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Caught by storm, chaplain goes into action in New Orleans

 


Caught by storm, chaplain goes into action in New Orleans

Sept. 29, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

The Rev. Charles M. Herring went to New Orleans a few days early for a training event and ended up being in the wrong place at the right time.

Most people wouldn’t think being caught in one of the worst storms ever to hit the United States was a lucky coincidence, but Herring knows God placed him in the path of Hurricane Katrina for a reason.

Herring, a United Methodist and U.S. Army chaplain, flew from Heidelberg, Germany, to New Orleans for a Department of Defense training program. He decided to bring his wife and mother along to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Crescent City for a few days before his training event was to begin.

“The first couple of days was absolutely wonderful, the weather was just beautiful, the streets were full of people,” he says. Then Hurricane Katrina turned toward New Orleans, the training was cancelled and the airport was shut down.

When the hurricane made landfall Aug. 29, Herring and about 1,200 other guests ended up riding out the storm in the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Canal Street.

“It was an interesting time to say the least; the ministry was just absolutely outstanding,” he says. “It is those types of situations when you know you are called of God to provide spiritual ministry and spiritual aid to people.”

As the only pastor in the hotel, Herring moved through the crowd, offering comfort and prayers to the guests.

Herring, also a former hospital chaplain, offered his services to some doctors who were in the hotel and had set up an infirmary. He provided round-the-clock pastoral care for the guests and staff.

“I just moved among the families and the children and the elderly,” asking them about their home churches and faith, he says. “It was interesting to me to get them to start focusing on their core faith belief and use that as a source of strength and courage.”

He finds the experience hard to put into words but says the spirit of the people in the hotel was amazing. “Everyone knew that everyone was doing the very best they could.”

Herring who has been in combat three times and was even wounded in Iraq, says his training as a chaplain “just clicked in.”

“This is what we do as Army chaplains,” he says. “Down in the water, helping someone walk two and half blocks through contaminated water to get to safety; blessing a small child whose family really doesn’t know if they are going to make it; offering prayers for people who really have some faith issues and are coming to terms with their own mortality.

“I am a chaplain and United Methodist pastor, and this is where I was meant to be at that particular time, at that particular place, and with those very special people.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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