Keeping faith during and after the storm

As a giant tornado bore down on his southwest Arlington church Tuesday, the Rev. Will Cotton led 82 children in day care singing Jesus Loves Me.

Windows broke, rainwater covered the floors, and winds ripped up trees and tore the roof off the St. Barnabas United Methodist Church early education center.

Later, even as Cotton sorted through his own wrecked home nearby, the tune didn't change.

"Even in the midst of this, we see the hope of Easter in the faces of all the people coming together, the neighbors rallying around each other," said Cotton, in his second year in Arlington after moving from blustery Lubbock.

"We take hope in the risen Christ. That is the very message of Holy Week."

The church's associate pastor, the Rev. Mike Rodden, was preparing for a Sunday youth sunrise service on the lawn.

Instead, St. Barnabas will celebrate Easter somewhere nearby, maybe a school auditorium.

"We talk at Easter about how even on the darkest day, in those hardest of times, the light shines through with the sunrise," Rodden said.

"That message is what we'll be living out now in these coming weeks."

Both ministers described a calm but fearful scene as the tornado pounded the church, taking part of the roof off two buildings and leaving a tree with its trunk turned skyward beside the Family Life Center.

Church workers started moving children into interior rooms when warning sirens sounded about 10 minutes before the twister. Children crouched and covered their heads as Cotton led singing and adults updated radar displays on their cellphones.

The winds grew calm, Rodden said, before limbs suddenly began shaking and a nearby power transformer blew, plunging the day-care center into darkness as the windows blew out. Ankle-deep water covered the floor as children climbed onto pews.

"It all seemed like slow motion at first, and then suddenly it was over and parents were picking up their kids," Rodden said.

They went home.

If they still had one.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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