Anglican keys in Northern Virginia

17375414 tpTomorrow is a giant news day in the Anglican wars, which is a global story that also has an American angle, a New York City angle, a Virginia angle and a Washington suburbs angle.

That’s some story.

I am referring, of course, to the fact that a circle of conservative, and in some cases historic, Anglican parishes have been voting all week on motions to withdraw from the Diocese of Virginia and, thus, the Episcopal Church, which is currently the Canterbury-recognized branch of Anglicanism here in the United States of America.

It is a giant, complex story and a very hard one for reporters to cover. There are all kinds of people — left, right and center — who would prefer that the entire drama play out behind closed doors.

But that isn’t going to happen. Too much is at stake. However, the odds are good that there will be a media circus tomorrow as the decisions are expected to be announced. As I noted in a previous post, the most powerful of these parishes — Truro Episcopal Church and the Falls Church — have tried to control the media madness by setting some strict coverage guidelines.

It seemed to me that one of the main consequences of the media-riot memo was going to be keeping veteran reporters and columnists — the people who know the most about the issues at stake — from being able to cover the story, even if all they wanted to do was sit silently in pews and listen to what is said and, later, talk to people who were willing to talk with them. This drew a strong comment from one of these reporters, Julia Duin of The Washington Times:

Terry is absolutely right. The memo was aimed towards religion writers who folks could recognize at the door. Yours truly did make an appearance in disguise at, well, you guess the church. She did not want some bouncer to walk up to her during a service and ask her if she was “researching” or “worshipping.” One reporter (Mike McManus) who did not get the above memo and did attend the service at TFC was told to desist by one of the clergy present when he began interviewing two women. And they were willing to talk with him.

… God only knows what this coming Sunday is going to be like.

… So, TFC and Truro readers: Have patience. What you are doing is historic; it’s the largest chunk of churches leaving in the country — out of the largest diocese — so do be charitable towards those of us who are doing our best to accurately write the first draft of history about these events.

Posted by Julia Duin at 2:36 pm on December 13, 2006

People are tense for a number of reasons. Millions of dollars are at stake and, if you take issues of Communion seriously, central issues of doctrine and sacraments are a stake.

In the end, it comes down to one legal question: Who controls the keys to these churches?

And even if the liberal Episcopal establishment wins, who will worship at the altars inside these powerful churches after the faithful (and their resources, spiritual and material) have been locked out? Will the national church simply sell these buildings rather than let conservative Anglicans — Americans whose faith mirrors that of the majority of Anglicans worldwide — worship in them? And what happens to the people who leave? Do they form competing conservative groups? Can they maintain order and unity as a minority in a liberal land, with long-range ties to bishops in other parts of the world? Do they slide into congregationalism?

1 02There are lots of questions and the media have to cover the debates.

Which brings us back to the media-control memo.

One of the most important elements of journalism is the ability to hear words, record them and then quote them accurately. This requires access, or reporters are driven into second-hand reporting.

I think the sermons delivered in these churches tomorrow are important. I believe that the prayers said and the scriptures read are important. They have content relevant to this global story.

How do reporters hear, record and report these words if they are not allowed polite access? I would, by the way, feel exactly the same way if we were talking about a liberal Episcopal parish in traditionalist Fort Worth that was discussing fleeing that diocese in order to align with the establishment left in New York City.

How to you “get” the religion in these stories if you are prevented from reporting the religious content of these public services? Talking to people in the parking lot will not get you this theological content, other than second-hand reports. This story is too important for that.

So, no riots. No cameras, if that is what the churches want. No rude reporters disturbing the worshippers. No badgering the faithful who do not want to talk.

