I ended my "Crossroads" podcast post this weekend with a bit of a challenge to the editors who produce the newspaper that (for a few more weeks) lands in my front yard here next to the Baltimore beltway.
To be precise, I said: "Tomorrow morning -- the Monday following the Sunday sermons about the riots -- I will go to my front yard, pick up the newspaper, open it and look for the religion ghosts. Will the Sun (or anyone else, for that matter) take the time to cover any of these sermons, these prayer rites, these holy moments in the wake of the riots? We will see."
Now, I am sure that my challenge had little or nothing to do with what showed up in the newspaper today (although there is at least one GetReligion reader in the newsroom). However, I am happy to say that The Baltimore Sun team sent several reporters out into the city's pews and came back with an A1 story that noted the political overtones, of course, but stressed basic issues of prayer, worship and faith.
The logical church -- Fulton Baptist Church -- served as the door into the story and then as the exit door as well. This 111-year-old sanctuary has burned in the past and it almost burned again, since it was doors away from the CVS store torched by looters with the whole world watching. Here's the point where the opening anecdote flows into -- of course -- a reference to the political context.
"This church is at ground zero," the church's head pastor, the Rev. Julian Rivera, roared, his voice soaring as the congregation cheered. "If the devil had his way, we wouldn't be here today!
"How grateful we are that God spared our church."
It was one of several worship services of note to be held in Baltimore on Sunday, a day Gov. Larry Hogan declared "a day of peace and prayer."
Hogan joined about 250 people at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Sandtown-Winchester, where Archbishop William E. Lori presided, and later in the day, Rep. Elijah Cummings addressed an afternoon service at Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore.
Hogan mentioned several of the "overarching" societal problems the Gray case brought into the open. "But today we're not going to solve that," he said. "Today, we're about having peace in the city."
Now, the governor's reference to "overarching" societal problems raises an interesting question, for me, a hint at a missed opportunity.
The emphasis on this story is, as it should be, the atmosphere of relief and thanksgiving in the city's sanctuaries (although the Sun editors do not appear to have have known that there was an attempt to have litanies in all churches on this day). However, as is so often the case, this story includes little or nothing about the actual religious content -- the thematic links that pastors found between biblical texts and the riots -- of these sermons.
As always, it's important for reporters to realize that worship services of this kind contain content that is often relevant to the news. The fact that it's biblical content, in many cases, only makes it more important to the people present at these events.
The key: Was the governor alone in talking about some of the moral and cultural ghosts in these events? What were some of the issues that were discussed by Hogan and, perhaps, some of the city's clergy? Absent fathers? Tension with police, both black and white? Broken families? Black-on-black violence? Drugs?
These kinds of details matter, especially in the current atmosphere in this city and state.
However, let's salute the reporter who found the anecdote that ended this piece. It's hard to believe that this has not been in the newspaper already. Perhaps I missed it in the barrage.
This is how you want to end a story, folks, with the preacher saluting a hero on the front lines.
... Finally, he told the story of what really happened Monday as Fulton's fate hung in the balance.
A deacon at a sister church, 41-year-old Kevin Wilder, had followed a hunch to come to the area, Rivera said. On arriving, he saw the angry crowd burn the CVS, ransack the other stores and head toward Fulton.
Wilder ran over, Rivera said, stood at the door and told them to hold their fire.
The looters paused a moment and moved on.
The pastor called Wilder, a slender, bespectacled man, to the front and embraced him as the congregation cheered. When the roars died down, Wilder insisted he's no hero.
"It was nothing but God almighty," he said.
It's a cliche, but I don't care. And all the people said?