Many people know the famous line "Houston, we have a problem," referring to the Apollo 13 lunar mission.
Now, in light of possible cuts of government funding for NASA and its programs, it's Houston that might have the problem. Workers at Johnson Space Center are looking at potential layoffs that could affect as many as 12,000 people, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty.
President Obama has already announced cancellation of the Constellation Program, and Congress is considering further budget cuts for NASA, which would likely mean job cuts in October, the beginning of NASA’s new fiscal year.
The Rev. Steve Oglesbee, pastor of Clear Lake Presbyterian Church in Houston, estimates that those possible layoffs would impact 15 to 25 percent of his congregation in some way. But his concern doesn’t end with his own members.
Clear Lake recently ran a campaign asking everyone affected by the possible layoffs to send their prayer requests to a special e-mail address set up for the purpose. The hope was to get at least 500 requests for prayer for people across the United States facing job losses in the NASA budget cuts.
"It's an opportunity for us to be reminded where our ultimate help comes from," Oglesbee said. "Ultimately, our help doesn’t come from a boss or an employer or from the government — ultimately, our help comes from God.
"There's only so much you can do physically to prepare for something like this," he said. "We wanted to go beyond that and offer our help spiritually as well."
The church's outreach to its community is admirable, especially in a time when many are facing job cuts, said the Rev. Mike Cole, general presbyter for the Presbytery of New Covenant.
"(The) presbytery is very moved by the effort of people like Clear Lake to acknowledge the pain of impending unemployment in their community," Cole said.
Requests were taken until March 27, when the church held a special prayer service to voice every e-mail submitted.
The service was open to everyone, and the prayer requests were largely from people who aren't members of Clear Lake. The church ended up with about 350 requests — most were from employees at Houston's Johnson Space Center, but some came from people at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
The e-mail requests were printed out and given to each of the 200 attendees of the service. People then broke into small groups and prayed for each request individually. People were asked to keep their requests and encouraged to contact the senders to let them know they were prayed for.
Oglesbee closed the service by inviting all the NASA employees and contractors present to come forward. They were then surrounded by the others in a circle of group prayer.
"It was helpful to those affected — it was a big comfort to them, but it also was helpful to others who felt like this was something real they could do to help too," Oglesbee said.
The church also plans to hold a healing service on April 18.
In addition to spiritual support, Clear Lake is working to offer some practical assistance as well — members are planning a networking workshop.
"There are some agencies offering help in preparing resumes in the area, and we want to complement that," Oglesbee said. "It's important to know how to meet people and make connections so you have someone to send those resumes to, especially in this case where so many of these people have highly specialized engineering jobs."
Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she is secretary for First Presbyterian Church.