Obviously, my personal relationship with The Baltimore Sun has changed in the past few weeks.
As I sit here at my home office desk, looking out into an East Tennessee forest, I no longer have a copy of the Sun sitting nearby, retrieved from my front yard. Every few days, I get one of those computer-driven emails from the Sun circulation department proclaiming, "We want you back!" or words to that effect. I filled out my ex-subscriber online feedback form the other day and it was totally about cyber-issues, without a single question on news content.
Nevertheless, I am trying -- sorting through the online summaries and waves of pop-up ads -- to keep up with some of the important, ongoing religion stories in Maryland.
Take, for example, the obvious Baltimore angles in the national Episcopal Church gathering out in Utah. I have been looking for references to two important Episcopalians -- former bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook and current Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton. You just know that Episcopalians have been talking about the DUI bishop case and the state of legal affairs in Maryland. Right?
The Sun team did, leaning on Associated Press wire copy, run a short story about the election of the church's new presiding bishop, noting a strong Baltimore connection. That little story began like this:
The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, the first African-American to lead an Episcopal diocese in the southerm United States and a former rector in Baltimore, will become the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
Curry, 62, who was elected presiding bishop Saturday during the denomination's national assembl, has been the bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina since 2000. Previously, he was the rector of St. James' Episcopal Church on West Baltimore's Lafayette Square for 12 years.
At St. James, he led a rebuilding effort after the sanctuary was hit by a 1993 fire. Curry, known for his exuberent preaching style, was also credited with starting more than 80 new ministries there, including a gospel choir and an after-school academy serving West Baltimore.
That's good to know, since the Sun had missed that local angle in the past. However, Maryland's main newspaper continues to miss the elephant in the sanctuary on this national story -- an angle noted earlier by the religion-beat pros at The Washington Post. What is that? For years, the African-American leader who was rumored to be destined to occupy the presiding bishop's executive chair was the bishop of Maryland.
Sutton's name, of course, was not in the list of nominees for the top job and it was very hard not to connect that fact with the Heather Cook case. Which only raises another issue: How has the Cook case affected the Maryland diocese, other than casting a dark cloud over Sutton? What legal, financial and ethical time bombs are still ticking as Episcopal insiders await the Cook trial?
Now, the tiny Sun story on Curry's election did include a paragraph of relevant background material, noting that the national church has been "roiled by the criminal charges that Baltimore prosecutors filed against former Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook in the December death of a bicyclist." However, there were no connections made between the DUI bishop and discussions -- public and private -- in the general convention being held out in Utah.
Now, a bit of online digging (I can't read the ink-on-paper product anymore) yielded the fact that the Sun did run, at least online, an Associated Press story about national-level discussions of the moral and legal implications of, uh, the ties that bind when it comes to Episcopalians and strong drink. All together now: Wherever you find four Episcopalians, you will always find a ... (fill in the blank).
This AP story, of course, mentioned the Cook case as the hook for these urgent discussions:
Committee members said the church must demonstrate it's taking the issue seriously. At the convention, some Episcopalians are scrapping the usual cocktail parties and replacing them with events such as ice cream socials that reflect the increased concern about alcohol abuse.
The bishops are conducting a review of Cook's case, while a committee is looking at the broader cultural issues with drinking, said committee member Brenda Hamilton, a clinical social worker from the Diocese of Maine.
"How do we speak to ourselves about our own historical culture of alcohol consumption in the Episcopal church?" Hamilton said. "People call us the `whiskapalians.' Those jokes aren't funny anymore."
But what about Maryland? I could not help thinking that these meetings in Utah contained quite a bit of material linked to events unfolding -- perhaps behind closed doors -- in Maryland. Resolutions are one thing. This story has strong legal and financial hard-news hooks.
A report from the Anglican Communion News Service did include this note:
Paraphrasing the prayer popularized by recovery ministries, Deputy Scott Slater of Maryland, told deputies June 30: “I ask God to grant me the serenity to accept legislative actions I cannot change. I pray that we as a church will have the courage to change the things we can.”
Slater, a member of diocesan staff, said former Suffragan Bishop Heather Cook’s drunken driving arrest for manslaughter in the Dec. 27, 2014, hit-and-run death of cyclist Tom Palermo, a 41-year-old husband and father of two, “has shaken so many of us and we have yearned for our denomination to take a hard look at this issue.”
Legislative Committee 22 on Alcohol and Drug Abuse was created by the presiding officers to do just that and “there was a clear charge to us to conduct our work with compassion for all affected by the devastating effects of alcohol misuse and addiction,” said deputy Steven Thomason of Olympia, a co-chair.
“Many members of the committee and several who testified in our hearings shared their experiences with alcohol. Many shared their shameful experiences of the church’s complicity in a culture of alcohol,” he said.
The bottom line: If there was one national religion-news event Sun editors needed to staff this year, this was the one. That is, if they are interested in covering the serious, ongoing local and national stories linked to the DUI bishop case.