Fla. Worshippers Gather for Services

The Rev. Scott Borden survived Hurricane Charley (search) by huddling in a small closet and praying as the storm passed over his home, then hit his nearby church, leaving the sanctuary in tatters.

Fearing his 600-member congregation would be scattered after Friday's storm, Borden was surprised when dozens of them turned up in the courtyard of First Alliance Church (search) to pray and comfort one another.

"I believe that God is at work, even in Charley," he said.

Churches in the battered communities of Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda (search) made do Sunday amid the wreckage that Charley left behind. Services were held wherever possible, including in a parking lot, a courtyard and a community hall.

Some people who sought a break from the chaos arrived in their Sunday best. Others came in sweat-stained shirts and jeans muddied from cleaning yards or salvaging homes.

All sought to have their spirits lifted, if only momentarily, through prayer.

With no air conditioning and only warm drinking water to offer for refreshment, the congregation at First Alliance lifted its voice in song -- some with tears in their eyes.

Cassie Fryfogle sat in the front row with her husband, Terry, as the couple took a break from helping neighbors clear their damaged street.

"I've been waiting for church services ever since I heard that storm was coming," said she said.

Next door, the Rev. Rob Combs at Port Charlotte Church of Christ did not know if any of his small congregation would show up for services.

The main church building was damaged and unsafe, so Combs shepherded a few dozen parishioners into a small community hall and put out a sign offering a free hot lunch to anyone who happened by.

Combs said he does not know if the rest of his 60 parishioners were safe. He said some lived in mobile homes and have not been heard from since the storm.

"Hopefully we will be able to find out who needs what," Combs said. "It's so important to reach out to each other."

For Borden, pastor at First Alliance for three years, the sudden devastation brought him new appreciation for his community.

The Rev. LeeRoy Martin of Christ the King Lutheran Church put out a hand-painted sign advertising morning services and set up a few dozen folding chairs with a Bible on each seat. The church was partially damaged and had no electricity.

Martin rode out the storm at his home, which he said is relatively unscathed. He said he believes people now realize the value of their lives.

"I guess at a time like this, you realize the significance of spiritual values when everything else is blown away," Martin said.