You might say I got into religion reporting while a high school student in the Seattle area. I saw the huge readership -- and tons of letters -- that Earl Hansen received for his religion columns in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I thought, I can do that. And so my first religion piece ever was for the Covenant Companion, a denominational magazine, about my bike trip around Puget Sound with the youth group from a local Evangelical Covenant church.
While majoring in English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, I came to know the religious community in western Oregon pretty well. I also could not believe what a poor job the local papers did of covering the religion beat. I soon got a job as a reporter at a small daily just south of Portland where the editor told me I had to choose one page to edit: agriculture or religion. I chose religion and have not stopped covering it ever since. I also began corresponding for Christianity Today at that point in an era when women rarely wrote for that publication.
I then moved to south Florida for a few years, covering religion among other beats and my work at CT and a first place in an RNA competition for religion reporting for small newspapers caught the eye of The Houston Chronicle. They hired me as one of two full-time religion writers in 1986. Those were the salad days of covering the beat: the Jim-and-Tammy-Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart "Pearlygate" scandals, Pat Robertson running for president, a local United Methodist bishop dying of AIDS, Pope John Paul II’s swing through the southern USA and Oral Roberts’ claim that God would “take me home” if he was not able to raise $4.5 million. It was rich.
I then attended an Episcopal seminary in western Pennsylvania to get an MA in religion, spent a year as a city editor of a small newspaper in New Mexico, then moved to Washington, D.C. where for 14 years I was first culture page editor, then religion editor of The Washington Times. They sent me to Italy to cover the election of Pope Benedict XVI, to India to research female feticide and to Jerusalem to hang out during the millennial changeover in 1999-2000. I also wrote five books during these years on topics like why evangelicals are leaving church (Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to do About it) and a tale of the rise and fall of the charismatic movement, captured in the story of a mesmerizing priest who headed the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston (Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community).
If I have a specialty, it’s a group that I’ve followed for 40 years and written two books on: pentecostals and charismatics. Check this 2006 Pew Forum study to see if that's an important subject.
I won a bunch of awards with the Times, but alas, was laid off in 2010, after which I turned to freelancing and teaching. This included covering the latest Narnia movie for The Economist, writing up topics like Christian anarchists and Orthodox bishops for The Washington Post Sunday magazine, doing quirky pieces for More magazine about women trying to become Catholic priests and Lutheran pastor/tattoo queen Nadia Bolz-Weber and covering 20-something Appalachian Pentecostal serpent-handlers for The Wall Street Journal. My sixth book, In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media, came out in late 2017.
I also taught religion reporting at the University of Maryland for a semester, which led to a year of teaching journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., followed by 18 months as a grad student at the University of Memphis, which awarded me an MA in journalism in December 2014. Meanwhile, the University of Alaska/Fairbanks was casting about for someone to be their ninth visiting Snedden Chair of Journalism for the 2014-2015 academic year. I got the position and lived in Fairbanks for 11 months. We reluctantly left there in July 2015, as Alaska was beautiful. But I completed two large articles: One on the billionaire's wife who bought Alaska's largest newspaper and the other on Alaska's Dalton Highway, both of which ran in the Washington Post. I now live in the Seattle area. My latest for the Post, published in November 2017, was a profile on "Trump whisperer" and televangelist Paula White.
In April 2018, I was in Reykjavik for a week attending the Iceland Writers Retreat, where I was (out of 700+ entrants) one of four winners of the Alumni Award. While there, I missed the awards dinner in Atlanta for my third Wilbur Award, one of 22 given out to journalists for excellence in reporting during 2017. My award was for my Paula White piece (see above) in the Washington Post Sunday magazine. (I also won the magazine reporting award in 2015 and a reporting award in 2002).
Interests: Anything to do with Kurds, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, ballet, sushi, gymnastics, Iceland, movies by Hayao Miyazaki and similar Japanese anime creators, covenant Christian communities, the Arctic, New Mexico, cats, Mongolia (where I spent 3 weeks in July 2019), the Pacific Northwest, classical music, playing the harp, works by Philip Glass and all things Central Asian, including Kazakhstan, where my daughter Olivia Veronika was born 14 years ago.