Are “parishes” the same as “churches”?

ePIt’s time to answer a picky question.

… tmatt, forgive me for asking this here (the devil made me), but when are you ever going to reveal why you changed “church” to “parish?”

Posted by Fr Joseph Huneycutt at 7:19 am on January 4, 2007

This does seem like such a tiny matter. However, I mentioned it in the original post for one reason — it’s the kind of nuanced, inside-baseball decision that journalists have to make all the time. This is especially true on a beat like religion, where words and symbols are so important. Some religious words have meanings on a technical or even doctrinal level, yet they also have taken on informal or popular meanings as well. Take the whole issue of “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism,” for example.

First, here is the crucial passage in my original column, “Covering Church: Rights vs. Rites.” I’ve included a few other paragraphs as background, for reasons that will become obvious.

The church I attended, however, was holding a vigil on the night of a major execution and, as a person who opposes the “culture of death” in all its forms, I decided to attend the service. What I failed to realize was the journalistic importance of our church being visually beautiful and close to the downtown media.

Our small flock gathered late that night to say prayers in the darkened sanctuary, which was lit by a few candles near the altar.

Then we were invaded.

As our priest tried to lead us in a hushed litany, a television crew entered. I confess that I stopped my prayers long enough to study the lighting rig mounted on the cameraman’s shoulders. It turned him into an alien-like creature as he clanked down the center aisle. He proceeded right past the pulpit and, before reaching the altar, turned to shoot from behind the priest. His lights almost blinded the people kneeling in the front rows.

In the original version of this column, the very first phrase in this passage read: “The parish I attended …” I am considering writing another version of this column for Scripps Howard, one more oriented to lay readers rather than journalists, and I will probably use “parish” in that piece.

Why was the word changed?

An editor at raised the issue that, if I used the word “parish,” many readers would think that I was saying that this worship event took place in a Catholic sanctuary. You could argue that I further confused the matter by using the phrase “culture of death,” a reference to a key concept in the writings of the late Pope John Paul II.

However, the service in question took place in an Episcopal church. This is another flock that frequently uses the term “parish,” with that term being especially common in the communion’s Anglo-Catholic wing. Eastern Orthodox Christians also use the term “parish” quite a bit.

I used the term for one reason and one reason alone: I was trying to avoid a denominational label on this prayer service, yet I intentionally used several words — referring to candles, a priest, rites, the altar, a litany, etc. — that I hoped painted a word picture for my readers. I wanted them to see this television camera crew walking into a particular kind of sanctuary, violating a particular kind of liturgical atmosphere.

In other words, I thought that “church” was accurate, but that “parish” was also accurate — only it was a more evocative word for the average reader.

Like I said, it’s a minor point and I did not oppose the change, largely because the editors and other folks who work at are absolutely top knotch and I have the utmost respect for what they do. But this was a small case where the writer — that would be me — thought he was being accurate and an editor was not so sure about that. So the change was made.

But, you have to ask. Do Episcopalians have “parishes”? Do the Orthodox? How about Lutherans? For the average reader, what is the difference between a “church” and a “parish”? A “priest” and a “pastor”? We all use these kinds of words all the time and, I think, every now and then it’s good to stop and ponder their precise meanings.

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On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a climbing wall

Bottle of ChampagneI usually spend New Year’s Eve in New York City out and about until the wee hours. This year I went to church for a special concert by the Concordia Theological Seminary’s fantastic Kantorei.

The service, which marked Christ’s circumcision, also featured a wedding of two of my friends. I was rather impressed how well my pastor preached on the two occasions. The other thing I was impressed by was just how many people were there. Apparently going to church on New Year’s Eve is quite common for Christians who are better than not me!

So I was pleased to see new religion reporter Jacqueline Salmon‘s piece in The Washington Post on evangelical churches and megachurches that host New Year’s Eve services and parties. The cute subhead? “Many Celebrations Across Region Focus on Religion Rather Than Spirits”:

Such large and elaborate New Year’s celebrations are growing increasingly popular among evangelical churches. The events provide the faithful with family-friendly festivities and — just as important, say church leaders — they are an attractive way to help pull unbelievers into the Christian fold.

