Visit with a coal-country pastor

minechurch200It's time for a compliment. The Baltimore Sun has a very simple and very moving story today that does what I have been hoping someone would do all week -- take us inside the doors of the Sago Baptist Church. Sure enough, reporter Stephen Kiehl was able to talk to the Rev. Wease Day, a man who, sure enough, has coal country in his blood and knows something about the theology of suffering.

This isn't rocket science. All Kiehl had to do was interview the pastor who was there and give us the details. It's called journalism. Here is a sample:

Day, 49, would do as he had done for the past 40 years, since he was spiritually saved in the church he now heads: He would let the spirit in and trust the Lord.

"We heard about the tsunami. We heard about Katrina," the pastor said in an interview with The Sun last week after mine officials announced the deaths. "This one was here, and we had to deal with it. It's easy to play football from the stands. But when you get down on the field, it's a whole different ballgame, and we were standing in the middle of the field."

Ministering to these relatives and friends was a role Day is uniquely qualified to fill. He grew up in the hills around the mine, went to Sago Baptist Church before he was old enough to walk and returned as its pastor nine years ago. For the past 25 years, he has been a bus driver for the county school system. ...

He expects the tragedy to bring the families closer to God and help them realize what they still have. The problems within families or small disagreements that kept people apart probably won't seem so important anymore. Fences that had been built up will be torn down.

"You can't always feel like praising the Lord," Day said. "But in the worst of times, this is what we have: faith in God."

Day will not stand in his pulpit today, snap his fingers, and try to preach a sermon that makes the pain go away. His church is at the door of the Sago Mine and he knows all about the people who work there and die there.

As I journalism professor, I am always telling my student that their goal -- when seeking sources for information and color -- is to find voices with authority. Some people have what I call the "authority of title." They are experts and have impressive titles associated with their names, often with degrees from impressive institutions. Then there are people with "authority of experience" and, by describing their lives, a reporter can show readers why their information is crucial to the story.

In this tragic story, Pastor Day has both kinds of authority -- big time. His title? Ask the miner families if the word "pastor" offers "authority of title" in this neck of the woods.

Thus, I am glad that Kiehl let us see this story through his eyes.

By the way, this story also includes that gripping cable-news quote from Anna Casto that I mentioned in my post the other day

"We have got some of us saying that we don't even know if there is a Lord anymore," Anna Casto, a cousin of a dead miner, told CNN. "We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us."

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