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Hurricane-Proof Church Unbowed On Gulf Coast

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Built at a cost of $7 million, the church was designed by engineers to meet local building codes and then some, Smith said. What stands now is a four-floor church with a steeple on the street side and a beachfront side that’s covered with windows and balconies.

The concrete walls are reinforced with steel rods, and the building’s supports extend 18 feet into the bedrock, which is 60 feet beneath the surface of the sand. The first floor auditorium, with a beautiful view of the Gulf, is high above the parking lot.

“Last week was the first time I ever remember seeing a parasailer go by during a sermon,” said Chris Fowler, the administrative pastor and choir leader.

The church is $5 million in debt and has only three dozen or so regular members, but it draws hundreds of tourists as visitors most Sundays, said Fowler. It also receives donations from youth, choir and other groups that use its third- and fourth-floor retreat center, which can house as many as 112 people and includes a full kitchen.

The monthly mortgage payment of $22,000 sounds daunting, but Fowler said members’ tithes and donations cover it.

“We’ve never missed a payment,” he said.

Local resident Davey Jones isn’t a member of Romar Baptist and has never even been inside, but he stops by the church regularly to pray at a wooden cross erected on the beach out front.

“That is my surfing spot, and this is my praying spot,” said Jones.

And sometimes, the church serves as a literal shelter from the storm. Sort of like Martin Luther wrote in the popular hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” Romar Beach Baptist is a “bulwark never failing,” at least during tropical weather.

Hayworth, the Auburn researcher, and an associate stayed at Romar Baptist last year while at the beach during Isaac. They were looking for post-BP oil spill contamination dredged up by the storm, and the church was the perfect spot for beach access.

The wind howled all night and a little water leaked in through vents, but the church didn’t sustain any damage from Isaac, which made landfall in Louisiana. The generator kept humming all night.

“I felt very safe,” said Hayworth. “Now I know there is always a safe place on the coast.”

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Nov 1st, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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