Mike Hogg is pastor of Canal Street Presbyterian Church, located in New Orleans's Mid City neighborhood. Nearly everyone in the church fled the city before Hurricane Katrina hit last week, and now Hogg is pastoring his scattered church members over the telephone and the internet from Houston. Knowing that it may be a long time before they are able to return to what is left of their homes and church, Hogg is helping to arrange for his congregation's immediate needs while he and his family move temporarily to Arizona. Meanwhile, radio host Hugh Hewitt, popular blogging pastor Mark D. Roberts, and others have singled out Canal Street Presbyterian in their recommendations for giving.
Do you know what condition the church is in?
No, we haven't seen it. We have seen parts of the neighborhood, and the water levels seem to be different on some streets. We're thinking we had a lot of moving water for a long period of time. The worst, I think, is that it could be covering the first floor of church. It is an old brick church. It's been there 150 years. I think the building survived, but we could have water covering the first floor.
Most people haven't seen their houses. My wife and kids and I moved into the neighborhood, called Mid City, where the church is on Canal Street, and we haven't seen clear pictures. We don't even know if our house is there.
You left before the hurricane hit?
Yes, most people did. People are used to doing that. The weird part about this is everybody fled thinking This doesn't look very good, but we don't have time to do a whole lot. Katrina came off the Florida coast as a level one and developed off Florida quickly. They recommended 72 hours to get out of the city, but it was really only 48 hours before people realized it was a hurricane and it was coming here.
We even had a party Friday night for someone at church who had graduated college. There were 125 people there and part of the casual conversation was "Where are you going to go?" And that's the last time we saw each other.
You're staying with relatives in Houston now, right? So you're still in survival mode?
I guess. I've never been in survival mode before, so I'm not sure what that is. We had done some preparation matching people who don't have cars with those who do. We have older people, a handful of mentally ill and homeless people who worship with us regularly, and we're trying to touch base with them. In a sense we're prepared and our website has been phenomenal to stay in contact with people. I've been talking with another pastor who is a friend, and he doesn't have a functioning website. He doesn't know where anybody is. We don't know where everybody is, but we know where most are.
I'm trying to figure out where everybody is and get their information on the website so everybody else knows where they are. I'm also checking in with them to see what their needs are, particularly in the area of housing and finance. And I'm trying to call people, trying to do some of the pastoral stuff. We are thinking what our role is going to be as a church when they open the city back up.
We were involved in Pensacola with some of the recovery down there. Little did we know that was our schooling for what we're going through now.
Have you had difficulty connecting with anybody?
We're looking for a gal who is a pastoral counselor. She is not on staff at our church, but she attends it. She has an elderly mom who she lives with and she has a sister down on the Mississippi coast where she usually evacuates to. We know she went to Mississippi, but we don't know how long they stayed or if they got out in time. We have been frantically trying to figure out who knows her other extended family.
We had another lady who suffered a stroke years before and is somewhat disabled. She's a prayer warrior in our church. Every hurricane she just wants to stay and pray. She feels that is what she is called to do.
I had already evacuated with my family. I knew she was there, and we knew two others who had intentionally stayed behind. I got her on the phone, and she said she thought a young couple was going to stay in her apartment complex with her. But they left without telling her, and she was all alone in a 30-unit apartment building. The only other people who were in town was this father and son, who were about four miles away. And so I called them, and they said they had talked to her and she was going to weather the storm with them. I just had a sense she wasn't going to be able to hunker down, and I said, "Guys, can you go get her?"
To make a long story short, it was in the midst of the storm they went over and got her and took her back to the house. They weathered the storm in a neighborhood that turned out to be higher than some of the others. Then I don't know how they got out, but they showed up at different places in Baton Rouge.
The area that she had been in was hit really hard. There was no way she would be able to walk through water. She doesn't have a loud voice. I don't know what would have happened to her, but it would not have been really good. We're just thankful.
There are still a couple of people who are still missing who are kind of high risk, a couple of homeless people who we know, another lady and her son in what's called St. Bernard Parish. We haven't heard from them. If we come out of this with nobody dead it will be miraculous.
We're getting together tonight. There are about 20 people from our church in this area meeting at Starbucks for the first time tonight. We're just going to spend some time hugging each other, praying, and just trading some stories. We will definitely have some groups and Dallas, Houston, and Jackson.
How prepared were you for this scale of disaster?
This is what people have talked about for a long time. People from New Orleans have known it could happen, and they took it seriously. But this was particularly heartbreaking because after the storm went through, we began to see pictures and it looked like we survived. I saw my neighborhood, and I could see the tires of cars, and I thought, "We're going to be okay."
My wife and I were up late on Monday night, and on TV they interviewed a lady who described the water rising an inch every five minutes. I don't know how she knew, but she knew exactly where the levee had broken. I was in disbelief.
Everybody calls it Lake Pontchartrain, but it's a bay. It's not a lake. It's the bay of the Gulf. It's never going to empty. When that happened it was really disheartening.
People in our congregation are committed to one another and the church. I don't know how anybody could go through this without the Lord. Underneath it all, I think there's a general feeling of agreement that God is going to bring some good stuff of this. And we're going to be OK. And we're going to see God do some great things.
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Churches Try to Find Scattered Flocks, Assess Damage From Afar | With churches damaged and congregations dispersed, measuring Katrina's impact has been nearly impossible.
Parable of the Good Church | Neither the fury of Katrina nor inefficiencies of government can stop the people of God.
More recent coverage of Hurricane Katrina includes:
Amid the Evacuees | How churches in Houston, among other cities, began picking up the pieces. (Sept. 8, 2005)
I Was a Stranger | Ministry in the Astrodome and beyond. (Sept. 8, 2005)
The Sunday After | What Gulf churches were doing on the first Lord's Day after Katrina. (Sept. 8, 2005)
Hurricane Weblog: In Every Thing Give Thanks | Even in tragedy, there is hope in Jesus. (Sept. 06, 2005)
Hurricane Weblog: Where Is God in the Chaos? | The theodicy questions change as human depravity rears its ugly head in New Orleans. (Sept 02, 2005)
Houston's Religious Communities Scramble to Help Evacuees | "We're in this thing for the long haul" without government money, church leaders warn. (Sept 02, 2005)
Hurricane Weblog: Little Relief in Sight | Food, water, supplies still making its way to hurricane victims. (Sept 01, 2005)
Hurricane Weblog: Katrina Relief Under Way | Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declares Wednesday a day of prayer. (Aug. 31, 2005)