Pilgrim Baptist Church plans ambitious new expansion

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; A church that grew from prayer meetings on the banks of the Mississippi generations ago is embarking on construction of a new facility.

Pilgrim Baptist Church on Cemetery Road is building a new church on Wilson Road, the result of a three-year preparation process. The congregation broke ground last month.

&uot;The congregation has outgrown this church tremendously,&uot; said the Rev. Melvin White, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist, sitting in a pew at the old church.

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When White &045;&045; who grew up going to services at the brick church on a hill &045;&045; came to pastor there five years ago, one of his goals was to grow the congregation.

And grow it did &045;&045; from about 80 members to more than 430 members.

&uot;We have to open the doors (every Sunday),&uot; White said.

Connie Jones is one of those new members. She joined last September after only two visits to Pilgrim Baptist.

Jones said she was drawn to &uot;Pastor White teaching the Word.&uot;

As the congregation grew, White began praying, asking God to guide the church’s move.

After looking at a few sites, the church leaders decided on the Wilson Road site, which was owned by a minister. The decision was only made with much prayer on the part of the congregation.

Soon planning was under way, and an architect patterned the church after a similar structure in Georgia. The new sanctuary will seat 850 to 900 people, White said.

The church will also have a banquet facility, library, study hall, computer room and administrative offices. A second phase will have a gymnasium, which is part of White’s vision for reaching out to the community and its youth.

In fact, focusing on youth was one of the ways White and church members helped grow the congregation.

&uot;We have a wonderful children’s church,&uot; he said.

Construction on the new sanctuary is scheduled to begin next week and last about eight to 10 months. While the congregation waits for a new facility, it will begin meeting at the Natchez City Auditorium in July. Services begin at 11:30 a.m., and Sunday school begins at 10 a.m.

And what will happen to the old church on Cemetery Road?

&uot;We are hoping later on we can get a grant to restore the original structure,&uot; White said. &uot;We may use it as a retreat. It’s very special to our older members, and likewise to our younger members.&uot;

And in the meantime, White will be praying for even more new members at Pilgrim Baptist. &uot;I’m hoping that God will continue to add to the church,&uot; he said.