Katherine Burgess

From Azusa Street to Memphis: Sometimes reporters have to tell old stories to new readers

From Azusa Street to Memphis: Sometimes reporters have to tell old stories to new readers

I do not go out of my way, as a rule, to praise the religion-beat work of one of my former students in the old Washington Journalism Center (which has now evolved into the New York City Journalism semester at The King’s College).

But it’s time to break that rule.

I say that because of a feature story by Katherine Burgess — a name to watch on the religion beat — that ran at The Memphis Commercial Appeal. The headline: “Bishop Mason built COGIC out of revival, the faith of former slaves.

In roughly 40 years of religion-beat work, I know of no organization that is harder to cover than the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). As a result, this massive Pentecostal flock receives way less coverage than it deserves. I don’t think the denomination’s leaders are hostile to the press (although I have encountered one or two who were), but they certainly do not seek out the attention.

How many news-consumers in West Tennessee, white and black, know the history of this important institution or even know that it is based in their region? Thus, Burgess needed to start at the beginning, with the story of one man:

He preached in living rooms, in the woods and in a cotton gin.

When he returned from the Azusa Street Revival speaking in unknown tongues, Bishop Charles Harrison Mason was followed by just 10 churches out of more than 100 in the split over the theological disagreement.

Today, the denomination founded by Mason, the son of former slaves, is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, with more than 6.5 million members.

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Friday Five: SBC wrap-up, Catholic hotline, #ChurchToo, abuse lawsuits, cult ranch, VeggieTales

Friday Five: SBC wrap-up, Catholic hotline, #ChurchToo, abuse lawsuits, cult ranch, VeggieTales

Southern Baptists in Birmingham. Roman Catholics in Baltimore.

Clergy sexual abuse scandals, obviously, high on the agendas in both places. Lots of reporters in the house, in both places.

Yes, the annual meeting of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and the spring general assembly of U.S. Catholic bishops made lots of headlines this week.

So we better dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer has a nice wrap-up of the SBC meeting, reporting on three ways churches will tackle abuse after the meeting.

The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey also has an interesting roundup, explaining that while the SBC took action, some question whether it’s enough.

Meanwhile, the Post’s Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein delve into the pros and cons of the Catholic bishops’ decision to create a hotline for reporting abuse.

Some of the GetReligion posts on the Baptists and Catholics this week:

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Matt Chandler's Southern Baptist Convention 'interview' shows how not to deal with bad press

Matt Chandler's Southern Baptist Convention 'interview' shows how not to deal with bad press

Earlier this week, tmatt wrote about and spotlighted a New York Times bombshell about what certainly appeared to be the cavalier approach a major Southern Baptist megachurch took to dealing with a sexual predator in its midst.

A summation of the Times piece is further down in my post, but the damage done by this article was so extensive that the Rev. Matt Chandler, the pastor, broke away from his sabbatical to fly to Birmingham in an attempt to salvage his reputation. He showed up at a lunch meeting of Baptist pastors to answer questions from an emcee but — here’s the key — not to take questions from the audience.

The video of that “interview” is atop this piece. It’s a headshaker and a perfect example of how way too many religious leaders think journalism is supposed to be public relations. The pastor’s first sentence out of the blocks is, “I’m here because I don’t want what we’re trying to do to lose momentum and steam.”

It’s not “I’m concerned for the victim and her family,” or “I feel we messed up and I want to apologize,” but no, he doesn’t want to derail his church’s expansion plans. (Additional note - it’s been pointed out to me that Chandler was referring to movement within the SBC for a meaningful resolution on the abuse issue, not about his church’s future, so I stand corrected there.)

The Times reporter who’d broken the story tweeted that she planned to attend the pastor’s appearance. I still haven’t found out whether she managed to nab him in the hallway beforehand or afterwards.

She did run this piece on his speech:

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Ready, set, go! The much-anticipated Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting starts in 3, 2, 1 ...

Ready, set, go! The much-anticipated Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting starts in 3, 2, 1 ...

Sex abuse. Women’s roles. Abortion.

All could make headlines at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, which starts Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala.

But as The Associated Press notes, the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the nation’s Protestant denomination for months is expected to dominate the yearly gathering.

