When discussing the Anglican wars, one of GetReligion's mantras is that reporters must struggle -- even in short stories -- to place these events in the context of church structures at the local, regional-diocesan, national and global levels. That's the bad news.
The problem for reporters is that things are going to get even more complex in the very near future. The structures are all changing and are, frankly, becoming even more confusing and harder for outsiders to understand (and cover in mainstream media).
Why is that? It helps to note that the U.S. Episcopal hierarchy tends to be very liberal when it comes to traditions about doctrine, but almost fundamentalist when it comes to traditions about power and ecclesiastical structure. Meanwhile, the people running the emerging conservative structures are very strict about ancient doctrines, but many of them lean to more open, congregational, even megachurch approaches to church life.
So this brings me to a story unfolding down in the Treasure Coast region of South Florida. Here's the top of the report from the Vero Beach Press Journal:
To Christ Church officials, the Rev. Lorne Coyle was a guiding light in their quest for adherence to conservative Biblical views, church leaders say.
Then two weeks ago came the married minister's admission of an affair -- prompted by an out-of-state woman going to Coyle's Anglican bishop in Virginia.
"It is a shock," said Christ Church's lay leader, senior warden Jim Reamy III.
The bishop suspended Coyle, effective Feb. 1, quickly followed by Coyle's resignation from the church. The independent church was expanding in the wake of Coyle's leadership in the congregation's breaking off from the Episcopal Church -- a national denomination that Reamy said strayed from a belief that marriages should only unite a man and a woman.
So many readers are going to want to know: Why does this South Florida priest have a bishop who is located in Virginia? And if it's an "independent" church, why does it have a bishop in the first place?
I think there is a good chance that some copy was trimmed out of the story at this point, because an earlier Elliott Jones report had included key details about the identity of the bishop and the fact that this conservative congregation is now part of an alternative Anglican structure, with ties to the Anglican Church of Uganda.
I really feel for the reporters and editors. However, things are getting really complicated. Readers can't figure out what's going on when asked to make the following leap:
Last year, members of the 400-member congregation left Trinity Episcopal Church, one of Vero Beach's largest, oldest churches and began to worship in a renovated former tax collector's office on U.S. 1.
Then Coyle's Anglican bishop intervened. This week, a bishop's investigator is to be in Vero Beach interviewing Coyle and others. In the interim, Coyle is banned from having contact with the church or its members. The bishop isn't commenting about the investigation.
As I once wrote, in a column about an Episcopal scandal in the cathedral in Denver: "Sin and ink will always be a volatile mix." Sadly that is true in all kinds of churches. Reporters need to know that, these days, there are all kinds of complications on both sides of the Anglican-Episcopal divide. Be careful out there.