Biloxi Churches Worship Amid Destruction

BILOXI  (AP) -- They came to where their church once stood, carrying lawn chairs and blankets to sit on. On the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina, members of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer stopped sifting through rubble long enough to thank God and express their faith each other that they can get through the aftermath and rebuild.

Father Harold Roberts joined priests and ministers across the county in offering solace to their flocks. He gave the advice of Paul from the book of Romans: "Rejoice in hope. Be patient in suffering. Persevere in prayer."

The 100 or so -- some sitting, others standing -- had to strain to hear over the thump-thump of the military helicopters landing on the beach across the street and the whine of a front-end loader still clearing debris from beside the church.

First, they rang the church bell, laying amid the rubble of its tower. The tower was famous in these parts because it was about all that withstood the last big hit from Hurricane Camille in 1969. Lay reader Dorothy Byrd offered a prayer "for those in trouble."  "I ask your prayers for the departed," she said, her voice breaking. "For those who died in Katrina."

Others in the congregation -- standing just in front of a broken memorial to the dead from Camille -- offered up their prayers, random voices calling out from the crowd: "For those who can't be found."  "For those who came to help out."  "For all those who are rebuilding."

Elsewhere, other worshippers also tried to come to terms with the pain left by Katrina. From pulpits, some complained that the suffering fell disproportionately on the downtrodden.

At Trinity United Church of Christ, a predominantly black church on Chicago's South Side, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. criticized the nation's slow response. He said most of the people who did not leave were stranded because they were poor and did not have the money to travel. "May the gifts we give remind them that somebody cares," Wright said as collection plates were passed. "The more you give, the more the Lord gives to you."

In Detroit, Vonzina Shabazz was not feeling well but was determined to go to church after seeing the suffering on TV. "I had to come to church to say a prayer for the people down there who are homeless," Shabazz, 44, said as she entered Greater Grace Temple, a predominantly black church.

In many churches, worshippers identified with the victims. "I saw those people who were just like my own mother. I saw those babies. I cannot be silent," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, a mostly black congregation that has pledged $100,000.

Back at the Church of the Redeemer, Roberts said that while Sunday was the saddest day of his life, it was also the happiest because of the resilience of his flock. "God is with us, God will bring us through this," Roberts said. "This church has been through this before and we will rise again."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.