Style and substance: This award-winning religion writer, and this feature story, has them both

Somehow, Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette didn't win one of the top awards in this year's Religion News Association contest.

Still, Smith remains one of my favorite religion writers.

The Godbeat veteran is one of those journalists who could write a compelling story about names in the phone book (my apologies to those of a certain age who have no idea what a phone book is, or was). But I digress ... 

Style and substance mark Smith's stories — and coincidentally, did I mention that the piece I want to highlight today is about style and substance in worship? How convenient.

This story is a few weeks ago and was published right around the time of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting. So I missed it at the time. 

But here's what I like about Smith's piece: It covers an issue — the aforementioned style and substance — with which many churches grapple. And it covers it in an interesting and compelling way.

The lede sets the scene:

For years, Bruce and Aricka Ladebu would allow the worship service to run as long as they felt the Holy Spirit moving at their small Crawford County church. Typically, that meant more than two hours of prayer, worship, preaching and testimony.
The idea was that “God will touch people and they will love it and come back,” said Ms. Ladebu, who with her husband is co-pastor of Victory Family Worship Center in Conneaut Lake.
Except that people didn’t love it and didn’t come back.
Over the summer, the church set a one-hour limit to their services. And more people began to attend, and to return.
“We didn’t change the content,” Ms. Ladebu said. “We still preach Jesus, very strongly.”
But now, attendance is about 120, good for a small town, she said, and most attendees had previously not been attending any church.
Ms. Ladebu was among scores of pastors and other church leaders — Protestant and Catholic — swapping such stories at a recent conference. The event, called Future Forward, took place in late October at Amplify Church’s campus in Plum.

Keep reading, and answer this question for me: How many "conference" stories have this kind of precise, revealing detail?

At one point in the recent conference, an alto soloist sang an emotive, devotional ballad to the accompaniment of electric piano as artificial fog mingled with theatrical, ice-blue lighting.
Style is important to make people open to the substance, the Krichers said.
“The world is so topsy-turvy and there’s so much turmoil and upheaval,” Ms. Kricher said. “I really believe they’re looking for something to believe in, and we have it in Christ.”

Smith is a real pro.

That makes his story a real joy to read. Go ahead and read it all.

And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

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