But if reporters — including the ones who know the story the best — want to sit in silence and listen, I say let them listen. Then they can leave the sanctuaries and talk to people who agree to talk with them, outside if that is what people prefer. In the parking lot, even, if that is what the church leaders want. But the reporters have to be there. They have work to do.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I agree–there should be more room for competent, polite coverage in these churches. However, I have been involved in city elections, served in public elective office, and have served as a deacon in a Catholic parish where a gross abuse scandal erupted involving a youth minister–and I can really empathize with the fears of the people in these Episcopal parishes that reporters and photographers could turn into a crude, rude mob if not strictly regulated and controlled.

  • Karen B.

    Terry, reporters are allowed access tomorrow. Here are the latest guidelines.

    What do you object to THIS week? It looks like the congregations have heard some of your / Julia et al’s concerns from last week and tried to be more responsive.

  • Karen B.

    Recognizing that many readers may not click on my link, here are excerpts from the text of the media guidelines for The Falls Church and Truro tomorrow:

    The clergy and wardens of each church want to avoid any disruption or distraction in their services. They will require participating journalists to abide a few basic ground rules, which are spelled out below for each church.

    The Falls Church’s 9 a.m. Service

    1. Journalists need to be standing or seated in the southwest corner of the main sanctuary by 8:45 a.m. That’s 15 minutes before the start of the 9 a.m. service.

    2. It is our hope all journalists will remain for the entire service, worship with us and exit no earlier than the final hymn, around 10:30 a.m.

    3. A “mult box” will be available. Only available light will be permitted; no lights or flashes.

    4. The announcement is expected to be made around 10:15 a.m., although that could change.

    Journalists should register their interest in witnessing this service by e-mailing the names of the person(s) representing their media outlet before 5 p.m. Saturday to:

    Truro Church’s 11:15 a.m. Service

    1. Journalists, camera crews and still photographers need to be in the balcony of Truro’s sanctuary by 11 a.m., 15 minutes before the start of the service.

    2. If you want a microwave van at Truro, be there by 7 a.m. because the parking lot starts filling up soon after that.

    3. Photography will not be allowed during the worship service itself. However, immediately after the service, the cameras in place are invited to record the introduction and acknowledgment of the vestry, the announcement of the vote, and the recessional hymn.

    4. A “mult box” will be available.

    5. Only available light may be used for photography; no lights nor flashes.

    6. Church leaders and parishioners will be made available to reporters and television crews for interviews after the 11:15 a.m. service concludes around 12:45 p.m.

    7. Box lunches, or their equivalent, will be available from 12:45 – 1:30 p.m.

    Journalists should register their interest in witnessing this service by emailing the names of the person(s) representing their media outlet before 5 p.m. Saturday to:

    2 p.m. Media Briefing at Truro Church’s “Common Ground”

    As of Friday afternoon, those scheduled to speak briefly are:

    1. The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, currently Priest-in-Charge of Truro and missionary Bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA);
    2. The Rev. John Yates, Rector of The Falls Church;
    3. Jim Oakes, Senior Warden, Truro Church;
    4. Additional clergy whose churches voted this past week;
    5. CANA Trustee and Secretary, Gboyega Delano.

    Other leaders from these churches, including wardens and vestry members will be available for interviews after the formal remarks.

    A “mult box” will be available. Lights will be allowed in the briefing.

    Those attending Truro’s 11:15 a.m. service or media briefing should send an email to:

    Summary of Churches Voting By This Weekend

    If you want to be included in a future release intended to summarize the results of churches voting by this weekend, please send an email to:

  • Paul Barnes

    I think one follow-up that reporters might make is (if the liberals win, but maybe anyways) of converts to Orthodoxy and Catholicism from the Episcopal Church. I mean, in American Catholicism in particular, converts seem to be giving a lot of spirit and intellectual heft to the Church. It would be nice to see that story covered.

    I mean, the news hook could be about the possible trend of well educated Americans choosing to become Catholic, with consent to the more controversial teachings of the Church. I am thinking of people like Al Kemel, Dave Armstrong, and Mark Shea here, but I am sure there are many more (maybe myself should be included, although I think thats just pride in wanting to be included with those fine folks).

