Missing the tragic details

For such a dramatic story, the New York Times headline does not do justice to a recent tragedy in the local news: "Bronx Church Mourns Death of Its Leader." The pastor, his wife and four congregants from the Bronx were killed when their church van flipped several times.

Fourteen congregant had crowded into a 1997 Ford minivan on Saturday and headed toward Schenectady, N.Y., to celebrate the second anniversary of a church founded by a nephew of Simon White's, the bishop at Joy Fellowship.

A little more than 40 miles north of New York City, near the Woodbury Common outlet stores, the rear tire on the driver's side of the minivan blew out. The vehicle swerved off the pavement and rolled several times before coming to rest upside down on the grassy center meridian.

Six passengers in the van died, including Mr. White, 55; his wife, Zelda, 52; and Mr. White's older sister, Elaine Reid, 65. Emergency workers transported the other eight, including the van's driver, to three area hospitals. Several remained in critical condition on Sunday.

The story came across my phone before I saw the horrifying image on a computer screen. Click through to see the smashed van. The Times' coverage seems fairly typical for tragedy follow-up story, though it would be nice to know more about the church itself. The final paragraphs briefly touch on how a church member might respond to the mess.

Delores Tulloch, a member at Joy Fellowship, said she was taken aback that such a tragedy had happened on what should have been a festive day.

"It doesn't make any sense to me, but I know God has a plan," she said.

It's a touching ending, but I'm still left wondering what kind of church it is, whether it's affiliated with a denomination or not. There are some references related to how many of the 50 congregants coming from Jamaica, but we know little more about how this church might respond differently than, say, the church down the road. The Wall Street Journal and Newsday offer articles on the pastor's influence, though they are blocked for subscribers only. A quick scan of other reports suggest that they don't offer much more.

Lanning Taliaferro of Patch.com offers a few more interesting details:

With a bachelor's and master's degree in theology, Bishop White received a Doctor of Divinity from the Universal Theological Institute (UTI) in 1996 and a PhD. in Christian Education from Faith Theological Seminary in 1998. The Office of Bishop was conferred upon him in 2006.

Zelda White, also a minister, worked at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Westchester in White Plains, according to news reports. The couple had eight children.

The affiliated churches he founded or affiliated with include Joy Fellowship Christian Assemblies in the Bronx; Upper Room United Christian Assemblies, Inc. in Mount Vernon; and The Living Word Church of God and Word of Life Christian Assemblies, both of Newburgh, NY.

So why didn't the Times explore the other churches the pastor founded? Too short a deadline? If the congregants were employees of a corporation, reporters would spend more time discussing the specifics of the organization, wouldn't they?

Without trying to be too dramatic or picky, these seem like fairly basic editorial questions. It's nice to include memories and quotes from the congregants, but the story misses some basic information that might help us understand the church and how it responds to tragedy.

Image via Wikimedia Commons: Verano Cemetery, Rome.

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