With a grand jury decision expected soon in Ferguson, Mo., the Los Angeles Times went to church Sunday:
First, the pastor asked congregants to pray for the parents of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot over the summer about three miles away. They murmured yes.
Then she asked the several dozen mostly black parishioners at Christ the King United Church of Christ on Sunday to pray for the families of the other black men in the region who had been shot by police officers. Some of them murmured yes.
Next, the Rev. Traci Blackmon asked her congregation a question not often heard on the turbulent streets of neighboring Ferguson, which remains tense with fear, anger and uncertainty as the conclusion of a grand jury investigation into Brown's Aug. 9 death looms ever closer -- perhaps as soon as Monday.
“Will you pray for Officer Darren Wilson?” Blackmon asked.
Hearing the name of Brown's shooter, the congregants remained silent.
The Times story focused on Christ the King United Church of Christ, describing it as "an oasis of warmth and calm, albeit one not far removed from the pressures that have gripped the region."
Later in the piece:
Mia Henderson, 29, of the St. Louis suburb of University City, said she joined Christ the King United Church of Christ a year and a half ago because Blackmon was committed to social causes.
After the Ferguson unrest, Henderson said, “I found a lot of comfort in God, knowing the God I serve is a God of justice and social justice. I really believe Jesus was the ultimate social-justice advocate.”
Henderson called Blackmon's call for prayers for Wilson “the right message. What's right is not always the easy thing. I'm glad we have people like her who remind us that frustration can't be what leads us.”
Rosetta James of Florissant — who, at 76, is old enough to remember when most of the white congregants left the church when its first black pastor arrived — said she was praying for the protesters to pursue change, but “we also pray for the police.”
“We all pray to the same God,” James said, adding: “Police are praying too.”
Blackmon asked congregants to pray for the police, for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, and for themselves. “Because none of us will ever be the same.”
On the surface, it's a perfectly fine story.
But after reading it the first time, something gnawed at me, even if I couldn't quite place my concern. So I read it again. And again.
Finally, it struck me: the Times went to a church but didn't really go to church. Do you know what I mean?
Between the headline and the story, variations of the word "pray" appear a dozen times. The pastor asks about prayer. Parishioners talk about prayer.
But nobody ever actually prays.
What was the content of the actual prayers said Sunday at this church? What did the pastor or others say to God? Did the pastor or others actually pray for the white officer? If so, what did they say?
What songs did the congregation sing? Did those hymns relate to the "pressures that have gripped the region?"
What Bible verses were quoted? Did any Scriptures speak to the big picture in Ferguson?
On such questions, the Times remains absolutely silent — like a song without a melody. And that's what's missing from this story.