Book of Common Prayer

Old Chicago church gets converted: It's a real estate story, but there are religion questions

Old Chicago church gets converted: It's a real estate story, but there are religion questions

News consumers who have been paying attention to religion trends may have noticed this one: There are lots of church buildings for sale these days.

This is especially true with old-line Protestant sanctuaries located in older neighborhoods — often on prime property deep inside zip codes that are evolving due to gentrification.

What to do? Well, lots of urban folks — singles, cohabitating couples, married-without-kids folks — are attracted to unique condos and apartments that don’t look like they are assembled using cookie-cutters and one or two sets of design plans.

That brings us to the following real-estate headline at The Chicago Tribune: “Logan Square church gets new life as 9 luxury apartments.” Let me stress that I realize that this is a real-estate story. One should not expect that news desk to provide a lot of depth, when it comes to the religious implications of some of the information in a news report of this kind.

But let’s see if you can spot the detail that I think would have been worth a follow-up question or two — a click of a computer mouse, at least, or even a telephone call. Things start in a rather predictable manner, with a bad pun:

Living in one new Logan Square apartment building is a heavenly experience. The former church was converted into nine distinctive residences, incorporating many of the original architectural features.

The historic Episcopal Church of the Advent was built in 1926 by renowned architect Elmer C. Jensen, who designed and engineered more than two dozen of the city’s early skyscrapers. The church closed in 2016 due to dwindling membership.

That brings us to the colorful details that caught my attention. Read this carefully and think, well, sort of like a liturgist, or a religion-beat professional:

In preparation for its second life, the building interior was mostly gutted, and the space was subdivided. Stained glass art windows, ornate chandeliers, decorative millwork, and stone arches and columns are among the retained features. In one apartment, a stone altar acts as the base for a kitchen island. In another, wainscoting was installed to complement the existing millwork. The church exterior was preserved in entirety.

“Any of the elements that were left here, the developer was able to repurpose and reuse,” said Mark Durakovic, principal at Kass Management Services, which is managing and leasing the building.

Wait a minute!

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Surprise: Washington Post covers only one side of Episcopal Church prayerbook debate

Surprise: Washington Post covers only one side of Episcopal Church prayerbook debate

One of the central truths of religion-beat life is very hard to explain to editors, who primarily award news-value points based on whether a story is linked to partisan politics (these days, that means Donald Trump) and/or sexuality.

However, people who sweat the details at pew level know that, if you want to cause mass confusion (no pun intended), then what you need to do is change the hymnals and liturgical rites used by the faithful.

While this reality affects several flocks, Episcopal Church battles over The Book of Common Prayer have drawn the most ink in the past. The relatively modest coverage of recent debates among Episcopalians over same-sex marriage rites and the gender of God was probably a sign of how much the liberal Protestant brand has faded, in terms of providing sure-fire news hooks. Many journalists may be waiting for the upcoming United Methodist showdown.

However, the Washington Post, to its credit, did offer modest coverage of recent Episcopal Church efforts to further modernize the denomination's worship. As is usually the case, the Episcopalians managed to move forward -- in terms of progress for the doctrinal left -- while being careful at the same time, so as not to frighten elderly donors.

If you were a secular editor who didn't know the players and the rules of the Episcopal game, what would you make of this story's overture?

After more than a week of debate among church leaders about whether God should be referred to by male pronouns -- and about the numerous other issues that come up when writing a prayer book -- the Episcopal Church has decided to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that Episcopalian worshipers hold dear.

The question now is when it will happen.

At the denomination’s triennial conference ... leaders considered a plan that would have led to a new prayer book in 2030. They voted it down.

“There’s no timeline for it,” said the Very Rev. Samuel Candler, chair of the committee on prayer book revision. “There’s no A-B-C-D plan. ..."

So, did the convention vote to create a new prayerbook, complete with gender-neutral language for God and official same-sex marriage rites, or not?

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When covering the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, theology and church history matter

When covering the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, theology and church history matter

I used to cover the Episcopal Church’s triennial meetings with some trepidation, as they were lengthy affairs with zillions of pieces of legislation floating between House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. One wore out at least one set of shoes racing back and forth to cover them.

I earned a master’s degree from an Episcopal seminary, so going to the General Convention was old home week, as I had lots of friends at these gatherings. There always seemed to be a huge Sexual Revolution issue at stake: Like whether whether women should be bishops or non-celibate gay men ordained as priests. The Episcopalians were usually years ahead of other denominations in the radicality of what they were willing to vote in.

Thus, the Episcopal Church’s current convention in Austin has also attracted some news coverage. The big issue: Whether to declare God a He, She or It. The question has been under discussion for awhile, a press release says, but now the matter is up to vote.

I have no doubt the denomination will vote to create a new prayer book and de-gender God as much as possible. Some clergy have been doing this for years, such as the clergywoman at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle who’d replace the “He” pronouns for the Holy Spirit in the fourth-century Nicene Creed to a “She.” The fact that one just doesn’t change the Christian church’s most recognized creed didn’t occur to her.

For those of you used to praying to “Our Father who art in heaven,” it seems curious the matter is being debated, but apparently Jesus’ references to God, as reported in scripture, no longer settle this issue.

