Alt-weekly goes church hopping

church hoppingGetReligion tends to focus on mainstream coverage of religion, but I wanted to take a little break from that to highlight a intriguing article out of an alternative newsweekly The Louisville Eccentric Observer on the community's church services. Apparently this is the start of a 10-part monthly series of Christian church reviews. The opinions of the reporters, George Halitzka and Zach Nord, shine brightly, but you know that going into the piece. Halitzka and Nord also provide some personal background so you know where they are coming from.

Here's the article's mission statement, so to speak:

Religion here on the border of the Bible Belt is a fascinating mix. Half of Louisville is CatholiBaptist. The other half's hoping if they ignore the Jesus Freaks long enough, they’ll go away.

But we figure there are probably a few folks in the middle, too. Curious souls who wonder what really happens in church on Sunday, but fear they might burst into flames if they cross a sacred threshold. Just for you, LEO is launching a new series called "The Church Hoppers."

Each week, I (George Halitzka) and my partner-in-holiness, Zach Nord, will visit a different Louisville church. We'll report what happened in the worship service, and try to draw some conclusions about what the church might believe.

That way, if you ever decide to visit, you'll know in advance if they're stockpiling rifles for Armageddon.

I would hope this style of reporting wouldn't make it onto the news pages of a mainstream news organization, but it works well in an alt-weekly.

The big question I had going into the piece is whether the journalists simply reported what happened in the worship services or merely express opinions. It turns out that it's a mix of both. Clearly the journalists were not concerned with leaving their personal opinions, biases and past experiences at the door with the ushers, but as long as they were straightforward with where they were coming from and reported the details, one cannot fuss too much.

Snarky comments, such as "if you ever decide to visit [the churches], you’ll know in advance if they’re stockpiling rifles for Armageddon" may upset a few, but hey, they are reporting in Kentucky [This Hoosier ducks and runs].

The fact that one of the reporters is a self-described evangelical and the other was raised Catholic, but is now trying to figure out what he believes, balances the story and should broaden the number of people interested in their experiences.

Neither reporter enjoyed an Interstate megachurch so much. They both walked away feeling as if they had attended a pep rally. Attending a Catholic mass was a joy for the evangelical reporter, but the reporter who was raised Catholic found the passionate style of the service discomforting.

The article gets in a jab at "social-action Jesus" loving "liberals" for being uncomfortable with the concept of sin, but generally gives a straightforward account of their experience at an African-American church. Both reporters were sadly reminded that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the United States.

The only thing missing from the series is an account of the community life at these churches. An account of a single service is a good start, but so much of what makes up a church happens outside that hour. The fact is that no one can experience that through church hopping.

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