As the year draws to a close, “people want to make positive changes in their lives,” said Georgette Patterson, director of marketing for New Life Anointed Ministries International, known as The Life. At church New Year’s Eve celebrations, “they hear a message that is uplifting.”

At megachurch McLean Bible, the all-night New Year’s Eve party for teenagers has swelled from a few hundred to 1,500 kids in the past three years. Last night’s celebration, at McLean Bible’s worship complex off Route 7 in Fairfax County, featured Christian rock bands, video games, a climbing wall and movies.

At midnight, several hundred youthful attendees were expected to come forward to be “saved,” said Denny Harris, the church’s director of ministry operations.

I wonder how they are able to predict how many people will convert? Also, I love the scare quotes around saved.

Still, Salmon covered churches from Maryland, Virginia and Washington for the piece, which was nice. A good story all around.

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Rights and wrongs of covering rites

church candlesSorry to keep promoting our own work so much this week, but, hey, we are all on the move from place to place and I think that the topic addressed in my latest column for our friends in the diversity and ethics department at will be of interest to GetReligion readers.

This grew out of discussions, on this blog, of the press memos that shaped coverage of the recent votes at the Northern Virginia parishes that decided to exit the U.S. Episcopal Church in order to affirm their ties to traditional Anglicans in the Third World and elsewhere.

The more I thought about it, the more I became interested in the topic of the rights and wrongs of press coverage of worship rites.

That led to a reflection on that topic for Poynter that began with this personal anecdote from the other side of the reporter’s notebook:

Something happened early in my religion-beat career that changed my view of the freedom most journalists enjoy when covering worship services.

It was the early 1980s and the death penalty was in the news in North Carolina. I was working at The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, but wasn’t covering that story.

The parish I attended, however, was holding a vigil on the night of a major execution and, as a person who opposes the “culture of death” in all its forms, I decided to attend the service. What I failed to realize was the journalistic importance of our church being visually beautiful and close to the downtown media.

Our small flock gathered late that night to say prayers in the darkened sanctuary, which was lit by a few candles near the altar.

Then we were invaded.

As our priest tried to lead us in a hushed litany, a television crew entered. I confess that I stopped my prayers long enough to study the lighting rig mounted on the cameraman’s shoulders. It turned him into an alien-like creature as he clanked down the center aisle. He proceeded right past the pulpit and, before reaching the altar, turned to shoot from behind the priest. His lights almost blinded the people kneeling in the front rows.

I remember thinking: How ironic. Here I am offering prayers against the death penalty and I want to kill that guy.

Would members of our church, if asked in advance, have approved what these journalists did? No way. Would we have been willing to discuss some way they could have covered our service without turning it into an ordeal for worshippers? Of course.

Could journalists have sat, silently, listening to the prayers and perhaps recording them for audio that could have been mixed with images filmed later? Could some video have been taken without lights? The bottom line: Was there a way to cover the news contained in this worship service without leaving the participants convinced that the journalists didn’t care about the negative impact that they had on the service itself?

I would be interested in reactions from working journalists to this little essay. Also, you could — please do — let the folks at Poynter know what you think. Can anyone else share another “alien invasion” story similar to this one?

Oh, and I changed one word in the Poynter essay when I posted this slice of text. Can anyone spot it? Also, why do you think the editor wanted to change it?

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Hey, Washington Post, does experience matter?

WashPostCoverIt’s the question that all religion-beat specialists hear all the time, whether they want to or not.

“Hey, where do you go to church?” This is, of course, simply another way of stating the worldview question: “Hey, reporter, what in the world do you believe?” As I have discussed here in the past, there are many Godbeat professionals who simply refuse to answer, saying it is nobody’s business. This causes tension, more often than not.

