The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Hurricane Katrina: From 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina

ELCA pastor organizes ministry response to tragedies

Tom Minor was a lieutenant colonel and chief of the Chaplaincy Office of the Air National Guard in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001. He spent that day and many thereafter ministering to the families of those killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Tom Minor, an ELCA pastor, directs the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Response for Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston.
Today, Minor is director of the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Response for Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston. Once again, the ELCA pastor is at the center of a disaster, organizing spiritual leaders in responding to the needs of people overwhelmed by tragedy.

Interfaith Ministries, comprised of all faith groups in the city, has been assigned by Houston Mayor Bill White to lead his Neighbors2Neighbors program, which is intended to move all hurricane evacuees out of Houston’s public shelters by Sunday, Sept. 18. Interfaith Ministries will match each family or individual in the shelters with a family from a congregation in the area. That family will introduce the displaced families to their new neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Sept. 10, Minor led a training session at South Main Baptist Church, Houston, for clergy and other faith leaders who are working with the evacuees in the shelters. “We’re not here to save them but to listen to them share their experiences,” Minor told the group.

Minor was in the Air Force 21 years before retiring from the military in October 2003. He also had previous stints as pastor of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Chicago, as campus pastor at Texas Southern University and the University of Houston, and as an Army chaplain.

Following Sept. 11 he deployed chaplains around the world in preparation for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

“Those of us who were involved in 9/11 have seen this situation [the hurricane] eclipse that one,” Minor says. “The numbers of people affected by this is so large, and people’s families are affected on a larger magnitude. A much larger area is affected.”

And, he adds, “Resources were marshalled better in 9/11.”

But Houston and its faith communities were well-prepared for this disaster as a direct result of Tropical Storm Allison, which flooded the city in June 2001. At that time, Minor says, “a lot [of the congregations] rallied, but they were mostly Christian. Houston is very pluralistic, and Interfaith Ministries has brought together all of the faith groups since then.”

Minor also heads an entity called Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, which was created after Allison to coordinate offers of help from faith communities outside of Houston. Minor said faith groups came to Houston to help after Allison and ran into problems with government bureaucracy, so they left. “When this [Hurricane Katrina] happened, we were all ready and set up to do these things for Houston,” he says. “But it ended up being our neighbors who were in need.”


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Embracing diversity