The Washington Times - August 19, 2009, 08:44PM

    It was just before 2 p.m. when someone rushed into the pressroom and told us to vacate the place fast. A tornado had touched down close by, we were told, and it was heading our way. We were covering the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s churchwide assembly in Minneapolis. The police wanted us all in a safe place away from the glass windows that encase the huge Minneapolis Convention Center.

   So everyone rushed into the main hall to join some 1,045 voting members who were listening to a talk about the prodigal son being given by Luther Seminary Old Testament professor Diane Jacobson. As she continued speaking, a palpable blanket of fear descended on the entire group as the doors to the outside hallways were shut, enclosing us in the giant room, which apparently was the safest place to be in the case of a tornado. Worse, we could hear the winds howling outside. I thought of my rental car parked nearby and hoped it’d stay in one piece. It also did not help the general atmosphere that the air conditioning was set on minus 2.


   And a tornado was headed our way. Just after 2 p.m., the twister knocked the cross off the steeple of Central Lutheran Church just across the street from the convention center. I walked outside afterward to look at it and the steel cross was dangling high up in the air.

   During the storm, ELCA President Mark Hanson read outloud the 121st Psalm to calm everyone down.

   “We trust the weather is not a commentary on our work,” said the Rev. Steven Loy, chairman of an ad hoc committee on a controversial statement on human sexuality that was on the floor that afternoon. The statement, which seems to open the door to greater acceptance of homosexual practice, passed by an exact two-thirds vote a few hours later. One or two votes less would have killed it. There was quite a gasp when we saw the results.

   Later some of us were discussing in the pressroom whether the Almighty had sent a tornado to send the Lutherans a message. After all, one of the reporters said, the ELCA endured an electrical storm during one of their previous conventions — where human sexuality was also on the table - in Orlando.

   And if God was speaking, was anyone listening?

- Julia Duin, religion editor