A few journallists open up and pretty much spill the works. This often creates a whole different set of tensions. Want to make a conservative Episcopalian grimace? Tell her that you are a liberal Episcopalian. Or turn that around, because it really doesn’t matter. Ditto for Baptists, Jews, United Methodists, Catholics, you name it.

But whatever a religion writer says in this situation is going to tick off somebody. As I wrote early in the life of this blog:

The religion beat takes a journalist into territory that is both highly personal and very, very complicated in terms of history, doctrine, facts, titles, lingo, statistics and who knows what all. I like to tell people that it’s like covering politics and opera at the same time.

When I joined the Rocky Mountain News staff, I discussed this problem with my editor. He approved the following answer, which some journalist friends of mine jokingly called “Mattingly’s Miranda.” It goes like this: “Yes, I am an active churchman. I take my own faith very seriously and, because of that, I want to do the best job that I can to understand your faith and get the facts right.”

In the classroom, I often put it this way: Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you.

When speaking to clergy groups and at seminaries, I often appeal to holy types to stop asking this question.

Why? Because it’s the wrong question. I have known some very religious people who could not report worth a flip and I have known agnostics and one or two atheists who took the religion beat very seriously and did fine, balanced, nuanced work. For them, it was like sociology with colorful voices and rites. Hey, whatever works.

The key, however, is that they have to care about the facts, history and symbolism of the beat. They have to sweat the details. In my opinion, this comes with experience and professional training, whether in the classroom or out of it.

Thus, I urge clergy to ask reporters this question: “How long have you covered the religion beat? Where did you study?” You would think this would be a rather neutral question, but apparently not.

TumsLong, long ago, back in 1994, The Washington Post raised many eyebrows by posting a newsroom notice for a religion reporter. The “ideal candidate,” it said, is “not necessarily religious nor an expert in religion.” Well, I still think this is bizarre. Try to imagine a notice in an elite newsroom seeking an opera critic that says the “ideal candidate does not necessarily like opera or know much about opera.” How about notices for reporters who cover professional sports, science, film and politics?

No one has taken more shots on this issue than the veteran religion-beat writer Julia Duin at The Washington Times, who once caused a mini-storm at — check out the counter arguments — arguing that newspapers seeking improved religion coverage should hire qualified, experienced, award-winning religion reporters to help bridge the information gap that skews so many stories on this beat. I joined in during these arguments, too.

Now Duin has shipped me another note from the front lines of cyberspace, taken from a MediaBistro board on job changes here inside the Beltway. This latest Washington Post news caused her to reach for the Tums, and you can probably see why:

Metro is happy to announce that Jacqui Salmon, who has been covering philanthropy, will change assignments to become a second regional religion reporter together with Michelle Boorstein. We are making this change to restore a second Metro religion reporter, lost when Caryle Murphy took early retirement. The move reflects the importance of religion to our readers and to contemporary social, cultural and political life. Jacqui remains based in Fairfax, but will report now to the District desk’s Joe Davidson, who oversees religion coverage, including the Saturday Religion Page.

In nearly two decades at The Post, Jacqui has established herself as an enterprising reporter who thinks broadly and breaks news. She has reported and edited on the Business staff, and covered suburban family life on Metro before taking over the philanthropy beat.

Now, try to imagine the eye-popping resumes the Post would have received if it had advertised this job via contacts at the Religion Newswriters Association, or some similar network. Hey, maybe the Post did that and nobody good applied (but I would not count on that).

Would any qualified people apply if the Post advertised a Supreme Court slot? You think? There would have been a very high-quality stampede.

Clearly, Salmon is a skilled, veteran reporter who is trusted by editors at the Post. That is not my point.

Nevertheless, I have to confess that I hope that — in the weeks ahead — lots of people ask her: “How long have you covered the religion beat? Where did you study?” I think this is fair, given the complex and controversial nature of this topic and its importance in local, religion, national and global news today.

