President Bush visits Beauvoir UMC


By Gary F. Taylor

Special to the Advocate

President George W. Bush visited Beauvoir United Methodist Church in Biloxi last month to meet members of a volunteer organization working out of the church.

President Bush visited the church April 27 to recognize Hands On Network, a volunteer organization operating from church property, as leaders in hurricane recovery work on the Mississippi coast.

Beauvoir UMC survived Hurricane Katrina with little property damage. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the church agreed to host Hands On USA, a secular volunteer organization. Hands On USA was housed in the Family Life Center and used Beauvoir UMC as a base of operations for six months. In February, Hands On USA rolled over into Hands On Network, a larger organization capable of long-term recovery work. Both organizations have been widely recognized for their work in disaster recovery. To date, approximately 3,000 volunteers have worked with these two groups operating from Beauvoir UMC.

Due to security concerns, neither Beauvoir UMC nor Hands On Network was permitted to announce the presidential visit in advance.  Security precautions required three days of preparation. Only a limited number of individuals were allowed to be present during the visit.

Bush was accompanied by Gov. Haley Barbour and his wife Marsha Barbour. They were  greeted by Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and Hands On Network operations director Erica Putinski. They were then introduced to the Rev. Marilyn Perrine, who welcomed them to church property.

Perrine spoke with Bush for several minutes concerning the condition of church property after the storm and how the church came to act as base of operations for Hands On USA and then Hands On Network. They also discussed Leggett Memorial United Methodist Church and Synagogue Beth Israel, both of which were destroyed by the storm and which presently worship on Beauvoir UMC property. Bush commended both Perrine and the church for their leadership in recovery work.

President Bush then spoke at length with approximately a dozen Hands On Network volunteers, who described their experiences working in the field and their on-going concerns for the community. Bush and the Barbours then toured the outside campground and workshop.

Perrine described the President as an extremely courteous, affable and approachable man. 

“Our congregation is very mixed in its political views,” Perrine noted. “Some members are very conservative and some are very liberal. But we are all aware of the honor done to us by this visit. It is a great privilege to host an organization such as Hands On Network, which has now received recognition of the highest order.”

Founded in 1956, Beauvoir UMC celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. “We had originally planned a week long celebration,” Perrine said. “But Hurricane Katrina changed our plans in a hurry. The celebration will be very low-key. We’re just glad to be here!”

Beauvoir UMC has received many thanks from both the volunteers and the residents whose work they benefit, and Perrine was asked to deliver the prayer for the city at Biloxi’s recognition of the National Day of Prayer.

“A lot of people tell us what a big thing this is for us to do, hosting this volunteer organization and having other congregations on property too,” Perrine said.  “But most of the time it has been very easy. Some times the scheduling makes us all a little crazy, and with three congregations and Hands On Network there’s never enough parking space! We even had MEMA meeting here for a while.

But it seems to us that we’re just sharing what God has given us to share. That’s the most important thing we can do.”