Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s role in accepting a former Catholic monk who had sexually abused children into the Episcopal Church was far and away the most closely followed news story on Episcopal Cafe in 2011.
The first, second and fourth most viewed news stories on The Lead, the Café’s news blog, dealt with aspects of the case of Bede Parry, whom Jefferts Schori had accepted into the Episcopal priesthood while she was Bishop of Nevada. The level of interest in the story, and its longevity, stemmed from the presiding bishop’s unwillingness to release a statement on how much she knew about Parry’s past for five months after the story first broke in June.
The Cafe published 12 items on the controversy, and more than half would be in our Top 25 list if we were to produce one. (But we are only going up to 10, because being a church geek does not lengthen one’s life.)
The third most widely read story on The Lead detailed disciplinary charges filed against Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina. Those charges were later dismissed, but not before a few stories about the odd goings on in that diocese, as it attempts to distance itself from the Episcopal Church while remaining a member diocese, also figured in the Top 25.
Property disputes between the Episcopal Church and anti-gay breakaway movements continued to spin off closely monitored stories. The summary judgement won by the Episcopal Church against former Bishop Jack Iker in the Diocese of Fort Worth was the fifth most popular story on the The Lead last year.
Surprisingly, to me anyway, the story announcing that Holy Women and Holy Men was available online our sixth most widely read story on The Lead in 2011.
Bishop George Packard’s arrest during the showdown between Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Wall Street had the seventh highest readership, and several other “Occupy v. Trinity” stories figured in the Top 25.
The lengths to which Rowan Williams and John Sentamu went to keep a gay Cathedral dean, Jeffrey John from becoming the Bishop of Southwark were detailed in a memo by the late Dean Colin Slee, which led to the eighth most widely read item on The Lead this year.
Ninth was a story asking how progressive Christians should regard Jim Wallis, given his movement’s unwillingness to take a clear stand in favor of LGBT rights.
The tenth most popular story on The Lead was a brief item I popped up late one Monday evening a couple of months ago, noting that there aren’t nearly as many Episcopalians as there used to be and wondering if we ought to try to do something about that. It was also among the items that drew that most comment.
Several other issues received wide readership, but did not produce an individual story that cracked the top ten. Those included Executive Council’s recommendation that the Episcopal Church not sign the Anglican Covenant, Bishop Mariann Budde’s election and subsequent installation in the Diocese of Washington, and Bishop Stacy Sauls’ presentation regard the restructuring of church governance.
Among the significant developments that did not generate items of wide readership were the brave stand that some of our bishops have taken against pointlessly punitive immigration legislation, and the churchwide consultation about rites from same-gender blessings held by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in Atlanta. I suspect, that the recommendations of that commission will generate greater readership as General Convention draws near.
The launch, just a few days ago, of a vastly improved website at episcopalchurch.org, was a development whose significance will come into focus in the months ahead.
Reflecting on these ranks, I am aware that there is a certain type of “inside baseball” story that always seems to draw readership, in part because you, our beloved readers, tend to be deeply involved in the church, in part because we at the Cafe are sometimes well-positioned to report this type of story without having to give up our day jobs, and in part because there is the requisite dollop of controversy to make things interesting.
My sense, increasingly, is that these type of stories need to take a backseat to stories that point a way forward. The popularity (#10) of that small item about the decline in membership in our church, and the interest sparked by Bishop Budde’s willingness to look mainline decline in the eye and talk about how the church should respond, give me some hope that the attention of our church is shifting, and that perhaps, however gradually given that we are an all volunteer operation that depends heavily on aggregated items, the attention of the Cafe can shift a bit as well. The greatest danger facing our church has less to do with its stand on LGBT issues than with its quickly diminishing capacity to witness effectively on behalf of the Gospel.
I am hoping we can pay some attention to the simple issue of survival in the year ahead.
So what are your thoughts on the stories in our Top 10 list? And what significant developments didn’t produce big stories?