
"Gulfside is a place of refuge, a place of history and will always be
involved in ministry to women, children and youth and for those who are
in need," Dunbar said.
She, as others, envisions Gulfside returning as a place for camps,
retreats, education, love, healing and grace. "You will always be
accepted here. You will always find a place where people will open their
arms and receive you. The people who come here are people of faith,"
The assembly's board of directors is continuing to develop long and
short range plans for rebuilding. The facility was insured and Dunbar
said plans call for buildings to dovetail with programs.
"People have faith and believe in the mission of Gulfside," she said.
People are donating money for rebuilding, and it shows the love, care
and regard that African Americans and others have for the institution.
Ms. G lost two homes
Genevieve Gordon, 70, first arrived at Gulfside as a little girl. As she
wonders around the grounds and talks to those who listen, one can see
the love and admiration "Ms. G," as she is affectionately known, has for
Gulfside while the tears flow from her eyes.
She reflects on the assembly's illustrious past and recalls how her
father became a minister under the tutelage of Bishop Jones. "Only two
of five children got the bug for Gulfside. I kept hanging around."
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
toppled historical marker that once rested on a post of
steel-reinforced concrete marks the site of Gulfside Assembly in
Gordon lost two homes as a result of Hurricane Katrina: her home in the
Waveland community and Gulfside. Volunteers in Mission teams and other
groups helped her restore her home and she wonders when people will
arrive to help restore Gulfside.
Gordon, a member of St. Rock United Methodist Church in Waveland, said
she sometimes still stares in disbelief at the results of Katrina. Once
the waters receded, she participated in a scavenger hunt to find relics
and mementos and tools.
Remembering what was and seeing what is now, she said, "We need to hurry
and get Gulfside back. It just does not look normal here."
Gordon said she misses the camaraderie that Gulfside afforded through
interacting with the people. "I want the synergy to return."
"I did not know what to think when I saw all of these African Americans
get out of the vans to begin work at Gulfside," she said when United
Methodist staff members arrived. "I could only wave. It was refreshing
to see that because I had not seen a group of African Americans in a
Seeing them reinforced for me "that they have not forgotten about us.
This place was extremely beautiful. It was a source of pride. It was
She wants "the United Methodist Church to get up and come in here and let us get this place back together."
This will not be the first time that Gulfside has been rebuilt. In 1969,
the camp sustained massive damage following Hurricane Camille, leaving
many to ponder the camp's fate at that time. Hard work and dedication
brought the facility back.
Gulfside receives funding in part through the denomination's Advance for
Christ and His Church. Donations can be designated for "Gulfside
Assembly Program," Advance Special No. 761337-2, or "Gulfside Assembly
Capital Fund," Advance Special No. 760235-1, placed in church offering
plates or sent directly to Gulfside, 950 South Beach Blvd., Waveland, MS
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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