The Rev. Donell Peterman, preaching Sunday at the church he founded a decade ago in Silver Spring, took his text from Isaiah: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people."
In Peterman's sermon, the passage became an instruction not to judge or ignore the people devastated by Hurricane Katrina but to "speak tenderly" and to "give generously." And that is what his congregation of some 550 families is doing.
One family is sheltering 30 relatives from Louisiana, and other church members are helping new arrivals from the Gulf Coast as they seek jobs and housing. The congregation has decided to fill a room-size storage container with supplies for a church in Gulfport, Miss., and to send a container each month for the next year.
A "love offering" collection on Sunday raised more than $8,000. Peterman said this money will go directly to people who have been hurt by Katrina.
The response of the church, the Joshua Group Ministries, is part of an outpouring of concern throughout Montgomery County. Individuals, organizations and county government have come together to raise money, collect supplies and provide shelter.
Only one event has gripped members of Peterman's church more than the devastation wrought by Katrina: the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The attendance record at the congregation's red-brick church was set on the Sunday after the attacks.
But the concerns raised by the attacks did not prompt the sustained action that has followed Katrina. For one thing, Peterman said, "there was such a strong sense that the government was going to take care of New York." Another reason is that many church members have relatives affected by Katrina. "Even though we live on the East Coast," Peterman said, "we're all from the South."
Michelle Bailey, a church member who is helping with efforts to aid Katrina survivors, said that people are driven to help partly out of frustration with the government and with private aid organizations. "It's much more meaningful to work with people whom you've met and know that you're touching their lives," she said.
Bailey, the director of market research at Black Entertainment Television, is functioning as a one-woman relief coordinator, networking with friends who are helping Katrina survivors and putting them in touch with Joshua Group Ministries.
Her friend Monique Logan, who is sheltering nine relatives from New Orleans at her home in Upper Marlboro, said she is looking to the church for assistance because the Red Cross involves "too much red tape."
Logan took her cousin, Ryan Catchings, to the church on Sunday. He broke his right hand rescuing himself and others from the greater Ninth Ward of New Orleans, where he said people were left to fend for themselves.
Peterman said church members are working to find jobs and housing for those in need.
In the church parking lot, usher Barbara Settle carefully used plastic tape to seal the box of supplies she had bought at a Giant Foods store: nearly $150 of nonperishable foodstuffs, baby items and household supplies.
A young man placed the box in the storage container, known as a "pod."
She said she appreciated the church's commitment to fill a pod each month over the next year because this offers a means of providing help even when the nation is no longer focused on the crisis. "This is what churches are supposed to do," she said. "To God be the glory."
The pod was filled halfway on Sunday with boxes of clothing and diapers and shrink-wrapped cases of water. Many of the items -- sheets, blankets, toys -- seemed intended to provide comfort.
The church will continue loading supplies into the pod this week; it will be shipped to the First Missionary Baptist Church of Gulfport this weekend. Joshua Group member Laseandra Wesson has relatives in the Gulfport congregation who told her that their community needed help. "We wanted it to go directly to people, without going through different organizations," she said of the church's aid effort.
The church is responding to Katrina in the same way that it would help a member who had lost a house to fire or some other calamity, only magnified by several factors. "Churches don't need instruction in disaster relief," Peterman said. "We're our own FEMA."
The church's response is not limited to addressing the material needs of Katrina survivors. One of Sunday's hymns was titled "Blessed Quietness."
"Blessed quietness, holy quietness/What assurance in my soul!" the choir and congregation sang. "On the stormy sea He speaks peace to me/How the billows cease to roll!"