Weary Houstonians Turn to God: People Flock to Church Services One Week After Harvey’s Destruction Began

The sanctuary was full and people poured into the lobby during the 11:15 a.m. service at Fifth Ward Church of Christ Sept. 3, 2017, in Houston. (Photo: Larry McCormack, The Tennessean)

Last Sunday, Hurricane Harvey was lashing Southeast Texas and dropping a flood of unimaginable proportions on the Greater Houston area.

This Sunday, exhausted Houstonians, many of whom lost all their worldly possessions to Harvey’s wrath poured into churches throughout the region.

At Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston, the Rev. Barkley Thompson rallied his congregation to action from the pulpit by likening the city’s tribulations with those of Moses.

“Forty-two thousand are presently housed in shelters across this city and state. Forty people have died. Rockport was devastated. Beaumont drowned. One runs out of superlative adjectives to describe things — and then one simply runs out of the energy to speak at all,” Thompson said during his homily.

The Episcopal church enlisted attendees to sign up and volunteer to feed the homeless, provide temporary housing, help with home cleanups, and host neighborhood potluck dinners.

Established in 1839, Christ Church Cathedral was the first religious congregation in Houston and the second Episcopal parish in the Republic of Texas.

The church operates The Beacon, which typically dishes out 300 daily free lunches to downtown homeless people, five days per week.

City officials and the Houston Coalition for the Homeless asked The Beacon to start serving three meals daily from Sunday through Sept. 15 in Harvey’s wake, Thompson said.

South Main Baptist Church also donated 300 pairs of new shoes Friday to The Beacon so the homeless could trade in waterlogged, ruined footwear, he said.

Christ Church Cathedral has established an Uber account for parishioners who lost their vehicles to floods. The church also set up a list of parish attorneys to offer pro bono assistance for insurance or Federal Emergency Management Agency paperwork.

‘We are going to get through this together’

At Holy Name Catholic Church, a predominantly African-American congregation in Baytown, Texas, many of the parishioners watched their homes flood during Hurricane Harvey. Even the church rectory flooded, and for days after the storm passed the neighborhood around the church was accessible only by boat.

But Sunday, there seemed to be an agreement among the leaders and members of the church to downplay the damage. Some of them lost all of their possessions. But they knew others in the Houston area had lost far more.

“My house? We got flooded, but it wasn’t that bad,” said Mary Norman, 68, of Baytown. “I only got four inches of water inside the house. But other people in my neighborhood had water running over their roofs.”

To find out how people were really doing, sometimes it helped to ask their neighbors.

“I know, Mary Norman will tell you she didn’t get very much damage,” said Kenneth Thomas, a fellow church member. “But you should see her house. It’s bad. I don’t know how she’s going to recover from that.”

The Rev. Nixon Mullah’s service on Sunday stuck to the normal schedule of homilies for Catholic churches across the country. He spoke about the importance of eschewing the flashy comforts of this world, and instead waking up every morning and making the hard decision to be good.

Everyone in the church knew that Mullah’s home, in the church rectory, had been flooded by knee-high water. They knew he’d been cut off from his congregation for days, with no phone service and his church accessible to the outside world only by boat.

They already knew, Mullah said, so he saw no reason to remind them. Better, then, to focus on eternal love rather than these passing pains.

“We are already living in the storm. What can I add or subtract from that?” Mullah said. “So I thought what I can do instead is to spread the message of hope. We have a wonderful community here, and we are going to get through his together.”

Lilly Auzenne’s house in Baytown was flooded last year and it took her six months and $24,000 to rebuild, she said, replacing the floors, carpets and sections of walls.

She moved back into her house two months before Harvey made landfall. The water seeped in first through the front door, then through the back. It destroyed her brand-new carpet and all her furniture, again.

“Oh, I know I’m going to be fine,” said Auzenne, 80, as she pointed her finger to the ceiling of the church hall. “I talk to God all the time.”

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