New pastor meets challenge of tornado

Mike Rodden

Saint Barnabas UMR Pastor, Mike Rodden

The Rev. Mike Rodden experienced baptism by tornado as a new associate minister.

Mr. Rodden, 29, graduated from Brite Divinity School in December, and on Jan. 1 joined the staff of St. Barnabas United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas.

Then on April 3, he was eating lunch with colleagues when word came that a tornado had touched down not too many miles away.

When sirens went off in the area, a scramble ensued to lead some 80 children of the church’s Early Education Center (EEC) to interior, windowless rooms.

Mr. Rodden helped with that, then joined a few others outside, trying to monitor the storms by radar on their phones, and by sight.

He grew up in Missouri, and knew tornadoes. And he knew the dark mass headed their way was trouble.

St. Barnabas damage

PHOTO BY JAYME PHILP • • • A tornado on April 3 severely damaged the roof at St. Barnabas UMC.

“I don’t think any of us saw a funnel from the clouds to the ground, but you definitely saw stuff whipping around,” he said. “One of the people said, ‘Are those birds?’ I said, ‘No. That’s debris.’ . . . That’s when we decided we needed to head inside. It was probably a couple of miles away at that point.”

Mr. Rodden moved to the church’s prayer chapel, which held one class of the children. There, the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Will Cotton, had led them in singing “Jesus Loves Me” to pass the anxious time. Other classes were in the choir room, and in the women’s bathroom.

“Those were the safest places,” Mr. Rodden said.

The twister hit St. Barnabas, badly damaging the roof. And a pipe burst, causing water to fall from the ceiling and run down staircases.

That prompted another scramble.

“We had teachers wading through water ankle deep to get the kids,” Mr. Rodden said. “The teachers of the EEC and the staff, we didn’t really take a breath and assess what had happened until the parents had picked the kids up and got them out of there.”

The days since have given Mr. Rodden still more lessons in emergency church management. Finding a place to hold Holy Week services was one of the challenges.

It became one of the inspirations, due to all the invitations from churches and more.

St Barnabas church sign

PHOTO COURTESY BETH AND SARAH NETT • • • A sign welcomed worshippers to an Easter sunrise service at St. Barnabas UMC in Arlington, Texas, days after the church building was damaged by one of several tornadoes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“We even had a Jewish synagogue in Fort Worth offer for us to have Easter there,” Mr. Rodden said.

On Easter, he preached St. Barnabas’ sunrise service. It was held outside by the damaged church building. And Mr. Rodden talked about resurrection as he stood by a hammered-together structure that illustrated the theme.

“We made an altar out of big trunks and limbs from some of the downed trees. That was powerful.”

 

Sam Hodges, Managing Editor – shodges@umr.org

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