Trust me, your GetReligionistas understand that the timeline of the Anglican vs. Episcopal doctrine wars gets very, very complicated. Add to that the fact that the conflicts are taking place at the local, diocesan, national and global levels and you have very complicated stories on your hands, especially if you are a general-assignment reporter and not a Godbeat pro.
However, a recent story in The Orange County Register raises a completely different issue. When one of these battles ends, is it primarily a story about real estate or people? I mean, the dollars and cents of the church-property sale are important, but shouldn't journalists acknowledge that there are people out there -- perhaps even Register readers -- who care about what happens with these sacred spaces? Here is the top of the story:
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is nearing the end of negotiations to sell St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach to real estate developers.
Bishop J. Jon Bruno announced the sale to congregants Sunday, Diocese spokesman Robert Williams said. The sale of the church could bring in roughly $15 million -- twice the appraised value of the site, Williams said.
Services at the church will likely continue into the fall, Williams said. No information on where congregants will be moved or whether the congregation may reopen at a different site was available on Monday, he said.
So the current occupants of the church are Episcopalians. Got it. But here is one of those "people" questions. How many of these Episcopalians are there and, well, why are they leaving such a prime location? How do they feel about this deal? Readers are flying blind on that crucial question.
If you look for some of this information online, here is what you find at the official diocese website for this parish.
This is the history of our church...
That's it. Honest. The page is blank.
Now, back to the Register. Things do not improve much when the story digs, just a little bit, into some background information.
St. James the Great, built in 1945, was an Anglican parish from 2004 to 2013, until an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled the church belonged to the Los Angeles diocese and imposed a $1 million bond if the Anglican congregation elected to stay on the property.
A majority of congregants in 2004 voted to disaffiliate with the Episcopal Church for theological and ideological reasons and later aligned with the Anglican Church.
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit to take back its properties in 2004. An Orange County court initially ruled the property belonged to the parish, but a series of appeals and higher court rulings sided with the diocese.
Now, people who follow the Anglican wars know that the Episcopal Church -- with Bruno as leader of the local diocese -- remains the official, recognized branch of the Anglican Communion in the United States. So what does it mean to say that St. James the Great Anglican Church left the "Episcopal Church" and aligned with the "Anglican Church"? There are many, many facts missing here.
There are more "people" questions at this point. How many people are part of this Anglican parish that has been sent into exile? What do they think of the $15 million deal?
Back in 2013, the Register team -- whether they knew it or not -- made another mistake that pointed toward actual information.
The Lido Village congregation split from the national denomination over the ordination of a gay man as bishop and aligned itself with the Anglican Communion in Africa.
Actually, the Anglican Communion is based in England (that whole Canterbury thing), but this parish may be aligned with a doctrinally traditional Anglican diocese in Africa -- where the Anglican churches are huge and growing. St. James Anglican is also part of the Anglican Church in North America, which is trying -- without success so far -- to gain recognition from Canterbury.
Note that the Register said the split was about the ordination of a gay bishop -- period. Anyone who knows the timeline knows that there is much more to the conflict than that, since the property and doctrinal wars began long before the ordination of a self-avowed, sexually active gay bishop in New Hampshire.
In another 2013 story, the Register team simply disagreed with the local Anglicans about the cause of their own revolt.
Before aligning with the Anglican Church, a majority of the members of the St. James congregation voted in 2004 to disaffiliate with the Episcopal Church for theological and ideological reasons; chief among them was their disapproval of the ordination of an openly gay bishop in 2003. The parishioners at St. James joined two congregations, in Long Beach and North Hollywood, to secede from their parent Episcopal affiliation. In 2006, a parish in La Crescenta also broke away from the Episcopal Church.
“The ordaining of a gay bishop was only part of it,” Crocker said. “In truth, there were other underlying concerns that had been bottled up for a long time.”
So, "chief among them"? Would the people impacted by the split agree with that explanation?
Let me end with another "people" question or two. First, did Bruno offer to sell the property back to the original congregation, even at the $15 million price? Also, what happened to the sacred art that was in this building? Was this offered -- for sale -- back to the people who, in many cases, donated these consecrated items in the first place? What is happening to this art?
I realize that, for many editors, these kinds of religious issues are not as important as real estate. However, they are the kinds of issues that many readers might find interesting and even touching. Just saying.
IMAGE: From the Diocese of Los Angeles web pages