If you have been a religion-beat reporter for a decade or two (or longer), then you probably have a large "box" (analog, digital or both) stashed somewhere with a label that says "Episcopal Church Sex Wars," or words to that effect.
It's hard to know precisely where to start the clock, when creating a timeline for Episcopal conflicts about doctrines defining marriage and sex. OutHistory.org has a helpful view from the left that starts in 1962. At GetReligion, we normally start with the 1979 General Convention in Denver, which affirmed traditional doctrines, but also saw the release of a protest document from 21 liberal bishops, including the names of several future leaders of the church.
This brings me to a recent story in the Orange County Register: "St. James the Great congregants make joyous return to Newport Beach church." One Godbeat veteran wrote me to say that this story had "more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese." Here is the lede:
NEWPORT BEACH -- Meg Schuler teared up as she walked out of her church’s sanctuary and into the sunlight.
For her and about 100 other congregants, Sunday morning’s service at St. James the Great Episcopal Church, marked a homecoming of sorts.
For three years, this congregation, evicted from the church on Via Lido by their former bishop J. Jon Bruno, led a nomadic existence, but remained hopeful that they would return to their home church some day.
Pause for a moment to click this link and look at a few pictures of this impressive church building.
Now note the size of the congregation -- 100 worshipers -- on this historic day in the life of this parish.
It doesn't quite add up, does it?
As it turns out, there is a lot of history behind this complex local Episcopal conflict, as is often the case. A few paragraphs later readers learn:
After their eviction from this campus in June 2015, the loyal congregation continued to meet in a neighborhood park, at a local museum, and for the last year or so, in a community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center. The process of reconciliation between the congregation and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles began after Bruno, who planned to sell the piece of prime real estate to developers, twice, retired in December.
Bishop John Taylor, who immediately took the helm, invited the exiled congregation back into the diocese and into their home church. Last year, a national church panel voted to suspend Bruno, restore the congregation and halt efforts to sell the 40,000-square-foot building and surrounding property, which includes a rose garden where the ashes of former parishioners are buried.
For three years, the church remained locked and inaccessible to congregants as the property became ensnared in controversy and a web of lawsuits.
The story goes on to provide lots of details about life in the St. James Episcopal Church during several years on the move.
But here is the key question: So this conflict involving St. James parish began three years ago?
That would come as a surprise to the members of the St. James Anglican Church -- who lost this grand building in an earlier dispute with Bruno and the national church.
Scan the whole Register story. Do you see any sign that the battles between this parish and the diocese began much, much earlier? Any signs of the painful split that tore the parish apart?
Why did the Register team focus exclusively on the tacky real estate battle between Bruno and this small flock, while ignoring the earlier battled -- over doctrine, of course -- between the diocese and a St. James flock that was much larger and was quite well known around the world in conservative Anglican circles?
Here's a key question: How many people (or their families, in earlier generations) in the current parish of 100 people made major donations to construct this large and glorious complex in the mid-1990s through 2001? What became of the clergy and the parish leaders of that era?
Now, a few clicks of a mouse reveals that the Register team knows all about this earlier conflict.
I am not, of course, suggesting that the earlier split dominate this story -- since it focuses on the small Episcopal parish being vindicated in its battle with the bishop and moving back into their large church home. I am asking if the story didn't need a few paragraphs of content from the former members who lost this sanctuary in the first go around.
I am sure that there are major donors still over there. I would imagine that some have loved ones buried in the memorial garden at the church.
This is a rather large hole in an important story.