Amid the horrifying experiences and images left by Hurricane Katrina, preachers were faced with helping their parishioners find meaning in the storm and its aftermath while struggling with their own reactions. Echoing through their efforts were the messages that God did not cause the hurricane and has not abandoned creation to the storm and that now, after the storm, Christians are called to transformational action.
“Tonight you can be assured of two things," the Rev. Terry Pannell told an interfaith service for Muslim, Jewish and Christian hurricane evacuees being sheltered at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Monroe, La. "The first is that God is where God is needed most. God is with you tonight. And the second thing is that God does not forget. The waters will recede."
"Because God remembers, new beginnings are possible," he said. "What Noah understood and what displaced people throughout history have experienced is that the inner strength needed to overcome tragedy is found in the bond we have with God." The Rev. Patricia Templeton, rector of St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Atlanta, said that the questions of where God was and why God allows such suffering to occur are questions "to which there is no answer that is fully satisfying."
Katrina was not punishment for sin or part of a "greater and good purpose ... that we cannot understand," she said. "To suggest that God intentionally caused this tragedy for any reason is obscene and nothing less than blasphemy. God is indeed involved in the sufferings of this earth -- not by causing them, but by being deeply affected by them."
At St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Cypress, Texas, the congregation heard the Rev. Jeff W. Fisher quote French theologian Paul Claudel: "Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with his presence." Fisher said Christians "have the sad opportunity to fill this tragedy with the presence of Jesus' love."
The Rev. Ellen Ekstrom, deacon at St. Mark's in Berkeley, Calif., told her congregation, "God was with the people climbing up on rooftops to outrun the flood waters, God was with the rescuers, God is with the dying and the evacuees pouring into Texas" and with those who grieve their losses.
Katrina was "apocalyptic" in that the Greek roots of the word point to uncovering, revealing, unveiling, the Rev. Wilifred Allen-Faiella, rector, told the congregation of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove, Fla., where Katrina made its first landfall. "An apocalypse of this magnitude breaks open and lays bare the status quo. It makes a statement: This is who we are. But it also asks a question: Is this who we want to be?"
"We Christians, and I mean all Christians – right-wing, left-wing, and everyone in the vast middle --- all Christians must regain our focus and find our voice again,” she said. “We have been so busy fighting with each other, within our own denomination and with others; we have been so busy trying to grab political power, cloaking it as a stance on 'family values' or 'pro-life;' we have been so busy being politically correct; we have been so preoccupied with the numbers game, that we have lost sight of who we are, whose we are and why we have been put on this earth."
The Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, rector of Christ Church in La Crosse, Wis., noted the history-shaping events of the past four years: the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the December 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. The Christian responsibility in the world today is to "look through the lenses of the gospel of hope, grace and love,” he told his congregation. “Let not hatred win, to divide and destroy our faith communities."