Newport Beach

Dear Orange County Register editors: Some Episcopal stories require a bit of research

Dear Orange County Register editors: Some Episcopal stories require a bit of research

If you have been a religion-beat reporter for a decade or two (or longer), then you probably have a large "box" (analog, digital or both) stashed somewhere with a label that says "Episcopal Church Sex Wars," or words to that effect.

It's hard to know precisely where to start the clock, when creating a timeline for Episcopal conflicts about doctrines defining marriage and sex. OutHistory.org has a helpful view from the left that starts in 1962. At GetReligion, we normally start with the 1979 General Convention in Denver, which affirmed traditional doctrines, but also saw the release of a protest document from 21 liberal bishops, including the names of several future leaders of the church.

 This brings me to a recent story in the Orange County Register: "St. James the Great congregants make joyous return to Newport Beach church." One Godbeat veteran wrote me to say that this story had "more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese." Here is the lede:

NEWPORT BEACH -- Meg Schuler teared up as she walked out of her church’s sanctuary and into the sunlight.
For her and about 100 other congregants, Sunday morning’s service at St. James the Great Episcopal Church, marked a homecoming of sorts.
For three years, this congregation, evicted from the church on Via Lido by their former bishop J. Jon Bruno, led a nomadic existence, but remained hopeful that they would return to their home church some day.

Pause for a moment to click this link and look at a few pictures of this impressive church building.

Now note the size of the congregation -- 100 worshipers -- on this historic day in the life of this parish.

It doesn't quite add up, does it?

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Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Trust me, your GetReligionistas understand that the timeline of the Anglican vs. Episcopal doctrine wars gets very, very complicated. Add to that the fact that the conflicts are taking place at the local, diocesan, national and global levels and you have very complicated stories on your hands, especially if you are a general-assignment reporter and not a Godbeat pro.

However, a recent story in The Orange County Register raises a completely different issue. When one of these battles ends, is it primarily a story about real estate or people? I mean, the dollars and cents of the church-property sale are important, but shouldn't journalists acknowledge that there are people out there -- perhaps even Register readers -- who care about what happens with these sacred spaces? Here is the top of the story:

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is nearing the end of negotiations to sell St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach to real estate developers.
Bishop J. Jon Bruno announced the sale to congregants Sunday, Diocese spokesman Robert Williams said. The sale of the church could bring in roughly $15 million -- twice the appraised value of the site, Williams said.

Services at the church will likely continue into the fall, Williams said. No information on where congregants will be moved or whether the congregation may reopen at a different site was available on Monday, he said.

So the current occupants of the church are Episcopalians. Got it. But here is one of those "people" questions. How many of these Episcopalians are there and, well, why are they leaving such a prime location? How do they feel about this deal?

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