The Orange County Register

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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Malibu, Methodists and the homeless: There is a religion story in here somewhere

Malibu, Methodists and the homeless: There is a religion story in here somewhere

With homelessness being a major discussion topic on the West Coast these days, it’s only fitting that the Los Angeles Times team found this quirky story about what happens when Christians act, well, too Christian. I would argue that there could be a religion angle to this debate.

In a story titled “Malibu church pressured to end homeless dinners, some saying it lures needy to upscale city,” you have everything turned around. Here we’ve got a church doing the right thing while the rich are telling believers to knock it off.

Los Angeles, by the way, has the nation’s second largest concentration of homeless, so it was only a matter of time before their presence infiltrated the dwellings of the very rich living north of town.

Being homeless in Malibu is different...
Residents have long been generous to those who live in the city's 21 miles of canyons, beaches and glittering shopping centers.
For 17 years, religious groups fed homeless people, and the city and private donors put up hundreds of thousands of dollars for social workers to find them housing and services.
But Malibu United Methodist Church -- facing pressure from the city -- in recent weeks took a U-turn, deciding twice-weekly dinners for homeless people would stop after Thanksgiving. The cutoff came after city officials summoned organizers and suggested they were attracting more homeless people and making the problem worse.

What follows is a description of how the Methodists and another Christian ministry, Standing on Stone, have been co-hosting dinners for the homeless at the church twice weekly for three years. Another social service agency helped two dozen of them get off the streets and into decent housing. But then:

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Azusa not yet: Why a media no-show for 56,000 charismatics at Los Angeles Coliseum?

Azusa not yet: Why a media no-show for 56,000 charismatics at Los Angeles Coliseum?

Certainly we have all heard of the philosophical conundrum: If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does.

Here’s similar one: If a large, symbolic religious event occurs but there’s little-to-no mainstream press around to cover it, did it have an impact?

Last Saturday, thousands of Christians filled the Los Angeles Coliseum for Azusa Now, a 110th anniversary gathering for Los Angeles' famed 1906 Azusa Street revival that birthed the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Saturday's event was organized by Lou Engle, head of a youth revival movement known as The Call. Early PR for the April 9 event suggested 100,000 people would show up -- a neat trick in that the stadium only fits 93,000 -- but hopes were high. Some 50,000 were said to be registered; not a small number.

I was researching an article on a related event, so was checking around the Los Angeles mediascape to see if there was so much as an advance news story. The only thing I found was an offhand mention of the event in the Los Angeles Times in relation to the newspaper’s Festival of Books. Odd, I thought.

During the weekend, I scoured the Times, the Orange County Register, even the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Nothing. OK -- maybe the Christian Broadcasting Network? Nothing. Christianity Today? Nada. Local TV? Nope. Now on Sunday, the Register did have something on a gathering of beach corgis.

And the Times naturally talked up the “thousands” that attended its book festival. It was even doing live updates of the event.

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Concerning GetReligion and our history of openly biased commentary on news

Concerning GetReligion and our history of openly biased commentary on news

Anyone who has ever taken the time to read the first essay published at this blog more than 11 years ago -- "What we do, why we do it" -- or who knows how to use a mouse and a search engine well enough to reach Wikipedia knows that one of my closest friends in journalism is a writer whose byline, back when she was a nationally known religion-beat professional, was Roberta Green.

Roberta and I were on the beat during the same era, primarily when I was at The Rocky Mountain News and she was at The Orange County Register. Then, in the pre-Internet era, she vanished from the beat when she married someone she met in a church Bible study. Our paths crossed again a few years later, at a Columbia University conference on religion-news issues, linked to the famous Freedom Forum study called "Bridging The Gap (.pdf here)."

As it turned out, Roberta had married a philanthropist named Howard Ahmanson, who at times has been a controversial figure in Southern California cultural and political life. At this point, I will simply say that if you want to know more about his evolving views on a host of subjects, you should check out his blog -- "Blue Kennel." For those who know political symbolism, it's logical to note that blue kennels might house blue dogs, a label Ahmanson embraced a few years ago when he left the Republican Party and registered as a Democrat.

For the past two decades, Roberta and I (and a host of other journalists and academics) have been involved in many journalism-education projects working with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Global Media Project, Poynter.org, Oxford University Press and now The McCandlish Phillips Journalism Center, a project at The King's College in New York City that honors the legacy of the great New York Times reporter John McCandlish Phillips. My work with GetReligion.org has been part of all of this, for 11 years.

Like I said, these connections were put into print the day this blog opened. Still, I was not surprised when the GetReligion reader named "Jay," or whoever resides at the lambda98 address at Hotmail, had this response to my recent post about GetReligion, Religion News Service and debates about "church" and "state" conflicts in newsrooms.

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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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