Every now and then, you run into a story where all the journalists covering it really needed to do was round up some facts, find a few compelling voices, capture the images and then get out of the way.
Now, as someone who has covered that kind of story, I know that this task may sound easy, but it's not.
You really have to do the work, yet play it simple. Most of all you need To. Trust. The. Story.
That's exactly what happened with this BBC report -- "This church has survived a fire that started back in 1962" -- about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, Pa. In this case we are not talking about a battle with the process in which ethnic believers, in the second or third generation, assimilate into normal American culture and leave a church. No, we're talking about an underground fire -- a literal one -- burning in coal country for half a century, a fire that shut down a whole town.
The fire started near the surface on May 27, 1962, and quickly spread deep into the rich seams of coal for which the Pennsylvania hills are famous. After years of trying to put out the fire, the U.S. government paid $42 million to, basically, move everyone in the town. Thus, readers are given this simple, clear overview:
In Pennsylvania's coal-mining mountains, there's an empty grid where a town once lived.
Once, there were homes and gardens. Now there are weeds. Before Centralia started burning from below, more than a thousand people lived here. At the last count, there were six.
The roads remain -- on Google Maps, they have names like Railway Avenue and Apple Alley -- but on the ground, they are ghost streets.
Nameless. Silent. Stripped bare. Anonymous, in every sense.
On the horizon, though, a piece of Centralia survives.
A white church rises between black trees. A blue dome shines against the snow.
Its congregation has left town, but Centralia's Ukrainian Catholic Church isn't going anywhere.
Now, here is what makes it hard to do justice to this simple report. You see, I can't show you the copyrighted art -- lots of it -- that goes with the text. You need to see the before and after shots.
At the very least, click on the video at the top of this post and head over to the 9-minute mark to see the interior of this Eastern Rite sanctuary (it is a Catholic parish, but uses liturgy that it highly similar to that in Eastern Orthodoxy).
Of course, you can also open the BBC report in another window in your browser and just click back and forth.
What you will find is that the whole is bigger than the parts. I liked this passage, for example:
A church in a place with no people needs deep, strong foundations, or it crumbles. Joanne Panko's family is one of those foundations.
Joanne, 67, was baptised here, as was her mother. Her grandmother also worshipped here, after arriving from Europe in her 20s. In 1987, with the fire burning, Joanne left Centralia for Bloomsburg, a 19-mile drive away. Did she think of finding a new church?
"Never," she says, sitting on a pew with her grandson. "Never."
Mary Anne Mekosh's family is another foundation. Like Joanne, Mary's parents and grandparents came here. She left Centralia after high school, moving to the Washington DC area, but now lives five miles south of the town.
Mary, 68, is proud of her church -- "We're stable, and we want it to continue" -- but is sad that Centralia was left to die.
"I'm not someone who hates our government, or thinks it's incompetent," she says. "I just don't understand how this was allowed to happen."
But (attention Catholic readers) here is the image that made me want to share this story. It's almost too perfect -- a dash of science that leads to a perfect biblical reference, by Father Michael Hutsko.
... As the state oversaw the clearance of Centralia, Archbishop Stephen Sulyk ordered a survey under the hillside church.
"So they drilled, and they found solid rock [rather than coal]," says Father Hutsko. "That's so scriptural. 'You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.'"
Read it all. And pass it on.