Praying to plug the oil spill

As Gulf Coast residents deal with the worst oil spill in U.S. history, The Washington Post reports that — surprise, surprise — some people are finding comfort in prayer.

Now, that’s a wonderful angle for a story. When I saw the headline, I hoped the piece might provide some insight into how people of faith are handling this national tragedy. Instead, the 600-word account impressed me as shallow and full of details that served more as window dressing than actual conduits to explaining how the faithful view God’s role in BP’s spewing gusher.

Let’s start at the top:

CUT OFF, LA. — For a few hours Sunday night, Audie Crochet’s living room became a church. The plush green carpet supported a white pulpit. A suede sofa set and fold-out chairs served as pews. And a 52-inch television thumped out religious-themed music with the power of a full choir.

“Let’s pray to God to stick his finger in that plug,” Crochet, 53, said, his body swaying back and forth.

“Yes,” Jason Ross, 37, echoed. “Plug it.”

A day after it was announced that BP’s “top kill” effort had failed, making this gulf-dependent region feel even more helpless, many residents did the only thing they knew to do: pray.

Why the Post chose to focus its prayer story on a house church with nine people, I don’t know. The report never explains why the group meets in a home and never gives any details on their denominational background. Even worse, the piece never includes any actual prayer. What exactly are these nine people saying to God? Are they begging for an end to the oil spill? Are they asking for a speedy cleanup effort? Are they demanding the heads of BP officials? We never find out.

We do get quotes like this:

“I tell you, whoever comes up with the fix to plug this thing, they’re going to be patted on the back for years,” Crochet said. “BP won’t have enough money to give them.”

“Let me tell you,” he said. “Everyone in this room has potential. We do.”

Everyone in this room has potential. What, in the context of this story, does that quote add? What is the purpose? Seriously, somebody tell me, am I missing something? I don’t get it.

The story also provides brief references to a Catholic church and a Baptist church:

They prayed at the Catholic church on Grand Isle. “Know you are not alone facing the horrible oil spill disaster,” reads a line from the church bulletin. The Rev. Mike Tran’s sermon Sunday addressed the oil spill, and the Mass intentions for Monday and Tuesday were to be dedicated to it as well. The floor of the entrance to the church bears four images: a boat, an oil rig, a fish and a bird.

They prayed at the Baptist church up the road. “It’s a slow disaster,” said Nathan Stanford, the youth minister. “We’ve been praying, but we don’t know what to pray for specifically.” They don’t know what the final toll will be or whom it will most affect, he said. They, like other congregations, are preparing to give out financial help to residents as needs arise.

That’s it — the entirety of the reporting on those congregations. I would assume that both of those churches have Sunday morning services and that the reporter could have made it to one or both of them and still covered the Sunday night assembly at the house church. Perhaps then the piece could have included some of what Tran actually said in his sermon. Perhaps then the piece could have included some of what the Baptist church — does it have a name? — actually said in its prayers.

For more competent treatments of the faith angle, consider this Christian Science Monitor story and this Miami Herald feature on Tran’s church. The top of the Herald report:

GRAND ISLE, La. — The Rev. Mike Tran has seen the tears and heard the frustration of a congregation so tied to the water that the stained glass windows of his church are marked with starfish, seashells and sand dollars.

On Sunday, with the latest effort to cap the gushing geyser deemed yet another failure — and the next best solution an even bigger uncertainty — Tran tried to offer solace to a congregation in pain. A congregation, he noted, that would love to “give a piece of our mind to BP.”

“His faith falls upon us as we walk in this journey,” said Tran, pastor at Our Lady of the Isle on Grand Isle, one of the barrier islands that has taken the brunt of the nation’s largest environmental disaster. Fishermen can’t fish, the beaches are closed and vacation rentals are occupied by National Guard troops helping clean the beaches.

“I challenge you to live the same message,” Tran said to a full house of congregants, many of whom make a living from the water. “To live with patience, to live reaching out to one another during this time. … We need to be even more faithful to the word of God. We need to support each other.”

The Herald piece lacks cutesy details such as a suede sofa set as pews and a big-screen TV thumping out religious-themed music. Instead, it simply — and powerfully — explores the gravity of the Gulf tragedy through the lens of religion in real people’s lives. Imagine that.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Rick Garner

    Are you weary of the daily news onslaught relating to the Gulf’s oil spill? A better question…is oil choking your faith? Share your thoughts here:

  • John Pack Lambert

    If they are going to go to the house Church they might as wel answer the most basic question. Is this a house church by choice or by necesity? Are they a house church because they feel it is better to meet in small groups, because they feel it is better to use funds to help the poor and not “waste them on expensive buildings” or are they a house church because they do not have the resources to build their own building.

    With nine people in the congregation, point one or three is probably more likely than two. Of course, we still have no clue why they are a congregation of nine. Are they totally independent or do they affiliate with a larger group.

    I find the focus on furniture and the ignoring of doctrine, structure and affiliation a sad method of reporting. We are given the banal, not the profound.

  • Ray Page

    Stack magnets into the 20 inch pipe until it is small enough to plug–Each magnet will decrease the flow according to the size of the magnet –SOOOO simple



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