I should love this story.
Really, I should. So why don't I?
That's what I'm trying to figure out as I consider my reaction to this 1,600-word Dallas Morning News takeout:
The lede sets the scene:
Recently, between Palm Sunday services, Pastor George Mason weaved confidently and quickly through the halls of Wilshire Baptist Church. He greeted everyone with his trademark smile, passing some with a handshake, others with a pat on the shoulder.
“Good morning!” “What’s your good news today?” “Hello!”
It was a busy time, but there was an extra layer of complication: One of his church’s members, Louise Troh, was preparing to release My Spirit Took You In, a memoir to be published Tuesday. The book details her relationship with fiancé Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died from the Ebola virus in Dallas last fall.
Now, yet again, cameras were coming into his sanctuary. Reporters were coming with empty notebooks and lots of questions.
Troh had started to open up to interviews, but the majority of the press wrangling went to the pastor and Christine Wicker, a former religion reporter for The Dallas Morning News and co-author of Troh’s memoir.
Since the Ebola virus struck Dallas last September, Mason has balanced the roles of media liaison, pastor, advocate and more. He’s sat for interviews on CNN. He’s fought to find Troh and her family a place to live away from the cameras. He’s sheltered them, giving them time and space to grieve, away from the news media.
“This was a matter of ordinary care in the midst of extraordinary times,” Mason said. “The church has been willing to address significant matters culturally.”
Here's what should (and does) impress me about this piece: It's an in-depth religion story tied to major news. It's an easy read with a conversational tone. It's respectful, not condescending, of the faith expressed by the main characters.
Moreover, the "church found its own redemption" hook impresses me as a terrific peg:
Last fall was not the first time the church has had a run-in with a much feared and deadly virus.
In the early 1980s, a couple and their two sons came to Wilshire. Because of a blood transfusion, the mother and sons were diagnosed with HIV. Mason said the church reached out superficially but refused to allow the older son to attend Sunday school with the other children.
“It was a painful moment in our church’s history,” Mason said. “I don’t think we did it wrong the last time, but we didn’t get it right.”
During last year’s Ebola crisis, Mason thought of that moment 30 years ago. He said the congregation had a keen sense that this time, they’d act with caring responsibility instead of fear.
“Love moves toward people. Fear moves away,” Mason told his congregation during those weeks of uncertainty. “We did everything we could to move toward.”
But still, a nagging feeling — something that just didn't sit right — gnawed at me after I finished reading the story. And after I read it again. And again.
Part of my concern, I think, is that the story — despite its length — seems a little shallow. There's not a lot of meat to go along with the overarching storyline that a church that did not behave in a Christian way three decades ago did this time.
Plus, the story never explains whether the pastor remembering how the church reacted last time was there then. Mason's bio on the church website indicates that he has been senior pastor since 1989 but doesn't say whether he was on the Wilshire staff prior to that. If he wasn't on staff, how does he know what happened?
Beyond that, my natural journalistic skepticism makes me wish for more concrete facts on the previous situation and more firsthand recollections from those who remember that situation. Was anything written in the church bulletin or newsletter back then that could be cited? Were there any mainstream media reports at the time? Do longtime members remember the story the same way the pastor tells it?
The story devotes a lot of ink to explaining the church's media relations prowess. To some extent, the fluffy nature of the Morning News report seems to underscore that fact.
Then again, maybe I'm picking at nits that really aren't there. If so, please forgive me.
I should love this story.
Really, I should.