God, gang graffiti and gunfire in L.A.

A heartwrenching story appears on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times (see a television report here) on a worshiper killed outside a church:

The congregation was singing and praying Sunday evening inside Iglesia Principe de Paz, a weathered storefront church on Beverly Boulevard, when a parishioner checking on the food being set up in the parking lot saw something suspicious.

A young woman was spraying graffiti on a church wall. When he asked her to stop, she knocked him to the ground. Just then, Andres Ordonez and another church member rushed outside to help.

As they arrived, a man emerged from a nearby car and opened fire, killing Ordonez and wounding the other parishioner.

Churchgoers poured into the street, kneeling next to the victims and praying in Spanish, witnesses said.

“For God’s sake, if people going to church aren’t protected, then who is?” asked a nearby business owner who bolted out of his store when he heard the gunfire and saw the dead man lying on the asphalt, surrounded by loudly grieving parishioners.

The Times produced the story under difficult circumstances. Fearing for their safety, several witnesses spoke only on the condition of anonymity, the paper said. Meanwhile, church members are dealing with grief and shock, factors that complicate the reporting process.

Particularly given those constraints, I was pleased with the story. The Times provided basic details about the church and the victim while maintaining a respectful tone. Moreover, the paper managed to put a face on the victim, emphasizing his faith:

Ordonez, 25, who attended church regularly, was a cook and the father of a 1-year-old boy. One friend said Ordonez was a deacon and had been going to the church since he was 10.

“If you needed help, he would help you,” said the church’s handyman, Martin Delgado. He described Ordonez as humble, hardworking and accommodating.

“He was like the right hand of the pastor,” Delgado said. “From work to church, there was nothing else. To me, he was an extraordinary young man.”

Socorro Hernandez, 40, came to the church Monday evening, still in a state of disbelief that Ordonez was dead.

Hernandez knew the Ordonez family for years and said they were humble and religious. Ordonez’s father got up at 3 a.m. to collect cans around the neighborhood to support his family, she said.

The younger Ordonez, she added, wouldn’t walk by without offering a blessing.

“He was always talking about God. It was good morning, good evening and may God bless you,” she said, stifling tears.

If I were going to nitpick — and I guess I am — I’d say that I wished the story had elaborated on “religious.” Also, the church is identified as an “evangelical” church, but no other insight is provided. And it’s reported that the church is made up “largely of Guatemalan and Central American immigrants.” I have been to Guatemala, and it’s in Central America, so that description is a bit confusing.

As long as I’m nitpicking, this was the main headline in the print edition:

A church tagged, a parishioner slain

The story also refers to “parishioners.” But is parishioner the right term when referring to an independent church that has no parish, per se? When I see the term “parishioners,” I think of the Roman Catholic Church and other faith groups that have a parish system.

My fellow GetReligionistas were divided, by the way, on whether my parishioner concern rises to the level of over-the-top nitpicking.

Mollie said:

I have no problem with it, although I understand why you’re asking. I think it works in the larger context of joining with a group of people in a particular place.

George countered:

Well, it was a missed opportunity for the headline writer and the story’s author. What do they call members of that particular church? In my little town, one of the evangelical Hispanic congregations calls its members saints … santos.

Nitpicking aside, the Times deserves kudos for an excellent report produced on deadline under less-than-ideal conditions.

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.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    I agree totally with your analysis. One wonders “why” this sort of thing happens, and to that end, a little more on what the tagger was writing and the implications of the graffiti would have been the only thing I could think of where the article seems to fall short. (Perennial cynic that I am regarding the MSM, I am also a little jealous of the sympathetic treatment this particular church received… maybe I’m paranoid, and I certainly do not think that everything everyone does somehow reflects an attitude toward my religion, but I do wonder if the paper would have had the same attitude if it were a Catholic or a conservative, non-ethnically defined [i.e., white] church….)

    As to the use of “parishioner”: Technically you are right in that it means a member of a parish, which does not apply here. Such imprecise usages however are driving a sort of generic connotation of the word, to the point of it meaning any member of any Christian church. All in all, I think “member” would be better.

  • Julia

    I agree. “Member” would have been better. Parishes are geographical entitities; most Protestant churches don’t have geographical set-ups.

  • Bobby Ross Jr.

    The Times has a follow-up but not much new in terms of the religion angle.


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