St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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.

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The Amish population is booming: Could their religion have something to do with it?

The Amish population is booming: Could their religion have something to do with it?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a fascinating story recently about the booming Amish population.

The trend piece — much to its credit — contained a fair amount of religion-related details that gave insight into what the Amish believe.

At various points as I read the feature, I found myself both (1) appreciative that the Post-Dispatch delved into the faith of the Amish and (2) wishing that the newspaper had unraveled the yarn just a little more. 

The lede set the scene:

LICKING, Mo. — The story of abrupt change in this small south-central Missouri town starts with the water tower. A giant baseball is painted on top as a fading reminder of when Rawlings was king.
As sporting goods manufacturing dried up, a $60 million maximum-security prison opened in 2000. The South Central Regional Correctional Center doubled the local population to more than 3,000 people.
“We just try to go with the times,” said Licking Mayor Keith Cantrell. “Whatever happens, we try to deal with it and go on.”
Unlike Rawlings, the prison hunkers out of sight, just west of downtown. Now, another group has settled that also appreciates privacy, only its members arrived under the shade of straw hats and black bonnets.
The Amish, who are undergoing exponential growth, have chosen Licking as one of many new settlements. Facing overcrowding and increased government pressure in more traditional areas, they broke new ground here in 2009, after buying an 800-acre ranch. They bought another large property a few years later.

Big question: Why is the Amish population growing? Hang on to that thought.

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Do Lutheran deacons matter? St. Louis Post-Dispatch clarifies this rather hot debate

Do Lutheran deacons matter? St. Louis Post-Dispatch clarifies this rather hot debate

Deacons are quite the discussion topic in the news these days, ever since Pope Francis stated he favored a study to clarify whether the church could admit women to this church office, as our own Richard "Religion Guy" Ostling recently explained.

Catholics aren’t the only ones chatting up the topic. One conservative branch of American Lutheranism is talking about whether to cut back on the number of applicants to the diaconate.

Catholics began including men, almost always married, in a permanent diaconate back in the 1970s after Vatican II. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod began doing so in 1989. Both efforts have proved amazingly popular, so much so that the Lutherans are wondering if there’s too much of a good thing.

Recently, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch weighed in on this, so we come in near the beginning of the piece. This passage is quite long, but essential:

“This is the heart of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a conservative-leaning network of 6,000 churches whose roots are in northern Europe. Though the headquarters is in Kirkwood, more than 2 million members are spread across the country.
Like other mainline churches, the synod struggles to find new blood in the U.S. -- both in the pews and at the pulpit. The decline helped motivate some men often in remote and inner-city areas, to bypass four years of seminary training to serve a congregation in need.
Lutheranism has always been built on a tension between ordained clergy and what is called the priesthood of the believer, or the laity, and over who can do what. While the pool of men -- the church ordains only men -- answering the call to enter seminary and serve as pastors has shrunk in recent decades, some want to enforce higher standards on ministers who aren’t ordained and strip away the so-called “Licensed Lay Deacon” credentials.

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Why a pastor who served as St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain was fired by his megachurch

Why a pastor who served as St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain was fired by his megachurch

Back in March, I critiqued a newspaper profile of the St. Louis Cardinals' team chaplain — a pastor named Darrin Patrick.

My review focused on the lack of details concerning Patrick's actual faith and church background.

Well, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch followed up that earlier feature with an in-depth story on Patrick today.

The new piece made the front page, but it's not positive news.

The lede:

ST. LOUIS — Shepherding a megachurch is tied in many ways to America’s celebrity culture. There’s a push for big-stage events and around-the-clock access through social media to a pastor’s life and thoughts.
It’s a formula that amplifies the message and multiplies the flock, in congregants who show up on Sunday for worship and in tens of thousands more followers online.
High visibility can also set pastors on a correction-course with humility that evangelical Christians call getting right with Jesus.
The Rev. Darrin Patrick, 45, of Webster Groves, is one of the latest on such a path. Elders at The Journey, a popular megachurch he founded with his wife in 2002, fired him a few weeks ago for what they viewed as pastoral misconduct.
Among the allegations:
• Lack of self-control.
• Manipulation.
• Misuse of power.
• History of building an identity through ministry and media platforms.
• Not adultery, but “inappropriate meetings, conversations and phone calls with two women.”
Reached by telephone, Patrick said he didn’t have more to say other than what The Journey outlined in a three-page letter to members, heavily footnoted in Scripture.
“I have four kids, little kids,” Patrick said, voice cracking. “I am trying to protect my family and figure this out.

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Dude, the St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain is doing awesome, generic religious stuff with team

Dude, the St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain is doing awesome, generic religious stuff with team

Yes, it's Super Tuesday, but let's take a break from all the divisive political talk and focus on something noncontroversial: sports.

Wait, what!?

I kid. I kid.

