The Bridge plans to reach the Coast's disconnected

 The Rev. Leanne Burris, pastor of The Bridge is ready to bring a new concept of church to South Mississippi.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD The Rev. Leanne Burris, pastor of The Bridge is ready to bring a new concept of church to South Mississippi. SUN HERALD

The Bridge is a new church coming to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

But maybe that's not the best way to describe it. The Bridge is a new community of worship and discipleship that is not limiting itself to a brick-and-mortar location. Instead, its purpose is to create disciples to reach those who feel disconnected from traditional church.

The Bridge's first service of worship will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, 386 Beach Blvd., Biloxi, in the museum's welcome center. It's a preview service, said Rev. Leanne Burris, a Methodist minister who is completing her assignment as associate pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gulfport and is becoming pastor at The Bridge at the invitation and direction of the United Methodist Church.

"The Bridge is interested in building relationships with people," she said. "I like to say that we're building people instead of building buildings. Our core value has everything to do with relationship, so our energy is going into people, not buildings. It's what we do on a daily basis."

The question she has been getting most often from people, Burris said, is "Where is it located?"

"That tells me what most people think of church," she said. "The church is actually people, not a structure. So I think it's a bit ironic that our symbol is the structure of a bridge, but a bridge is also what people need to make a connection."

People can feel disconnected in several ways, she said.

"They can be disconnected from their families, the community, but mostly from God," she said. "The thing is, you can't get connected to relationships by yourself. That disconnect can come from a lot of places, too -- struggling with addiction, brokenness, abuse. Just remember, a bridge is walked one step at a time, and we want to be there with people to walk along with them."

A core team of 11 -- Burris as well as laypeople from the Coast -- has been formed to be the first wave of several teams planned for The Bridge. In fact, the "membership" of The Bridge will be made up of those who are on discipleship teams, said Burris and Carrie Rester of Gulfport. Rester and Sidney Smith of Gulfport are the leadership team. Each team member -- including Burris, Rester and Smith -- must receive several hours of training targeted specifically to discipleship.

"I've had about 60 hours, and Carrie and Sidney about 35 so far," Burris said. "We're going to set a pretty high standard for 'membership,' because these disciples will be working with people. Hopefully, what we're doing goes back to the acts of the Apostles."

"We're going through discipleship training right now," Rester said. "At the beginning of April, we're looking at six new groups of 10 to 12 people in each."

The Bridge welcomes anyone interested in becoming part of a discipleship team to attend the Sunday evening event, Burris said, as well as the general public.

"People can come and just be a part, for this service and all our services," she said. "You can just belong to our collective worship experience as well as one of our small connect groups."

The groups will be small enough for people to feel comfortable talking about concerns and questions, Burris said.

"A safe place to have a conversation about God," she explained.

Ultimately, The Bridge plans to have weekly worship services, often in unconventional but accessible places.

"We hope to have a beach meeting," Rester said.