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Historic United Methodist center suffers catastrophic damage

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
File photo by Mike DuBose

Children play basketball against the backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico at Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss. in this file photo.
Sept. 1, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Elliott Wright*

The United Methodist Church’s historic Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss., suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Aerial photographs, news accounts and word of mouth reports from the federal disaster agency indicate that little is left of the community of Waveland and Gulfside, located on 60 acres directly facing the Gulf of Mexico on Highway 90. Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi coast Aug. 29.

Deaconess Marian Martin, director of Gulfside, and Missionary Wilma Dunbar, assigned there, were safe, but the fate of several employees reluctant to leave Waveland was not known.

Gulfside was opened in 1923 as a retreat and recreation center for African Americans who were not permitted to use most resorts in the segregated South. It was established by Bishop Robert E. Jones.

An aerial photograph from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that most of the buildings at Gulfside are in ruins. The angle of the picture does not permit a good view of a new residential facility dedicated in mid-August. Some sections may still stand.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
File photo by Mike DuBose

This file photo shows the exterior of Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss. Reports indicate that the center was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The Associated Press reported Aug. 31 that virtually every building in Waveland was destroyed. Waveland was a town of 7,000 immediately next to Bay St. Louis, where the eye of Hurricane Katrina made one of its most destructive landfalls.

Edward Moultrie, a retired employee of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and a resident of Waveland, called the agency Sept. 1 to share reports from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, indicating widespread destruction at Gulfside. Moultrie and his wife, along with Martin, took refuge in Hattiesburg, Miss.

“We mourn for Gulfside,” said the Rev. R. Randy Day, top staff executive of the Board of Global Ministries. “It is so dear to so many United Methodists, one of the places that has nourished our souls and fed our spirits.” The international mission agency has close ties to Gulfside and its professional staff.

The Gulfside Assembly originally had 700 acres, but much of it was sold over the years. Use as a vacation spot declined with the civil rights movement and the racial integration of the Methodist Church in the 1960s. It later rebounded as a setting for church retreats and conferences.

At its peak as a resort, Gulfside included a day school for local African-American boys, and in recent years had expanded its programs for young people, especially for inner-city youth.

Under Martin’s leadership, Gulfside had seen the renovation of many of its historical buildings, and the completion of the new facility recently dedicated by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the denomination’s Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference. No information was available Sept. 1 on plans for the site.

*Wright is the information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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