Reviving A Gem: Old church transformed into events center

DAILY LEADER / RACHEL EIDE / Asem Zeini (above) prepares to demonstrate how the repurposed wooden shutters enclosing one side of a courtyard behind the former First Presbyterian Church can be opened in various ways. Zeini obtained the shutters, which were made in Egypt, in New Orleans. He and his wife, Mimi, (below) have renovated the former church building into an events venue, which they have named Ole Town Church

DAILY LEADER / RACHEL EIDE / Asem Zeini (above) prepares to demonstrate how the repurposed wooden shutters enclosing one side of a courtyard behind the former First Presbyterian Church can be opened in various ways. Zeini obtained the shutters, which were made in Egypt, in New Orleans. He and his wife, Mimi, (below) have renovated the former church building into an events venue, which they have named Ole Town Church

The red-brick church at the corner of West Chickasaw and South Jackson streets – the one with the towers, arched window windows and intricate stained-glass – is no longer a beautiful old gem of a building beginning to fall into ruin.

The former First Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1906 by J.M. Teford, was in a state of neglect with ceilings falling, peeling paint and rotting wood when owners Mimi and Asem Zeini began restoring the building they purchased a year ago with an events center in mind.

The two have already started hosting events for their new center, officially called The Ole Towne Church, LLC. But, with other businesses demanding their time, they will be hiring someone to manage the events center, they said. Asem is a general contractor in restoration and construction, and Mimi is the owner and operator of Merritt Oil and Gas Inc. – her office is in The Ole Towne Church building.

“We are going to have an events planner,” Asem said. “We want to be able to offer the public a guide to having the best experience with their event they possibly can. We want to provide amenities and space for weddings, revivals, christenings, baptisms, meetings, reunions, parties – we think of ourselves as a small convention center.”

The first event was a July wedding, Mimi said. Most recently Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and several other Mississippi officials were at the building for a Republican Party induction ceremony for several of Lincoln County’s elected officials.

Mimi said there are a variety of events coming up, like the Brookhaven Little Theatre’s membership party, events for Junior Auxiliary and the Climbers Club, weddings and a christening.

Asem said though the place was built as a Presbyterian church, the newly created events center allows them to have a space for more than one denomination.

“It’s not just a Presbyterian place,” he said, “it’s also a place for Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, non-denominational churches, Pentecostal and Jewish events, too.

“That was the thing I think my wife liked about it,” Asem added, “that the building itself is not denomination-specific, it’s kind of multi-denominational,” Asem said. “We’ve had different denominations schedule their events here – they choose their own clergy. And, they have the choice of using the large sanctuary or the smaller, more intimate chapel.”

Mimi said the original part of the church was from a special architectural genre. “It is Gothic Revival architecture,” she explained.

The elaborate stained-glass windows with intricate four-petal dogwood flower designs floating around hand-painted centerpieces in each of the towers of the sanctuary depict Christian themes such as Mary, Mother of Jesus holding the newborn King, lilies with commemorative insignias of church founders, a hand-painted crown, and an engaging painting of the Eye of God, a triangle with a single eye floating inside of it – a symbol of Christian imagery used to depict God looking down from the heavens, a symbol that represents protection and power.

Asem said the four towers of the sanctuary were the original Sunday school rooms and the leaded stained-glass windows were crafted in Germany.

Behind the podium a built-in intricate screen trimmed with pointed arches that reflect the windows in the four towers of the sanctuary encases the M.P. Moller pipe organ, built in 1947, the couple explained.

She is a native of Brookhaven and recalls attending kindergarten at the church as a five-year-old. She said the part of the church they held the school in – which also served as a fellowship hall – was built in 1956 or 57.”

The Zeinis have turned that part of the building into two banquet halls that include a lush bridal suite, a large kitchen for caterers, three offices and a library filled with an eclectic collection of art and books from the couple’s travels and different experiences.

They are proud of the lush amenities in the bridal suite – a dressing room with an over-sized beveled mirror, a chaise, a sofa, thick white carpet and a cabinet filled with toiletries a busy bride might forget.

There is a courtyard off of the banquet hall with a water-fountain fenced with tall wooden shutters purchased in New Orleans and imported from Egypt, giving the area a New Orleans feel. The spot was previously black-top and had air-conditioning units; now it’s a focal point of the events center.

There is 14,000 square feet of available space in which to schedule events, the Zeinis said.

For information on availability call (601) 757-8685, or email Mimi at mimi@merrittoilandgas.com.

 

 

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