Refresh your spirit at the beach at Noah’s Ark

Published 12:47 am Saturday, May 15, 2010

If you are making a trip to the beach this summer, you probably already have the sights picked out that you want to see, from amusement parks to stores, from the piers and pavilions to restaurants.

Rarely do vacationers think about going someplace that is spiritually uplifting and fun for the whole family.

One place in Panama City Beach, Fla., that you may want to make a stop at is Noah’s Ark, located just across Front Beach Road from the beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

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Noah’s Ark is an ark-shaped building that houses a musical stage, cabins for visiting groups, a gift shop and more.

Noah’s Ark is a part of the Alabama-West Florida Methodist Conference, and often hosts religious musical groups and choirs that perform all year long.

It is the home site of the contemporary gospel group Two By Two, which has been around since the mid-1970s. Group members come and go, but the music is always good and family-friendly.

“The Demopolis District of the United Methodist Church has been a supporter of this ministry quite a bit,” said Luke Pinegar, the director of Noah’s Ark. “One of our former directors here, Michael Bryan – his dad was a minister at the First United Methodist Church there for a while.

“Noah’s Ark is mission outreach for the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Our purpose is to make God’s presence known on the beach, and to involve all of those who would like to help in that. We moved into our current building back in 1978, the year the choir from the Demopolis church came here to visit us and to perform.”

Pinegar also came to Noah’s Ark as a youth that year and returned as a college student in 1981, working summers, and has been at the facility since then.

“We do the ministry here, first, by having our building here, our physical presence here,” he said, “but there is nothing exciting about an empty building at all. So, the people who come here like the choirs, the retreat groups who stay with us in the summertime – they are the means through which God makes His presence known.

“We have musical concerts here in the front building that are free and open to the public this summer, five nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday. They are entertaining, but they also have a message. The groups who stay here with us participate with us, and sometimes, they go into the local community here. Some work at the rescue mission downtown, some will work at nursing homes, some will work with some of our other feeding programs here in the area for the homeless. They also do yard work for those who need it and help us with any work on the grounds that need to be done as well.”

Noah’s Ark’s mission doesn’t stay on the boat. Its members frequently go on the beach and minister to those they run into.

“We go on the beach and let people know about what we do here,” Pinegar said, “so they know there is a Christian place in the middle of The Strip, that people are here with their doors open, there is a safe place, there is a welcoming place and that God is present all summer long at the height of the season.

“That is the point: A Christian place with the doors open for people to walk in with Christian folks here. In the midst of that, God uses His community to work. There are various things: We have a food pantry because we get a lot of transient traffic along the Front Beach Road corridor here. Folks like that wander into the midst of us just like a singing group from Tennessee or a family from Indiana – even a guy who comes in at night and he stops here and hears the music and he sees the video on the window of what’s going on inside and decides to stop in this door, rather than the bar that is two doors down from us.

“He’s stopping in here because he had a choice,” he said. “He had a choice between the two doors, and our door was open. The most humbling thing is when you realize that God has used the people in this place to make tremendous changes is when they come back 10 or 15 years later, and they share that the difference by being reminded that God is present in the world and in His people, wherever they are.”

People go to the beach to re-energize themselves, their bodies and their minds, but rarely think of ways to revitalize their spiritual selves. If you’re going towards Panama City Beach this summer or any time of the year, make a stop by Noah’s Ark. It may not save you from a worldwide flood, but it can bring relief during a spiritual drought.

For more information, call (850) 234-6062.