As members of Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., came forward for Communion two Sundays after Hurricane Charley, each was given a bottle of water to share with someone who, like them, was still hurting after the storm.
The symbolic act illustrated an ongoing reality. Grace United, which lost three sections of roof and several offices, must fix itself as it helps others recover in the aftermath of the hurricane that slammed Florida on Aug. 13.
The same is true for dozens of other houses of worship.
As of Wednesday, denominational sources said 78 United Methodist churches had filed insurance claims, 32 Southern Baptist churches were damaged, and four Church of the Nazarene congregations suffered serious damage. Based on an assessment of two dozen communities completed 12 days after the storm, Church World Service, an ecumenical humanitarian agency, had documented damage to 57 houses of worship.
"That's just scratching the surface of what we think is the damage" to buildings that house congregations, said Lesli Remaly, disaster response and recovery liaison for Church World Service, which has its headquarters in New York City.
"This is probably the greatest number of churches impacted in a disaster we've seen since the wildfires in California," Remaly said. "It becomes an important part of ministry to minister to those pastors so that they hang in there."
Since Hurricane Charley, Rabbi Solomon Agin has not been able to gather the 150 families of Temple Shalom in Port Charlotte, Fla., for worship. Although the sanctuary -- recently refurbished with a hurricane-proof roof -- is intact, the synagogue has no water or power. The grounds will require a "massive cleanup" with heavy trucks and chain saws.
"We suffered damage in our religious school that will probably have to be taken down to its shell and rebuilt," the leader of the Reform congregation said in an interview.
The Rev. Jim Morsch, national field director of Nazarene Disaster Response, said that despite substantial damage to church roofs, the four Church of the Nazarene congregations managed to hold services right after the storm.
"Sunday morning, they were worshiping in them," he said. "The roofs in some of the places were open. . . . They had worship services even though they did not have electricity."
While Southern Baptist volunteers helped the Nazarenes cope with tree removal, 250 Nazarene volunteers, in turn, went out in "chain saw gangs" and helped others with minor repairs.
Barbara Denman, spokeswoman for the Florida Baptist Convention, said three of the 32 Southern Baptist churches were destroyed. Many of the congregations are worshiping in buildings on the grounds "or just gathering on the lawn if they need to," she said.
Clergy speak of the need to go on, despite toppled steeples and damaged stained-glass windows.
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo, senior pastor of Grace United Methodist Church, said that the church had about half its usual attendance the first Sunday after the storm but that it was back to the normal level of about 1,500 by last Sunday.
On that day, the church held a "service of hope and help," during which congregants who kneeled for Communion were handed water bottles featuring a sticker with Jesus's words about how the thirsty should "come unto me and drink."
Acevedo, many of whose congregants who lost homes or roofs, said he prayed that they would be "instruments of hope and help" and remember to give of themselves at this difficult time.
"We need to take care of ourselves, but we also need to be givers," Acevedo said.
Faith Lutheran Church in Punta Gorda was one of several dozen Florida churches damaged by Hurricane Charley on Aug. 13.