St. Paul Pioneer Press

Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Painful church split in Twin Cities: But what kind of Lutherans are we dealing with here?

Attention all supporters of strong, accurate religion-beat reporting: What is the first question a journalist needs to answer for readers when covering a "Lutheran church" story, especially when it is linked to controversy?

Let me raise the stakes a bit higher. This question is especially true when dealing with a flock located in Minnesota or elsewhere in the upper Midwest, which is often called the Lutheran Belt in American life because there are so many Lutheran congregations in that region.

The question: So what kind of Lutherans are we talking about?

Are we dealing with a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which, despite the presence of the E-word in the name, is a liberal flock on key issues of doctrine and moral theology? Or how about the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, located on the right side of the mainline Protestant world? Or how about the smaller Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which is also more doctrinally conservative than the ELCA?

So check out the top of this major story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier this month. Yes, you'll have to look for clues in this long passage:

North Heights Lutheran, the one-time megachurch of Arden Hills, has run out of prayers.
The church is shutting down, the apparent victim of a civil war that has split it apart. After 70 years of weekly worship, the church’s last service will be Sunday.
“This took me by surprise,” 20-year member Zelda Erickson said Monday after learning of the closing at an announcement during Sunday’s church service. “I feel terrible about this.”

North Heights once had Sunday attendance of 3,400 at two church locations. But attendance has fallen recently to several hundred -- not enough to keep the church afloat.

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Not enough questions asked about bisexual student's ouster from Lutheran worship team

Not enough questions asked about bisexual student's ouster from Lutheran worship team

December is a season where Lutherans shine: Advent hymns on Lutheran Public Radio, Julfests and St. Lucia Day celebrations on Dec. 13.

None of this Ikea “winter holidays” stuff. Lutherans who stick with their traditions know how to keep watch until Christmas.

And so, in keeping with this solemn and thoughtful season, we have a piece from the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press about a bisexual student at Concordia University. When it comes to journalism issues, this story also includes a very crucial hole in the reporting.

A student at Concordia University in St. Paul is demanding protections for gays and lesbians after she said her relationship with another woman cost her a leadership role with a prominent student-led worship group.
Nikki Hagan, 19, of Woodbury said the student president of Concordia's 908 student ministry asked her to resign her informal post as the group's message coordinator soon after she posted on Facebook in November that she is bisexual and dating a woman.
"He asked me if I knew what the stance of the (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) church is against homosexuality," Hagan, a second-year student, said Friday.

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A tale of Twin Cities: Pioneer Press outdoes Strib with stellar story on bishop's meeting with abuse survivors

A tale of Twin Cities: Pioneer Press outdoes Strib with stellar story on bishop's meeting with abuse survivors

After I wrote in this space that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune 's over-reliance on SNAP marred an otherwise good story on Archbishop John Nienstedt's meeting with abuse survivors, I received an e-mail pointing me to the Pioneer Press's take on the same story.

The e-mail was from the meeting's organizer, Bob Schwiderski, and although he himself did not say which story he preferred, for me it is no contest. Pioneer Press columnist Rubén Rosario didn't look to SNAP, or any outside advocacy group, to tell readers how they should feel about the archbishop's meeting. Instead, he did all his reporting from the ground, gathering information only from those directly involved with the event. In this way, Rosario has composed an outstanding piece of journalism, hitting all the right notes while writing on a topic that is notoriously difficult to get right. What is more, he has achieved such balance even while being personally close to the issue, "[as] a victim of childhood sex abuse[, ...] raised Catholic." 

I could and will go on about some of the things about Rosario's article that particularly struck me, but I urge you to read the entire piece.

Like the Strib story, it begins with a dramatic vignette:

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TGIF: For Friday fulfillment, five female-friendly faith features

TGIF: For Friday fulfillment, five female-friendly faith features

Via a food truck, a Lutheran clergy member delivers hot calzones — and nuggets of Scripture. 

Two Roman Catholics in their 80s provide spiritual care for immigrants facing deportation. An Assembly of God pastor battles prostitution and pimps.

Weeks after contracting the often-deadly Ebola virus, an evangelical Christian missionary leaves the hospital in good health. A Hasidic Jewish rock band tries to reach a broader audience.

What do they have in common?

They're all women. 

For your weekend reading pleasure, here are five compelling religion stories (some pulled from my GetReligion guilt folder) that feature women of faith. No, not those Women of Faith, although I hope they check out the links, too.

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