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  • ccinnova

    While I realize that some in the media may chafe at the guidelines, they are necessary in light of the press coverage to date. The Washington Post, known for having described conservative evangelicals as poor, uneducated and easily commanded, distorted Archbishop Akinola’s views on homosexuality in a recent front-page article on the vote. The Falls Church News-Press, a small local weekly owned by a radical activist with a grudge against evangelicals, has published several biased stories containing factual errors. Even Julia Duin inaccurately reported this past summer that TFC and Truro had informed Bishop Lee that they were leaving the Episcopal Church.

    The media have only themselves to blame for these restrictions.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Ah, here I thought only competing groupd of Lutherans locked each other out of buildings. Yes, the disposition of property can be a thorny issue. In many constitutions I have read the group, whether majority or minority, who holds to the “defined” orthodoxy as usually stated in the constitution retians the building and grounds. Not that fights didn’t erupt. And in some cases the “orthodox” group left the building and grounds to the “heterodox,” sometimes even when the heterodox group was the minority. So the keys may become “key” in all this.

    As for reporters reporting on the events, there is the respect one must maintain that the service is a time of worship, peace, and meditation. I have been to weddings where people violated the “no flash bulb” rule and it was a distraction.

  • Steve

    I have found the how issue of churches leaving the ECUSA interesting. The real question to me is “Are the individual local churches leaving the ECUSA or did the ECUSA leave the Church and the individual churches returning to the Church?

    I believe that in many respects, the ECUSA has left the Christian Church to become a social organization. A church or church body without Christ is not part of the Christian Church.

  • Karen B.

    Terry — no comments on the new guidelines? I’m surprised.

  • Michael

    While I realize that some in the media may chafe at the guidelines, they are necessary in light of the press coverage to date

    No, you don’t get to exclude the media because you don’t like the coverage they have given you. The biggest mistake those seeking media coverage make is assuming that an error is failing to mimic your spin. It’s not the job of the media to tell the story that the parties want them to tell. If you believe the media is making errors, you need to be clearer and not silent. Shutting out the press because you don’t like what they say is never the answer; it only raises more questions.

  • Andrew

    Perhaps shutting the media out is speaking quite loudly. In an ideological battle, perspective (or “spin” as you might term it) is often the battle line. Thus, a newspaper taking a different “spin” can easily be seen as less than objective observervation. For instance, terming the foundations of the debate in terms of prejudice or social construct rather than Scripture or theological construct is setting the spin… and if this is an historical event, it is potentially casting history. Thanks but no thanks, I understand keeping it in house.

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  • Karen B.

    The media were NOT shut out today. I continue to be really disappointed that Terry didn’t read the new guidelines and clarify this blog entry once he was made aware of the updated guidelines. His entry is WRONG. There was full access today at both churches. You’re all beating a dead horse if you continue to focus on some idea that the media were excluded. They were not.

    By the way, the first video coverage I’ve seen comes from the Anglican TV blog which has a video of the Truro vote announcement here:

    There is of course lots of coverage of the vote details on the blogs:
    BabyBlue (a Truro vestry member)
    Stand Firm

  • tmatt


    Thanks for the info, again. You’ll note the reference in the new post.

    I was at church Saturday night and Sunday morning. I stand by almost all of the material in the post that upset you so much. However, I do, obviously, wish I had known about the revised coverage guidelines before I wrote the Saturday post.

  • Karen B.

    Thanks Terry. My comments above were written before your new post appeared. I do realize Sat. night / Sun a.m. isn’t an easy time to rewrite a blog post. But it did unfortunately lead to many to continue to have the wrong impression that access was denied today. The vitriol on many of the blogs and in editorials (case in point: Falls Church News Press’ smear campaign against the Falls Church) is bad enough without having such misinformation fueling it.

