Gulf Coast residents finding comfort in prayer

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2010; A02

CUT OFF, LA. -- For a few hours Sunday night, Audie Crochet's living room became a church. The plush green carpet supported a white pulpit. A suede sofa set and fold-out chairs served as pews. And a 52-inch television thumped out religious-themed music with the power of a full choir.

"Let's pray to God to stick his finger in that plug," Crochet, 53, said, his body swaying back and forth.

"Yes," Jason Ross, 37, echoed. "Plug it."

A day after it was announced that BP's "top kill" effort had failed, making this gulf-dependent region feel even more helpless, many residents did the only thing they knew to do: pray.

They prayed at the Catholic church on Grand Isle. "Know you are not alone facing the horrible oil spill disaster," reads a line from the church bulletin. The Rev. Mike Tran's sermon Sunday addressed the oil spill, and the Mass intentions for Monday and Tuesday were to be dedicated to it as well. The floor of the entrance to the church bears four images: a boat, an oil rig, a fish and a bird.

They prayed at the Baptist church up the road. "It's a slow disaster," said Nathan Stanford, the youth minister. "We've been praying, but we don't know what to pray for specifically." They don't know what the final toll will be or whom it will most affect, he said. They, like other congregations, are preparing to give out financial help to residents as needs arise.

And they prayed in homes like the one Crochet and his wife bought in a working-class neighborhood in Cut Off. The couple moved there from Grand Isle with their son, John, just before Hurricane Katrina hit. On a wall above the fireplace are three stones, each with a single word: Faith. Hope. Love.

Nine people gathered in the living room Sunday night to sing together and hear Crochet, a security guard and real estate agent, give a sermon.

The theme that night: Good can come of a crisis.

"It seems like we've been in crisis after crisis after crisis," said Crochet, who wore a New Orleans Saints championship T-shirt. "Seems like no sooner we get done with one, another comes up."

The good: Crisis forces innovation and creativity, he said. It tests one's faith, one's strength. It pushes people to surpass their previous limits. It creates leaders.

"I tell you, whoever comes up with the fix to plug this thing, they're going to be patted on the back for years," Crochet said. "BP won't have enough money to give them."

"Let me tell you," he said. "Everyone in this room has potential. We do."

Among those in the room were a butcher, two Wal-Mart employees, a security guard and two adults with disabilities unable to work. When the music boomed through the room, the butcher, David Felarise, 50, closed his eyes to sing. The elder Wal-Mart employee, Hilda Ross, 66, threw her arms outward. And Crochet's wife, Rebecca, 55, put one hand on the pulpit and tapped a foot to the ground.

Audie Crochet's voice was the loudest. He sang:

I am pressed but not crushed.

I am persecuted but not abandoned.

I am struck but not destroyed.

"Did you see that sign: 'God help us all'?" Heather Norwood, 18, the other Wal-Mart employee, said after the singing and sermon were done. She was referring to a figure on the side of the road wearing a gas mask and holding a fish in one hand and the sign in the other. "In order for that to come true, you have to believe it."

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