But with spring training started and the sweet smell of fresh-cut grass in the air, I wanted to call your attention to a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch column on the team's chaplain:

JUPITER, Fla. — As he promenaded about the Cardinals clubhouse Sunday, this guy had some sort of a magnetism to him, like a popular ex-ballplayer, back to see the boys. But I didn’t recognize this guy from the mental packs and stacks of baseball cards in my brain. Still, the current Cardinals seemed so comfortable chatting with him; clubhouse employees, too.
Who is this guy?
“We’ve got strength coaches, we’ve got hitting coaches, we’ve got pitching coaches,” he’d tell me later. “I just want to be the guy who’s kind of a spiritual coach, really.”
His name is Darrin Patrick, and he’s important to your favorite players.
He’s the Cardinals’ chaplain, and he’s carved a niche for himself here. He’s a disarming dude the players relate to and still admire. He wears jeans. He sports stylish gray glasses that complement his salt-and-pepper stubble.

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Livin' on a prayer: The good, the bad and the ugly in the world of religion writers, circa 2015

Livin' on a prayer: The good, the bad and the ugly in the world of religion writers, circa 2015

I won't bury the lede. The ugly is me.

I ate too many sausage biscuits and cheeseburgers this year as I feverishly cranked out four GetReligion posts a week. (Note to self: Must exercise more and eat less in 2016.)

But oh, I do love this part-time gig and count it a blessing to work with the likes of Terry Mattingly, Jim Davis, Julia Duin, Richard Ostling and Ira Rifkin.

While we at GetReligion mostly critique media coverage of religion news, we like to keep readers updated on happenings on the Godbeat itself.

Here are seven developments — some good, others bad — from 2015:

1. Jennifer Berry Hawes rocked — totally rocked — coverage of the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

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Are two more major American newspapers dropping the Godbeat? Say it ain't so

Are two more major American newspapers dropping the Godbeat? Say it ain't so

Tuesday marked religion writer Lilly Fowler's last day on the job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

After less than two years with the Post-Dispatch, Fowler announced plans last week to join the PBS newsmagazine "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly."

So, does that mean there's a Godbeat opening at the Post-Dispatch, where Fowler — like her predecessor Tim Townsend — produced award-winning religion journalism?

Apparently not.

"I know there are no immediate plans," Fowler said of the St. Louis newspaper hiring a new religion writer. "Part of the reason I left is that they took me off my beat after the newsroom was recently offered buyouts."

That's unfortunate. 

I enjoyed interviewing Fowler last year on covering faith and the front lines in Ferguson, Mo., and wish her all the best in her new gig.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel religion writer Annysa Johnson revealed on Twitter that she won't be covering faith for the next year.

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Mustachioed villain attacks brave theologian -- at least in St. Louis Dispatch story

Mustachioed villain attacks brave theologian -- at least in St. Louis Dispatch story

Remember the classic old-timey movie villain, twirling his mustache while laughing "Nyah-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa"? Did you know he's Lutheran?

Well, no, he's not, as far as I know. That's just kinda the way Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, comes off in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Right in the first two paragraphs, we get this:

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod recently carried out what various members consider the equivalent of a modern-day heresy trial.
The Kirkwood-based church has 2.3 million members. The case pits two-term synod President Matthew Harrison — who is known for his bushy mustache and conservative views — against Matthew Becker, an outspoken pastor.

Hmmm. Maybe a little Grand Inquisitor there, too, judging by the "heresy trial" phrase.

Becker is a theology professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana, a Lutheran school that isn't affiliated with LCMS. He has criticized the synod's teachings about creationism and women's ordination. In the latter, he even compared male-only ordination to slavery and racism, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Harrison also scolded Becker for his part in an interfaith vigil after the student shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a violation of the LCMS constitution, the newspaper adds.

But there's more. In a Facebook post -- which is linked in the newspaper story -- Harrison also accuses Becker of advocating homosexuality, the errancy of the Bible and communion with members of other faiths. Several panels investigated, then cleared Becker, the article says.

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A sex abuse scandal, a divided church and three questions for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A sex abuse scandal, a divided church and three questions for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In a way, church leadership disputes are like car wrecks — ugly but impossible to ignore.

I still recall a piece my wife, Tamie Ross, then religion editor for The Oklahoman, wrote 15 years ago concerning a church where an internal squabble had resulted in police calls, changed locks and offers of more than $250,000 for the pastor to resign.

This week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch grabbed my attention with a front-page story on "The battle for First Christian Church of Florissant."

 

The lede sets the scene:

FLORISSANT — A nine-piece band plays inside a church auditorium, and three projection screens hang overhead, including one in the center that flashes lyrics. The band’s repertoire consists of Christian songs that could easily be mistaken for mainstream pop music. First Christian Church of Florissant members stand, clap and sway in response.
Yet, as he prepares to deliver his sermon, Pastor Steve Wingfield apologizes for the small crowd at the long-standing megachurch.
Wingfield has strawberry blond hair and is dressed in a black, long-sleeved, buttoned shirt and gray khakis as he digs into the current series of sermons focusing on the “Path to Restoration.” Today’s message is about broken relationships, a hardship afflicting even the closest knit families, including church families.
“If you want to be part of an imperfect church family, where flawed people are trying to figure this thing out together, you’re welcome here,” Wingfield tells a half-filled auditorium, while revealing details about his home life, including his role as a grandfather.
Members of the church are trying to figure things out, though whether the congregation has managed to do that in any kind of unified way is up for debate.

Keep reading, and the Post-Dispatch explains the circumstances behind the turmoil.

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