What will be voted on is whether to revamp the denomination’s seminal piece of literature that guides every liturgy. Says the Washington Post: 

The terms for God, in the poetic language of the prayers written for centuries, have almost always been male: Father. King. Lord. And in the Episcopal Church, the language of prayer matters. The Book of Common Prayer, the text used in every Episcopal congregation, is cherished as a core element of Episcopal identity.

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Gender-neutral God story: Have we hit the point where wins on Episcopal left are not news?

Gender-neutral God story: Have we hit the point where wins on Episcopal left are not news?

Old people on the religion beat (my hand is raised) will remember the 1980s, back when the mainline Protestant doctrinal wars over sexuality started breaking into elite headlines -- big time.

Year after year, some kind of mainline fight over gender and sexuality would score high in the annual Religion Newswriters Association poll to determine the Top 10 stories. More often than not, the Episcopal Church led the way in the fight for feminism and eventually gay rights.

These national headlines would, of course, inspire news coverage at the regional and local levels. Some Episcopal shepherds went along and some didn't. All of that produced lots of news copy, no matter what Episcopalians ended up doing.

At one point, while at the Rocky Mountain News, I told Colorado's Episcopal leader -- the always quotable former radio pro Bishop William C. Frey -- that a few local religious leaders were asking me why the Episcopal Church kept getting so much media attention.

Frey laughed, with a grimace, and said that was a strange thought, something like "envying another man's root canal."

Eventually, however, the progressive wins in Episcopal sanctuaries stopped being news, at least in mainstream news outlets.

Take, for example, that recent leap into gender-neutral theology in the District of Columbia, an interesting story that drew little or no attention in the mainstream press. Thus, here is the top of the main story from the Episcopal News Service:

The Diocese of Washington is calling on the Episcopal Church’s General Convention to consider expanding the use of gender-neutral language for God in the Book of Common Prayer, if and when the prayer book is slated for a revision.
He? She?

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Reading a newspaper story (about a prayerbook) through Richard Pryor's eyes

Reading a newspaper story (about a prayerbook) through Richard Pryor's eyes

"Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” So saith Richard Pryor in his 1982 film “Live on the Sunset Strip."

Caught in flagrante delicto with another woman by his wife, Pryor’s character in his stand up comedy routine denies the claims of objective reality by reference to a higher authority -- himself.

Reading the Miami Herald’s recent story entitled “Long overdue: This book was stolen in 1840. Now it’s back on the library shelf” shook loose this phrase from the windmills of my mind.

You might well ask why I would think of Richard Pryor when reading a light news item concerning the return of an overdue Irish library book. I am seldom subject to Richard Pryor flashbacks. However, the text of this story -- which was distributed via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s syndication service -- is rather odd and speaks to a reporter unfamiliar with his subject matter.

But it was the illustration that accompanied the article that was immediately problematic. SImply put -- nothing matches. What is written in the article does not match what is presented in the accompanying illustrations.

The lede begins: 

A book published in 1666, believed to be one of only two in the country of its kind, was returned to Marsh’s Library in Ireland after going missing for nearly 180 years.
The book, a prayer guide of sorts for members of the old Church of England, was brought back to the library by none other than a priest, who found the 17th Century tome while going through a pile of dusty books in his Monkstown parish rectory, according to the Irish Sun. It had been missing since 1840, when it was taken from the library’s reading room. This wasn’t one that could be checked out.

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Ye old news subject of Anglican decline gets royal treatment from The Economist

Ye old news subject of Anglican decline gets royal treatment from The Economist

The British-based weekly The Economist has achieved must-read status for its foreign affairs and financial reportage, and includes a solid if somewhat spotty U.S. package for stateside readers.

On religion, it doesn’t do all that much, but when it does the pieces are usually well worth reading. For one example, there’s a recent examination of the Church of England’s long-running decline and fall. It’s a particularly good example for news scribes of how to enrich a somewhat familiar theme with ample fact-gathering combined with analysis and compressed into one page with the usual newsmagazine wizardry.

Though generally aware of the situation, GetReligion folks who keep up with church events will learn new stuff about this established royal institution, nominally headed by England’s monarch and led by an archbishop picked by the prime minister’s advisors. (The Church of England is separate from the other Anglican branches in Britain, the Church of Ireland, Church in Wales and Scottish Episcopal Church.)  And for readers who don’t follow church affairs, this article will be a revelation.

First, some of those facts. In January, average attendance slipped below 1 million for the first time. Another milestone, in 2009, showed Britons without religion slightly outnumbered those saying they’re Christians (now increased to 49 percent vs. 43 percent). And since 2004 baptisms are down 12%, church marriages down 19%, and funerals down 29%. Nowadays a quarter of Sunday services are attended by 16 or fewer worshipers.

A Gallup survey last year found only six of 65 countries are less religious than the United Kingdom. And so forth and so on. World without end. Amen.

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A baptism event or a Christian rite of baptism?

It’s a question built on the harsh realities of journalism in the Internet era, when newspapers are thin and reporters often do not have the room in their stories to include essential facts. The question: Is the official version of a story the one that ran in the analog, ink-on-paper edition or the version of the story that ran online?

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