During my 2003 summer internship at a medium-to-small size daily newspaper in the middle of America, I was assigned to report and write a local version of the latest development of the local Anglican church. The story was about how the local congregations on both sides of the river were facing a "crossroads over gay clergy, teachings." By the way, those quoted words did not come from my story, but from a headline in Monday's Detroit Free Press. Yes, an intern was assigned to cover the beginnings of The Great Anglican Schism, who also happened to have been raised as a Reformed Presbyterian, but was attending a Lutheran church that summer and knew little about the subject. Needless to say, my questions were fairly basic, but I hope I did a good job covering the story.
With a couple of minor complaints, Niraj Warikoo of the Free Press did a solid job covering the Anglican split from a local angle. For starters, the story has an accurate definition of Anglicanism ("the largest Protestant body in the world") and even the headline makes clear that this fight is not just about "gay clergy." (I think that was one of my first questions to one of the local Anglican officials.)
The story is also nicely timed:
For years, worshippers at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Livonia patiently put up with their diocese as it adopted a series of liberal changes that clashed with biblical tradition. But the breaking point came in 2003, when the Episcopal Church -- with the approval of the local diocese -- consecrated an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.
After a testy meeting with Episcopal leaders, about two-thirds of the 300-member congregation bolted in 2006, leaving a church many of them grew up in. Two years later, they said they have no regrets.
"It just wasn't a Christian church anymore," explained Chris Darnell, 41, of Northville.
Those words reflect a schism playing out within the Anglican Communion -- the largest Protestant body in the world -- as it faces an identity crisis that threatens to split its 77 million members. Four congregations in Michigan have broken away in recent years from the Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the United States that has 87 churches in Michigan, with about 24,000 members.
The article has an excellent list of "fundamental questions" that includes elements of the Tmatt Trio:
* Is Jesus the only means of salvation, or are there other legitimate paths?
* Is the Bible the literal word of God or man's word about God?
* Is premartial sex OK?
We would like to quibble with the characterization of whether or not the debate is over whether "the Bible is the literal word of God or man's word about God." While this is a genuine issue among many, the debate within the Anglican church has more to do with the sacraments and doctrines that arise from centuries of church tradition.
Overall though, other newspapers interested in covering the Anglican divide at a local level should look to this article as something of a template. It's hard to imagine that local newspapers will be able to ignore this week's developments out of the Lambeth Conference and how it could impact the local Episcopal congregations. I know my local newspaper hasn't said a word about it, but if you see anything in your part of the universe, please let us know.
Photo of the Detroit Skyline used under a Wikimedia Commons license.