Julie Pierson fought tears as she stood in the hazy sun outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Essex yesterday, temporarily homeless and with only an erratic cellular phone to connect her to the world.
The floodwaters that sent her fleeing by boat early Friday from her Bowleys Quarters home in eastern Baltimore County had brought her low. She had felt the need to attend 10 a.m. Mass at her Roman Catholic church - to pray and to learn what had happened to friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners.
"I came to thank God that we're alive, we're safe," said Pierson, 48, who works as Maryland's bioterrorism coordinator. Though her house will take six months to repair and the family is living in a hotel, "We still have each other," she said.
On the third day - after the high winds and heavy rains of Tropical Storm Isabel lashed the state and a tidal surge inundated whole communities - Maryland residents came to their congregations for solace, to pray and to offer words of comfort.
They came in smaller numbers in some devastated communities. They added their names to lists, offering or asking for help. They dropped dollars in collection baskets earmarked for Isabel's victims.
Some prayed in sanctuaries left unscarred by the storm. Others made do as they waited for the secular world - utility workers from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. - to intervene.
At the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in North Baltimore, Monsignor Robert A. Armstrong read the liturgy by flashlight. The doors were left open to let light into the dim nave.
Religious leaders delivered messages about helping the less fortunate and giving thanks.
"Everyone's safe, praise his holy name," the Rev. Dred Scott thundered to a chorus of hallelujahs at St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Turners Station, a Baltimore County community racked by flooding and power outages. "It's interesting, because he did not promise to keep us from the storm. He just promised to be with us through the storm."
In communities hardest hit by rapidly rising water that covered streets and poured into homes, church officials said they have been acting as coordinators, helping members to emergency shelters and contacting congregants.
At Mount Carmel, parishioners signed up in red binders placed by the doors - part of an effort by the 2,500-family parish to organize its response to those in need.
And at Havre de Grace United Methodist Church in Harford County, the Rev. Edward Heydt said the congregation was reaching out to families through a utility and food relief program.
"We're hearing from those who are without utilities. That seems to be ... most urgent," he said. "There's a good spirit of helping each other and being concerned with each other."
Subs and stories
At St. George's Episcopal Church, a tiny parish more than 300 years old on the Perryman peninsula in Harford County, worshipers shared submarine sandwiches and storm stories after services.
Dawn Styer said her Aberdeen community was still without power and that she was wor- ried about two elderly residents, who need oxygen around the clock and are relying on a hookup to neighbors' generators.
At Mount Carmel, parishioners offered thanks and related storm stories.
"I thank God for our lives and for the fact it was an inch from going in our house," said Pat Sturla, a retired Black and Decker employee who was evacuated by truck as the water rose near her Bowleys Quarters home.
And at St. Matthews, Ella Glenn, wearing a mismatched black top and blue skirt, said she was exhausted but thrilled with the support from her church family.
Glenn, 66, was among the residents of Day Village in Turners Station who were rescued as the water rose near their homes.
"I came to thank God for what he brought us through. It could have been much worse," she said. "He brought us through the storm. It's a blessing to be here."
Sun staff writers Lane Harvey Brown and Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.