Tornado-damaged church in Arlington holds Easter service

ARLINGTON -- As the night sky gave way to a cool, cloud-covered Easter morning, members of St. Barnabas United Methodist Church worshipped and praised Jesus just days after a tornado gutted their church in the southwest corner of the city.

"Life on Earth is unpredictable," Mike Rodden, associate pastor, told the congregation. "There are challenges, and there are hardships."

More than 300 people filled the front lawn for the sunrise service. Most years, the early morning gathering draws about 75.

People came in bluejeans and slacks, tennis shoes and flip-flops. They spread blankets and unfolded lawn chairs atop the damp grass, drinking coffee from thermoses and embracing one another.

A single white candle burned at the makeshift altar next to a wooden cross.

Behind the gathering, some windows of the church were boarded shut and a blue tarp covered the roof of the Family Life Center. A sign read: "Our building is down, but our church is standing. Happy Easter."

Tornadoes tore through North Texas on Tuesday, shattering the church's windows, filling the building with rainwater and ripping trees from the ground. As the storm hit, children in the day care crouched and covered their heads. Will Cotton, senior pastor, led them in singing Jesus Loves Me.

No one was injured.

Kim Simpson, a member for 33 years, drove to the church Tuesday afternoon. When she saw the destruction, she said, she wept.

"But then I stopped," Simpson said. "The church is not the building; it's the people."

Simpson and other members spent the week mopping up water, removing broken glass and clearing large limbs from the grounds. Help came swiftly. Strangers sent checks. Neighbors delivered food and water. Area churches offered space until St. Barnabas can rebuild, which will take several months. A team of church members toured nearby neighborhoods, helping homeowners clear brush and repair damage.

"This was not just about us," said Lois Partridge, a church member. "This was bigger than us. It was about the community coming together."

On Sunday, church members sang How Great Is Our God and This Is the Day. Members held hands and prayed.

The twister caused much damage and heartache, Rodden said, but it also left behind the hope and promise of resurrection.

"The darkness of the past week holds no power," he said.

"This is the light of hope. The morning star is breaking through all around us."

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw