MOORE, Okla. — Pastors turned to the scriptures and hymnals Sunday to help parishioners seeking answers after a violent tornado turned their community upside-down. Their message: Persevere and know that God remains with them.
Meanwhile, Gov. Mary Fallin appeared on television urging Oklahomans to be patient while awaiting help from relief agencies, noting that a 17-mile damage path left “so much to do.”
At the First Baptist Church of Moore, ministers turned to the biblical account of Job, who saw 10 members of his family killed in a storm. By the end of the day, Job was again praising God. The church drew 2,000 to an interdenominational service later Sunday.
An EF5 tornado bearing 210 mph winds hit Moore and other Oklahoma City suburbs last Monday, killing 24. Another storm killed two the day before. Twisters are not uncommon in the area, but those as severe as Monday’s can still shake faith-believing people.
“You cannot blame God for a tornado if you aren’t also going to credit God for a teacher shielding a child,” the Rev. Thomas Boyer said at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Norman, which had 19 families impacted by the storm. During the homily, Boyer led the 900 members in the sanctuary in two verses of “How Can I Keep from Singing?” It’s refrain opens, “No one can shake my in-most calm.”
Pastor Mark Fuller at the Abundant Life United Pentecostal Church in Moore asked the dozens of people attending to pick up shovels, rakes and gloves and help in the cleanup.
“We don’t have time to send out teams and tell people about the existence of God,” said Fuller, whose church was damaged by the storm. “We just want to show them the hands and feet, which we are, of God’s people.”
Norma Clanton, whose late husband was the former pastor, said Sunday was an opportunity to experience God’s love through the state’s residents.
“In Oklahoma, we don’t have beaches. We don’t have mountains, but we have resilient people,” she said.
Fallin said Sunday on CNN that the scale of the damage makes it difficult to assure all residents that things can be restored quickly.
“It is hard to manage those expectations,” Fallin said. She added later, “I’m sure there will be some delays because there is so much to do.”
Fallin hosted leaders and members of different faiths for a church service Sunday night and told Oklahomans that Psalm 46 tells them that God is their refuge and strength, even if the mountains tremble.
“This has certainly been a trying time for our state,” Fallin said. “The loss of life was traumatic for us. It’s been a sad week.”
Christian music artist Dennis Jernigan split the congregation into parts to sing a hymn meant to lift up their hearts.
“I love Oklahoma. When one of us hurts, all of us hurt,” he said. “We can be victimized, but we don’t become victims.”
— Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this
report from Norman.