That scandal started, of course, with a bombshell investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. The Texas papers have kept at the investigation and delivered a final piece of their series Sunday. That front-page report focused on “Baptist abuse victims’ battle: silence, survival, speaking out.” It’s certainly a worthy read in advance of the SBC meeting.

Just two years ago, someone (OK, maybe it was me) whined about reporters’ seeming lack of interest in the SBC’s meeting. But in 2019, the gathering is, no doubt, the journalistic place to be.

GetReligion’s own Richard Ostling offered a tip sheet last week for news writers covering the Baptist extravaganza, as he put it. And on Sunday, GR editor Terry Mattingly featured a think piece by the SBC’s Russell Moore.

Already, The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer — who is covering the meeting with her Gannett colleague Katherine Burgess of Memphis’ Commercial Appeal — has filed her first story from Birmingham.

Meyer reports from a pre-convention meeting of the denomination’s executive committee:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee took steps Monday to make it clear that it can kick out churches that show a disregard for sexual abuse. 

While the ability to sever ties with such churches already exists, the executive committee voted to enshrine in the convention's constitution that addressing sexual abuse is part of what it means to be a Southern Baptist church

"In the culture, situations and issues arise from time to time where we need to make explicit what has already been implicit," said Pastor Mike Stone, chairman of the executive committee. "These actions are a confirmation of what Southern Baptists have always believed."

The top administrative body, which acts on behalf of the convention when it is not in session, also supported a bylaw change on Monday that would form a special committee to address misconduct allegations, including sexual abuse, against churches. 

The new panel would conduct inquiries — not investigations — into the allegations and make a recommendation to the executive committee about whether the convention should be in fellowship with the church in question. 

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Friday Five: Dallas clergy abuse, God and abortion, Colorado hero, 'Whiskeypalians,' Tenn. execution

Friday Five: Dallas clergy abuse, God and abortion, Colorado hero, 'Whiskeypalians,' Tenn. execution

Here’s your periodic reminder that — from “Save Chick-fil-A” legislation to the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals — the Dallas Morning News sure could use a religion writer.

When police this week raided Diocese of Dallas offices related to allegations of sexual abuse by priests, the Texas newspaper — to which I subscribe — put a team of reporters on it and produced two front-page stories (here and here).

The team included a projects/enterprise writer, two police/crime reporters and a city hall writer/columnist. A Godbeat pro on the team? Sadly, the Dallas Morning News doesn’t have one, despite the importance of religion in that Bible Belt city. (There’s another Page 1 report today, again by a public safety reporter.)

Ironically, the paper’s initial coverage included an opinion piece (“Why it's good Dallas police ran out of patience with the Catholic Diocese on sex abuse”) by metro columnist Sharon Grigsby. Those of a certain age will recall that in the 1990s, Grigsby founded the Dallas Morning News’ award-winning religion section (now defunct) and oversaw a team of six religion writers and editors.

Those were the days!

Turning from the Big D, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Alabama’s passage of a law banning abortion in almost all cases tops the week’s headlines.

Since my post pointing out the holy ghosts in much of the news coverage, the religion angle has received major treatment from the New York Times (here and here) and showed up in The Associated Press’ headline on the state’s governor signing the anti-abortion bill into law.

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Friday Five: Godbeat news, Bush 41 funeral, pope on gay priests, megachurch biz, pastor hero

Friday Five: Godbeat news, Bush 41 funeral, pope on gay priests, megachurch biz, pastor hero

Enjoy the “Walking in Memphis” video.

Speaking of Memphis, there’s good news on the Godbeat in Tennessee’s second-largest city: Katherine Burgess reports on Twitter that religion will now be a part of her coverage responsibilities at the Commercial Appeal.

“Please send religion stories my way,” requests Burgess, who previously did a nice job reporting on religion for Kansas’ Wichita Eagle.

In other Godbeat developments, I learned just recently that religion writer Manya Brachear Pashman has left the Chicago Tribune. Here’s an update from her:

I officially left the Tribune at the end of October to follow my husband's career to New Jersey. I am in the process of figuring out the next chapter, while taking some time to tend to family and staying involved with RNA and RNF. I am optimistic that someone will replace me at the Tribune. But it might take a while, since they're going through a round of buyouts at the moment. But it's hard to imagine the Tribune without someone devoted to covering religion. In Chicago, that's the equivalent of leaving the city hall beat vacant.

