When I was on the religion beat, one of the questions that leaders in a wide variety of religious groups used to ask me went something like this: "Why do the (insert colorful word here) Episcopalians get so much coverage in the mainstream media?" This is a topic that has been discussed before here at GetReligion, but I can't find that link at the moment because, uh, there are so danged many Anglican stories in our files that I cannot find the right search words that will find that particular needle in the digital haystack. Talk about ironic.
I have received a few emails asking variations on this question in the wake of the Tanzania blitz over the past week or so. Regular readers may recall that long ago -- back when my family still worshipped in an Episcopal pew -- I took a stab at answering the question in a freelance piece that ended liked this:
I believe the Episcopal Church draws more than its share of media attention because its leaders wear religious garb, work in conveniently located buildings, speak fluent politics and promote a mystical brand of moral liberalism. Episcopalians look like Roman Catholics and act like liberal politicians. Clearly, this is a flock that will continue to merit the attention of America's media elite.
Then again, the Episcopal Church also contains people who are talented, candid and colorful, and they often pour their beliefs into elaborate public rituals that, as I have suggested, photograph well. And if no one is there to capture the photo, these true believers often go out of their way to document the events for themselves.
Which leads me to an interesting piece of work taken from the website of the Episcopal Urban Caucus, a powerful group on the church's vocal left wing. I have seen the following quoted in several places, but the link that will probably get the most attention is at the conservative Titus One Nine blog operated by Father Kendall Harmon.
The material is not new and, frankly, it is not all that unusual. However, it is now making the rounds at a time when it will have maximum impact among traditionalists in Global South pews, pulpits and cathedral thrones. The headline at Titus One Nine is, "Nell Braxton Gibson: Behold I am Creating a New Thing [/] Do you not perceive it? [/] Reflections on B033." The final reference is to a piece of legislation at the 2003 U.S. General Convention. Here's a chunk of the text:
The Sunday after General Convention I returned to my home parish for Gay Pride Sunday and participated in a Disco Mass for which gays and lesbians turned out in force. The opening hymn was a beautiful jazz rendition of "Over the Rainbow." Musical offerings came from gay men in sequined tank tops and from the Director of Music who was ushered into the service singing a disco number complete with Go-Go girls. The queen of St. Mark's appeared in full drag to deliver the homily and the closing hymn was, Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." As I stood singing among straight men and women, young parents with their children, gays and lesbians, teenagers in hip hop clothing, Asians, whites, African Americans and Spanish speaking people I realized I was part of the realm of God and I was glad to be there -- in a place where God's creation of a new thing was being lived out.
Now you are saying to yourself: "This has to be satire."
However, the text was on the Urban Caucus site at the time that Frank "Bible Belt Blogger" Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote his "Toto, we're not in Arkansas anymore..." blog item about the so-called Disco Mass. After he wrote about it, the item vanished from the Urban Caucus site.
To prove that he didn't make this up, Lockwood did a little bit of work with the "cache" function in Yahoo -- searching for "disco mass" -- and found this link to the original source material.
It does not appear this service received any press attention at the time it took place. This only goes to show you that Episcopalians get loads of press attention, but not every colorful Anglican event makes headlines.
Sorry! But this photo appears to be from a Catholic disco Mass in Austria.