Church's response 'inspiring'

The Rev. Christopher Markert left his home in Harvey, La., thinking he'd be back within two days.

BY HEATHER MOYER | HOUSTON, texas | September 7, 2005

"Coming together allows us the support we need."

—Bishop Paul Blom

The Rev. Christopher Markert left his home in Harvey, La., thinking he'd be back within two days.

Now almost two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Markert knows he will not be able live in Harvey any time soon.

Wednesday night, Markert stood in the sanctuary of Houston's Faith Lutheran Church flipping through photos of his flooded church and neighborhood in Harvey - a community just south of New Orleans. The pictures show soggy insulation and crumbled ceiling panels.

"There's a lot of severe damage," said Markert, pastor of the House of Prayer church in Harvey. "My apartment flooded, too."

Fortunately, he said, the church had just completed a hurricane plan, which allowed him the ability to track down his parishioners fairly quickly. He said most of them are scattered about the country now, but at least he knows where they are.

Markert was at Faith Lutheran Church Wednesday evening to help with the Service for Healing and Recovery, a worship service planned by the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

The synod's bishop, the Rev. Paul Blom, said he wanted to hold the service because it is important for Christians to have a time for healing after such tragedies like Hurricane Katrina. "This is how the Christian community is reassured," he said. "Coming together allows us the support we need."

And the Lutheran community is already coming together to help. Blom said the phones in his office have not stopped ringing for days now. People from all over the country are offering help, he said, whether it's via monetary donations or wanting to take in families who lost homes.

That kind of assistance is extremely necessary, he added, considering how many of the synod's churches are damaged and how many of its pastors are hurting.

"My number one priority is to care for the leaders first," he explained. "Their congregations are not able to gather and so they have no paychecks. We've now got funds rolling in for that."

One person who will benefit from far away generosity is Markert. A church in Minnesota called this week to offer a paid position for a pastor from the hurricane-ravaged area - but not to have them come work up in Minnesota.

"They want to fund my continued work down here with the survivors," said Markert with a big smile. "I didn't expect that at all."

And now Markert is working closely with Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, a position which he said allows him to minister to many of his own people. That's pretty good for someone who wasn't sure just what was next for him after Katrina.

"I wasn't sure what I would do," he said. "Would I leave the ministry? Go somewhere else? I think I was just going through the stages of grief."

Both Markert and Blom said they are very impressed by the outpouring of support from Lutherans around the country and from Lutheran Disaster Response. Faith Lutheran Church is no different from those generous churches across the U.S.

Just down the hall from the sanctuary at Faith Lutheran is a room where donations are piled for the thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors in Houston. Stacks of diapers, shampoo, toys, new clothing and more sit against the walls. Church members and the public have been busy since late last week bringing in the donations.

"We've already taken several truckloads of donations to the convention center," said Barbara Morgan, minister to youth and families for Faith Lutheran Church. "We've become a real central donation place."

Morgan said the church is also now preparing for the week when the Lutheran churches across Houston are responsible for feeding all the Katrina survivors now being sheltered in the Astrodome and several other large places in the city. "We'll need hundreds of volunteers for that."

Yet the pastors don't think they will have a problem recruting help from their own church. The Rev. Herb Palmer, Faith Lutheran's senior pastor, said he is thrilled at how well his parishioners have already responded.

"The church response has been inspiring, they've really taken on the task," he said after Wednesday night's service. "This is a very positive, can-do church."

For some in the church, providing help to the Katrina survivors is their way of repaying a favor. Back in the summer of 2001, Betty Wehmeyer was in New Orleans for a conference. When she returned, she found more than two feet of water in her home because of Tropical Storm Allison. The help she received was overwhelming, she said.

"So this is my way of giving back," said Wehmeyer, adding that the whole city of Houston is treating it like that. But still, she is also impressed with just how welcoming the city has been.

"I always thought Houston was a giving city, but I never knew it could give this much."

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