Covering the first Sunday service after a man opened fire in a church would be no easy task. Rocky Mountain News religion writer Jean Torkelson captured a widely expressed sentiment by asking, "What would you expect from your congregation the following week?" I'll turn the question around: What should we expect from the reporters covering the event?
I do not think I would be that comfortable covering this kind of church service. That is not to say I would not take the assignment. I would just find it difficult for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, reporters must do things that are difficult, including covering Sunday morning's worship services at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
The Colorado Springs Gazette's coverage focused on the words of the church's senior pastor:
Hands were raised once again in praise, but it was not any given Sunday at New Life Church. Nor should anyone have pretended it was, Senior Pastor Brady Boyd said a week after a gunman killed two young worshippers.
Boyd said he was proud of the 7,000 to 7,500 attendees of Sunday's two morning services who rallied against fears about returning to the site of last week's rampage, where 18-year-old Stephanie Works and her 16-year-old sister, Rachel, were killed.
"Last weekend was a test," Boyd said. "We're going through a test, we're operating in a test. But we're passing the test."
Boyd told parishioners to be honest with their feelings.
"It is OK if you're not doing well," Boyd said. "I don't want any of us to walk around with a mask or facade of strength when inside our hearts are not doing well."
The Gazette article focused a lot on the story of Larry Bourbonnais, who left the church on Sunday morning at the request of New Life's leaders. I am still a bit confused about the details, but apparently he has been telling various reporters that he tried to prevent the shootings. A lot of it is the not that unexpected he said, she said that can't really be substantiated unless the legal authorities do a thorough report on what went wrong and how the incident could have been prevented.
In contrast, The Denver Post's article on Sunday morning's service mentions the Bourbonnais issue and moves on. The story does have something of an odd lede that I had to read a couple of times to fully understand:
You would sooner find an atheist than an empty seat in New Life Church on Sunday morning, just a week after the sound of gunfire sent worshipers scurrying for safety.
For both morning services, the megachurch's 7,500-seat worship center boomed with music, punctuated by dancing fountains, fog machines and lighting fit for rock opera. Palms were raised, and shouts for peace and salvation filled the sanctuary.
"If you asked somebody who was a nonbeliever or who did not read the Bible, they would have said, 'Well, that place will be empty next weekend,'" senior pastor Brady Boyd told the congregation.
The lede makes more sense once you read the senior pastor's quote, but I am still a bit perplexed why the reporter does not think that atheists avoid church services. Perhaps it is New Life's services that atheists are known for avoiding, or is it some general stereotype that you would never find an atheist in a church? Either way, I do not think it is the strongest lede I have read lately.
However, overall the stories covering the service have been as solid as one could expect in this difficult situation. New Life members are probably tiring of the media coverage over the last year, and that can only make a reporter's job more difficult.