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Update on our 5Q+1 process

A Question Mark on Stained Glass Posters2Coming soon

One of the goals of GetReligion is to have a two-way conversation with journalists. We do that in the posts and comments pages, of course, but we also want to try something new.

In the near future we will begin an series of occasional posts that we will call “5Q+1.” The goal is talk to journalists whose work involves religious issues and events, whether they are assigned to the Godbeat or not. We hope to ask a few basic questions and store the answers in this pull-down archive on the masthead.

What kind of questions? Here’s what we’re thinking:

(1) Where do you like to get your news about religion?

(2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just don’t get?

(3) What is the story that you’ll be watching carefully in the next year or two?

(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?

(5) What’s the funniest, most ironic twist that you’ve seen in a religion news story lately?

And the +1 or “fill in the blanks” question is: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?

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Working on 5Q+1 (Post No. 2,000)

Face of RPI   question markMay I have your attention please. According to the software we use around here, this is the 2,000th post in the nearly three years since Doug LeBlanc and I opened the cyber-doors here at GetReligion.

Actually, there have been a few posts that one of us started and never finished and it’s hard to know how those numbers figure into the count. And, back in the TypePad days, we had a little feature on the sidebar called “Short Takes” and all of those posts vanished when we went to WordPress. So who knows how many posts we have actually written.

However, this is the 2,000th post stored on the site, so I thought I’d mention this little landmark.

That’s a lot of writing and it’s been fun, interesting (at least for us) and, at times, a little frustrating. The busy journalists involved in this site wish that we could do much more than we do. And we are always trying to make improvements and we hope to make a few more around Feb. 1, our third birthday. We’re working with the folks at Pierpoint Design to try to freshen up our front page.

Also, we are going to create a semi-regular feature for the blog that we will call 5Q+1. The whole idea is that one of us will call up a journalist — either a Godbeat specialist or someone whose mainstream work frequently involves religious issues — and ask them a set of five standard questions.

Some of the people we call — or email — will be folks that we already know read GetReligion. But sometimes we’ll call people that we hope read the blog or might be willing to look it over and then talk to us. We hope that, once we get started with this, readers will suggest people for us to feature.

So what should we ask them? The Rt. Rev. LeBlanc and I had a chance to meet for lunch last week on Capitol Hill and here’s our rough draft of five basic questions.

(1) Where do you like to get your news about religion?

(2) What do you think is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just don’t get?

(3) What is the story that you’ll be watching carefully in the next year or two?

(4) Why is it important to understand the role of religion in our world today?

(5) What’s the funniest, most ironic twist that you’ve seen in a religion news story lately?

And the +1 element of the list is an opportunity for each journalist to say something to us, with a kind of “What’s going on?” wildcard question.

(6) Is there anything else that you’d like to say about religion and the news?

So there we go. Any suggestions for who we ought to talk to first? I already have a candidate, of course, and I’m trying to reach this journalist at the moment.

But what suggestions do you have for the wording on these questions? Does anyone have a totally different question you want to suggest? It goes without saying that the Divine Mrs. MZ and young master Daniel will have plenty of input, and so will the head hauncho at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, the Rev. Dr. Editor Arne Fjeldstad.

So what do you think?

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GetReligion, burkas and the press

burkas and mini skirtEver since Doug LeBlanc and I started this blog, we have had problems explaining to some people what GetReligion is about and what it is not about.

Here’s the bottom line: This is a blog that tries to dissect religion-news coverage in the mainstream press. We strive to praise the good and we try to put a spotlight on stories that we believe are flawed or, perhaps, haunted by religion themes that the journalists didn’t seem to realize was there. We call those missing religious elements “ghosts.”

But we always stress that this is not a weblog for theological debates. We also cannot cover all the world’s religion news. We don’t even have the time to get to half of the stories that we wish we could feature on the blog. And television news? And international coverage? Oh man, I feel those guilt shivers already.

