At Sunday services, messages of hope after Harvey’s wrath

Debris and muck were all that remained where homes once stood, tens of thousands spent the night in shelters, and others would weather another long day without safe drinking water or electricity. Yet, in churches across storm-ravaged South Texas, parishioners saw hope amid the devastation, and sought strength in faith.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared Sunday a “Day of Prayer” and urged residents to be steeled by their beliefs at a time of crisis. One Catholic congregation exiled by floodwaters held a makeshift service at a high school, another set out bug spray along with holy water, while pastors and priests talked of helping those in need and restoring a region left in shambles by Harvey.

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Only days before Harvey hit, congregants at Christ United Church of Cypress, Texas, had celebrated returning to their beloved church after the long absence.

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In the spring of 2016, the building had been devastated by a storm that forced the congregation to gut the historic structure and rebuild. Now, with the small brick church extensively damaged, the work must start again.

About 60 people gathered for a service Sunday at the church about 30 miles northwest of Houston, where Pastor Jeffrey Willey said he reminded his congregation that “the church is not the building. We are the church.”

“We have to tear down all the walls again,” he said in a telephone interview.

The church holds a significant place in the area, Willey said, its construction dating to the early 1900s. He’s been buoyed by an outpouring of concern from people and other churches around the U.S., eager to help.

“We have a God that restores, that heals,” he added. With faith, “we walk above the troubled waters of this earth.”

“It’s not the end,” Willey said.

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At the Pine Forest Baptist Church in Vidor, Texas, along the coast about 110 miles east of Houston, 45 people gathered for a service in the parking lot, after the church was flooded in the storm.

Pat Lawrence and her fiance, Jim Frasier, arrived on a tractor after navigating the floodwaters that had left some homes cut off, like islands.

“You can’t hardly comprehend all the water that’s around,” Lawrence said.

“My house is not flooded, but getting out is flooded. I’ve been in my house since last Saturday,” she added. “We came on the tractor because we wanted to come to…

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