Gayle White

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Some familiar Godbeat reporters with national audiences are in St. Louis covering the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes meeting on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Both Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service and Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (which is part of the USA Today’s national network) are on the scene reporting on the crucial developments.

Speaking of which, this is the latest — as I type this post — from the United Methodist News Service:

The Traditional Plan — with some amendments — won approval in the General Conference legislative committee, clearing a major hurdle in The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body.

The delegates also approved two plans that allow churches, with certain limitations, to leave the denomination with their property.

All the forwarded legislation still faces a vote in the General Conference plenary session on Feb. 26. 

The legislative committee voted for the Traditional Plan, which seeks to strengthen enforcement of the denomination’s homosexuality prohibitions, as amended by 461 to 359.

But while the meeting in the Gateway City is obviously national news, it’s something else, too: It’s a big local story in places such as Atlanta, Cleveland and, of course, St. Louis itself.

Those of us who follow religion news are accustomed to those few regional papers that still have Godbeat pros — such as The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper where Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor — jumping on stories such as this. Indeed, Hinton had a big Page 1 preview on the Methodist meeting in Sunday’s edition.

However, this story also has generated some attention from metro dailies that don’t follow religion as closely. We mentioned a big story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this month. And this weekend brought some newsy, informative coverage from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

How major papers played Billy Graham's death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many

How major papers played Billy Graham's death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many

For those in Godbeat circles, many of the bylines splashed across today's front pages are extremely familiar.

I'm talking about names such as William Lobdell and Russell Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, Gayle White of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today.

All of those veteran religion writers — just to name a few — wrote their respective papers' major obituaries marking Wednesday's death of the Rev. Billy Graham at age 99.

But here's what might surprise many ordinary readers: None of them has worked for those papers in years. 

"I must have written and updated a whole suite of advance obit stories on Graham at least three times over 15 years," Grossman said. "I last polished up the package in 2013, in the week before I left the paper on a buyout. However, I stayed in touch with USAT editors (and) emailed them where fixes/changes might be needed over the years."

Welcome to the concept of the "prepared obit."

Here's what that means: News organizations put together obits in advance for certain prominent people, such as presidents, movie stars and — in the case of Graham — world-famous preachers. That way, they're prepared (at least somewhat) if the person dies 10 minutes before deadline.

A New York Times obituary writer explained it this way in a 2014 piece:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'I believe I've seen an obit for a Chihuahua that was longer,' reader says of story on major church's closing

'I believe I've seen an obit for a Chihuahua that was longer,' reader says of story on major church's closing

So, according to a headline from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a "major Presbyterian church" closed.

Question: How much ink did the local church's closing merit in that major daily newspaper?

Answer: 233 words on Page 1D of the Living section. 

At least that's how the AJC handled the news, despite the hot social issue — think same-sex unions — involved in the story.

Let's start at the top:

On Sunday, after 66 years serving parishioners on Lawrenceville Highway, Rehoboth Presbyterian Church closed the doors to its sizable campus near Tucker, apparently a victim of changing social mores and a divided congregation.
The church recently voted to allow gay marriages to be performed there, following last year’s Supreme Court decision, and many influential members left, according to a GoFundMe page intended to help rescue Rehoboth.
This challenge was aggravated by the church’s financial difficulties, as it faced $160,000 in repairs, according to the same page.

Those three paragraphs amount to half the story. Let me rephrase: They amount to half of what the newspaper printed. They're nowhere near half the story of what actually happened. 

"I believe I've seen an obit for a Chihuahua that was longer," said the GetReligion reader who tipped us to this story. (For the record, I Googled for the Chihuahua obit but couldn't find it. So put that claim under the heading of "funny but unverified.")

Please respect our Commenting Policy