    Sorry if I hounded you. It’s all just so tragic that what so many of us hoped and expected to be an “amicable” separation (based on a year of intensive work of a special committee to formulate a protocol) has turned so poisonous. It’s that disappointment and deep frustration you hear coming through in my comments.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Another point I think should be discussed and covered is: Who are the real dissidents? Christianity is a world-wide religion. The MSM has proven itself insular, narrow-minded, and chauvinistic when it comes to the arena of ideas. Isn’t the narrowly liberal Episcopalian leadership trashing Christian doctrines and traditions taught and accepted world-wide, the real diddident faction (unless you believe in the American imperium) the dissident faction in that world-wide denom,ination?

  • Michael

    Isn’t the narrowly liberal Episcopalian leadership trashing Christian doctrines and traditions taught and accepted world-wide, the real diddident faction (unless you believe in the American imperium) the dissident faction in that world-wide denom,ination?

    Is it? According to the secessionists, the answer is yes. According to the ECUSA (and many other First World Anglicans) the answer is no. That’s why this issue is a journalistic minefield, with both sides offering a very specific agenda.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    WOW–did I butcher my keyboard. How did I turn “dissident” into “diddident” and come up with “denom,ination?”
    On the real issue at hand–I agree with Michael the story of ECUSA’s problems can be a minefield.
    However, if news stories stick to reporting solely and strictly on what is happening (as in the old journalistic objective axiom: Who?, What?, When?, Where?)–without subtle editorializing along the way –the mines can be avoided.
    As for background stories–Michael gives a good model for fairness–and it can be as concise as Michael made it–just fairly state how each side views the issue (and go into detail about each side’s reasoning as they see it and present as much as there is space for but without drawing conclusions as to who is right)–that should be for the reader to decide.
    Unfortunately too many background stories in the MSM wind up being more like columns that belong on the editorial page–but this does not have to be so if the “powers that be” in the news media would insist on competence and fairness in reporting.

  • tmatt

    Michael is right that the disagreements are wide on doctrine.

    He is wrong that there is any question in terms of numbers, if the issue is framed globally. Again, this is the two-part story:

    * The US Church is a dissenting group in global Anglicanism and everyone is waiting to see what England will do.

    * The traditionalists are the dissenting group WITHIN the US church and have yet to choose a uniting strategy for their future.

  • Michael

    I didn’t say anything about numbers.

    The US Church is not far outside of the mainstream for First World Anglicans. The position taken by the ECUSA has support throughout the First World Anglicans (Europe, Canada, Australa/New Zealand, even South Africa).

    You are correct that in pure numbers, the ECUSA is in the minority. In terms of where the power lies in the Anglican Community, the question is less clear. There’s a reason the folks at Truro and Falls Church aligned themselves with Abuja and not Brussels or Canterbury or Toronto.

    As Lambeth points out, the question Canterbury faces is how much Third World Anglicans (and the ECUSA dissenters) will dominate the diretion of the Anglican community. There are many within the Anglican Community who are concerned about a power shift that moves the direction of the Anglican community from England to Africa.

  • Julia Duin

    Hi folks:
    Media treatment was worlds better this Sunday than last. Truro even provided a (much appreciated) media lunch! We were given access to people to interview at will at TFC and Truro. It was almost comical to walk outside Truro after the service and see all the parishioners talking with the TV crews and print reporters. Obviously someone put out the word to be friendly and available. The room where the press conference was held – very decent. I only wish many of the clergy there had not fled afterwards; I wanted to interview more of them. Both churches really “put on the dog” as they say; altho it’s a shame I couldn’t find in Truro’s bulletin the names of those female soloists in the choir. They were good.
    Both churches has “media areas” which yours truly avoided because she wanted to see more congregational react. Only glitch at the Falls Church was that, when those cute little liturgical dancers got up to dance, the congregation stood UP, blocking the view of the TV cameras.
    Note to those comparing WTimes and WPost headlines today; we (at the Times) got it right; there were 8 churches, not 7.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Seeing the list of “First World” nations that to agree with ECUSA in its doctrinal radicalism makes me wonder why the media doesn’t honestly say: “The Episcopal church establishments in rich, white nations.”