Willie B. Jones couldn't contain his excitement. Standing with his wife, Loretta, at New Home Ministries, Jones was attending his first church service since Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast two weeks ago and destroyed his home and cars.
"I'm standing here with just the clothes on my back. But I'm here at church," said Jones, who wore pants that were too short and brightly colored loafers lent to him by his nephew.
A thankful Jones, 56, then pushed his way past the other parishioners in his row for a three-minute Holy Ghost-inspired dance.
At First Assembly of God Pentecostal Church, members at the 11 a.m. service were also clapping, waving hands and giving praise. But the message from the pastor and several of the church's 30 members was different. "This is God's vengeance," said pastor Curtis Porche.
A range of messages -- including hope, vengeance and an aversion to reliance on government help -- were heard around the New Orleans area in the first Sunday worship service for many since Katrina struck on Aug. 29. Similar sermons were preached throughout the region, representing the spectrum of beliefs.
While New Home and First Assembly are less than two miles from each other in this suburban town 30 minutes west of New Orleans, their perspective of the situation couldn't have been further apart.
The 200 attendees of the predominantly African American congregation of New Home Ministries focused on hope, while the 30 or so members of the predominantly white First Assembly focused on God's revenge and restoration.
In introducing his sermon, "God's Vengeance and God's Goodness," Porche stopped short of characterizing New Orleans, with its 24-hour nightclubs, parties and anything-goes atmosphere, as the modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
"This city has been an abomination to God. We ask God to stop the sin and filth," Porche said.
He said his members have prayed that the city changes and that such events as Mardi Gras never return. "I pray God will restore New Orleans to a place that is respectable and godly," he said.
First Assembly members said they have prayed for years that the city would change. Eleanor Frances, 71, said it was no coincidence that the hurricane's name was Katrina, one of whose translations in Greek is "pure."
"The whole area needed to be purified. There are a lot of things that God is displeased with. This was His way of trying to wake up the people," she said as tears rolled down her face.
Last week, First Assembly members passed out hot dogs and cups of soda to evacuees stuck in their vehicles on Highway 51, which passes by the church. "This is the time to show people about God's love," Porche said. "This is the time we should be reaching out."
Encouragement was a common theme at both houses of worship Sunday. New Home pastor Steve O. Allen tried to encourage his members by reading from the book of Romans: "All things work together for good to them that love the Lord."
Allen, along with his wife, Marilyn, and mother, Merque Roberts, are staying with a church member because their home is in ruins. His teenage son, Steve Jr., and daughter, Britney, are staying at another member's home. He said many of his members' houses suffered minor damage due to high winds.
And most of the members have lost their jobs, he said.
"You will never know that God is all you need until God is all you have," Allen said. "If you don't trust Him during the test, you lose your witness. But if you trust Him through the test, your life becomes a sermon."
Some residents in this town of 30,000 say they realize they are fortunate. Some trees have been downed, roofs have been ripped open and a few signs lay crumpled on the ground.
"My focus and faith is in the Lord," said Lucky Thomas, a social worker and New Home member who has 29 evacuees living in her four-bedroom home. "We can't ask why this happened. All we can do is trust in Him to bring us through."
Both congregations believe that Americans should not depend on the government in times of crisis. Instead, many said, they should put their faith in God and each other.
"We are going to make it because we're not looking to the president, the governor or any elected officials. We're looking to the Lord," Allen said.
First Assembly member Bethany Walley said it was the "communities who stepped in" when the government was slow to respond. "The government is still not responding right," she said. "They're doing a bad job."
Residents said the day that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast will be forever etched in their memories.
On Sunday, as many people across the United States memorialized the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the church members in La Place focused on what they called their own Sept. 11.
"We had just as much destruction," Walley said. "We may not have had as much loss of life, but people here have lost everything. And it was days before anyone came to our aid. That's what made it worse."
Willie B. Jones, 56, dances in the aisle during a service at New Home Ministries. It was his first church service since Hurricane Katrina struck.