Hurricane Katrina revealed the efficiency of churches and other congregations in their role as “first responders” in the midst of local, state and national government delays and stalemates in providing relief.
The swift response of congregations was noted by newspapers across the U.S. and Britain, with the New York Times headlining an article, “A New Meaning for `Organized Religion:’ It Helps The Needy Quickly.” One observer noted that churches became first responders because “they’re already there. They represent a focal point in the community.” But Katrina served as something of a watershed event in the lives of many churches in the U.S., writes Eric Swanson in Advance, the e-newsletter of the Leadership Network.
He writes that “A line was drawn in the sand. Churches had to declare, with respect to helping those outside the church, whether they were `in’ or they were `out.’ There was no neutral ground. There was no time for debate and rhetoric…” But it appears that the decision to respond did not happen solely on a congregational basis.
In Houston, for example, a coalition of the faith community led by several pastors called for immediate action, leading “tens of thousands in Houston churches” to get involved in relief work. The Christian Century (October 18) reports that some Gulf Coast church leaders and government officials–emboldened by the large role that houses of worship assumed after the storms–are saying they want congregations to do even more. One pastor said “We have seen a paradigm shift. In America since the 1930s or `40s, we’ve thought the government is going to do it. Now we realize the church is going to have to do it.”