Meanwhile, let’s dive into the Friday Five.

1. Religion story of the week: Wednesday’s Washington National Cathedral funeral for former President George H.W. Bush was full of faith, as GetReligion Editor Terry Mattingly highlighted in his roundup of news coverage at The New York Times and the wall-to-wall (and almost totally faith-free) spread at The Washington Post. And yes, Bush was an Episcopalian — that’s a noun — as tmatt noted in a separate post full of Episcopal jokes.

Finally, be sure to check out tmatt’s obits commentary on “The mainstream faith of Bush 41: At what point did 'personal' become 'political'?” And there’s a podcast coming this weekend.

Here’s a key passage from the funeral coverage material, offering a way for readers to study a news report and decide whether the editors thought the state funeral was a political event, only.

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Friday Five: End Times for GetReligion, WSJ tackles God on front pages, 'modesty ponchos' and more

Friday Five: End Times for GetReligion, WSJ tackles God on front pages, 'modesty ponchos' and more

We've reached the End Times.

OK, let me rephrase that: What I mean is that GetReligion has a cool new Twitter feature called the End Times.

What is the End Times? It's a daily thread put together by social media guru Peter Freeby that highlights both GetReligion posts and top religion stories from Twitter curated by Nuzzel.

Why is it called the End Times? Because it's "The end of the day's religion news." If you follow us on Twitter, be sure to check it out. If you don't follow us on Twitter, by all means, correct that now.

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The San Antonio Express-News dispatched reporter Silvia Foster-Frau to Washington, D.C. to cover Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting survivors at the National Day of Prayer.

Once again, the front-page coverage Foster-Frau produced is a must-read winner — mixing relevant facts and context with authentic emotion.

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It's the Friday Five: Our favorite religion story, our most popular post and more

It's the Friday Five: Our favorite religion story, our most popular post and more

Today's post is brought to you -- as they say on "Sesame Street" -- by the number five.

The GetReligion gang is trying out a new kind of post -- the "Friday Five."

At the end of each week, we'll share a few links and quick details in this listicle format. Along the way, we hope to provide a mix of important and insightful information and even a smidgen of humor. 

Here goes:

1. Religion story of the week: We mean for this to be a positive mention. Some weeks, this will be the best religion journalism that we spot. Other weeks, it'll simply be our favorite read of the week.

This week, who can ignore a Godbeat feature that makes reference to "concealed carry hymnals." Katherine Burgess of the Wichita Eagle wrote this story on a man who saved his church with a "hymnal and a body slam." 

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Sacred rite takes secular turn: This is why church weddings aren't as popular as they used to be

Sacred rite takes secular turn: This is why church weddings aren't as popular as they used to be

When my son and daughter-in-law exchanged wedding vows two years ago, they did so in a church — but not their church.

They had a couple of reasons for this: For one, Brady and Mary grew up in different churches. They wanted to avoid choosing between either of them.

The second, more important consideration: They liked the distinctive look of the sanctuary they chose and the amenities, such as a large bridal room.

I was reminded of their experience as I read a fascinating trend piece in the Wichita Eagle this week on more couples foregoing church weddings altogether:

When Monique Pope was engaged, she had no doubt that the wedding ceremony would be in her Catholic parish.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” said Pope, who married her husband Mike in October 2012. “When you walk into St. Anthony you’re just overcome by the beauty and the splendor of the church.”
Marrying in St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church in Wichita meant marrying in a church and a faith she had a close connection to, Pope said.
Yet Pope and her husband are among a decreasing number of American couples who have their wedding ceremony in a church.
Only 26 percent of couples had their wedding ceremony in a religious institution in 2016, according to data from The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study. That’s down from 41 percent in 2009.
he Knot surveyed nearly 13,000 U.S. brides and grooms, finding that weddings in farms, barns and ranches had gone up, along with weddings in historic buildings and homes. Other popular venues are beach houses, public gardens, wineries and museums.

The byline on the piece belongs to Katherine Burgess, the Eagle's relatively new faith reporter. I don't know that we've mentioned her at GetReligion. If not, welcome to the Godbeat, Katherine!

It's an interesting piece that hits at major reasons behind the trend:

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