So we are not a religion-news blog. We are a blog about how the mainstream press covers religion.

Here’s why I bring this up. A dedicated GetReligion reader and critic, Joe Perez of the Gay Spirituality & Culture blog, sent us a pointed note the other day that went like this:

Why oh why haven’t you said anything about the Dutch burka ban news item from 11/17 among other stories. Those wacky liberal Europeans can’t so much as frown at a Pentecostal minister’s sermons without getting GetReligion exercised, but ban burkas and they get a free pass? I thought this would be a big story but the US press is ignoring it. Can you help me understand?

By the way, is that “exercised” or “exorcised”? Sorry, I could not help myself.

Actually, I have written quite a bit on this blog about some of the internal tensions in Europe these days, with the drive for multiculturalism clashing, at times, with classical liberalism. I think the legal issues raised in the burka debates are fascinating and a bit frightening for people on both sides. Clearly, this is an issue of freedom of expression and association that affects all kinds of people, even stewardesses on British Airways. What right does the state have to tell a Muslim woman that she cannot choose to wear a burka?

submission 01But there’s the issue. Some women choose to wear traditional Islamic dress — although there would be fierce debates about using “traditional” in that phrase — and others are forced to do so, often through violence. Is it cultural imperialism for a Western government to try to protect these women by banning this public expression of Muslim faith? And while we’re at it, did filmmaker Theo van Gogh need to die because he made a fierce, offensive movie (Submission) about these issues?

All of that interests me and I am glad that many newspapers have written about the issue. I, frankly, think that much of the coverage has been quite good. I have come very close to commenting on this several times — to praise the coverage. I have circulated at least 10 of these stories among our GetReligion inner circle. However, no one has elected to write on one of them — yet.

So I agree with Perez that this is an important story. He sent us a link to an Associated Press report that gave plenty of evidence that the issue is not going away anytime soon:

The issue has resonance throughout Europe[.] Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recently caused a stir by saying he wants Muslim women to abandon the full-face veil — a view endorsed by Prime Minister Tony Blair. In France, the center-right’s leading presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has increasingly been adopting some of the rhetoric of the extreme right.

Germany, which also has a large Muslim immigrant community, has a law banning teachers in public schools from wearing head scarves, but no burqa ban.

In Holland, policies associated with the nationalist fringe in 2002 have been co-opted by the center: holding asylum-seekers in detention centers, more muscle for the police and intelligence services, and visa examinations that require would-be immigrants to watch videos of homosexuals kissing and of topless women on the beach. Everyone must learn to speak Dutch, and Muslim clerics must mind what they say in their Friday sermons for fear of deportation.

I have seen some fine stories on this topic in major news outlets. Has anyone seen a really bad one? Let us know.

Meanwhile, please try to understand when we simply cannot comment on every religion news story or trend that comes along. It usually means (a) we haven’t seen the same story you have, (b) we were not struck by something highly critical or positive to say about it or (c) we were simply swamped that week in our day jobs.

Patience! And repeat after me: “It’s not a religion-news blog, it’s a blog about how the mainstream press covers religion.”

Top photo from Muslim Refusenik

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It’s hard to write about a father confessor

CalciuPCDue to a horrible cold, I have been hiding out at home almost all weekend. Thus, I was not able to go to the funeral rites for Father George Calciu at Holy Cross Romanian Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Va. The Divine Liturgy began several hours ago and the actual funeral is beginning as I type this.

I am sad to report that I have not been able to find my old cassette tape of the sermon he delivered about six years ago at our parish in Linthicum. However, his Romanian accent was so strong that it was almost impossible to understand much of what was on the tape. Isn’t it interesting that, in person, it was much easier to understand what he was saying? He communicated so much through his face and his eyes.

But I want to respond, briefly, to the notes from Deacon John and from Jeff about the journalistic issue raised in my first post on Father George.

Find a “news hook” to write a column. Please. If people like you in your position won’t “stir the pot” for good and holy reasons — then who will?

Posted by Deacon John M. Bresnahan at 6:53 pm on November 22, 2006

You know, I think the Mollie may have provided you the “hook.” The world that Fr. Calciu had to suffer in is what happens when the atheists take over.

Posted by Jeff at 8:23 pm on November 22, 2006

My column for Scripps Howard is a news analysis column. I rarely, if ever, write columns that are strictly personal or express strong statements of my own opinion. Frankly, I have enjoyed GetReligion because it allows me to write in a more personal style (such as this post). To write a column about how Father George’s life symbolized “what happens when the atheists take over,” I would need to have interviewed him about that topic. My guess is that he would simply have replied that sin is sin.

Years ago, when my own father died, I did write a column in his honor. But even in that piece, I built it around a topic — how some ministers, like my father, manage to avoid burnout — that I considered newsworthy. Here is how that tribute column ended:

My father kept on loving God, his work and his people. I have never known a pastor who didn’t wrestle with fits of melancholy. Pastors are, by nature, realists who know the reality of pain and sin. And many heap criticism on them, micromanage their lives and expect miracles.

I rarely saw my father move mountains. But I did see him preach, teach, pray and embrace sinners. I was proud that he was a pastor. I still am.

What I have been searching for is a similar topic in the life of Father George. Truth is, I was inspired by him on a spiritual level and that is why it is so hard to even think about him in terms of the product that we call “news.” So do I write about a man who managed to live and serve with such a wonderful sense of joy, despite his suffering decades ago? How do you bite off a single piece of that story and fit it into 15 inches of newsprint?

You could argue that this man, because of his suffering, was a uniquely gifted father confessor. But how do you write about that topic?

This is a question I have faced before, because I believe there are valid news stories linked to rites of confession. We live in a culture in which people are starving for honesty, integrity and a sense of spiritual contact with others. They hunger for some sense of release from guilt. Yet the Sacrament of Confession has almost disappeared in many parishes — the Roman Catholic statistics are stunning — in the liturgical churches that continue this ancient tradition.

What to do? I am seriously considering writing a column close to the 40th day after his death, when his family and his spiritual children will take part in small rituals of public prayer on his behalf. Meanwhile, here is a press release by Frederica Mathewes-Green about Father George’s life and death. Please pass it on, if you wish, to any reporters and columnists you know. It says, in part:

Father Gheorghe was born on 23 November 1925 in Mahmudia, Tulcea, Romania, to his parents, Stefan and Ileana. After finishing elementary studies in his hometown, he went on to Bucharest to study at the Faculty of Medicine (1946-48). Then, in 1948, his Orthodox Christian morals and deep religious conviction led him to be imprisoned by the communist authorities for “reeducation”, a tactic used by the regime in an attempt to erase Christianity from the youth of the nation. He remained in prison until 1964, when he was released as a result of a general amnesty, and returned to study at the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy where he earned a degree in French and began work on his doctorate. During this time, strengthened by his sufferings in prison, he also studied Theology and was ordained into the Holy Priesthood on 30 January 1973.

Father Gheorghe remained vocal in his criticism of the atheistic government and its allies, preaching the True Faith and Christian morals to all who would listen, especially the many young people who were drawn to his message. He taught French and New Testament studies at the Theological Seminary in Bucharest until he was abruptly dismissed in 1978 for speaking out in defense of religious freedom and human rights. The following year he was again arrested by government authorities as a result of his convictions, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Severely mistreated and isolated from even his family, news of his imprisonment aroused protests from the West which eventually provoked his early release in 1984. Still living under persecution by government and cooperative Church authorities, he managed to emigrate to the United States in 1985 and was accepted into The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America the following year. Since 1989, he has served as parish priest of Holy Cross Church in Alexandria, Virginia, serving the community there with love and dedication until his final breath.

Father George is survived by his wife of over 40 years, Preoteasa Adriana, their son, Andreiy, and countless spiritual children. He will be buried in Romania.

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