5Q+1: From God and guns to Death Row salvation, JoAnne Viviano excels reporting on faith and values

5Q+1 interview: From God and guns to Death Row salvation, JoAnne Viviano excels reporting on faith and values

GETRELIGION.ORG — JoAnne Viviano covers faith and values for the Columbus Dispatch, a central Ohio newspaper with a daily circulation of 120,000 and an average Sunday circulation of about 230,000.

Her Godbeat writing earned her the 2014 Cornell Religion Reporter of the Year Award from theReligion Newswriters Association. That award honors excellence in religion reporting at mid-sized newspapers.

“I grew up in suburban Detroit, where my mom fostered in me an early love for books by taking me to the library regularly and teaching me to read as a kindergartener,” Viviano said.

She received a bachelor of arts degree in English and communication from the University of Michigan (“not very popular here in Columbus!”) before starting working as a reporter. She recalls “an amazing mentor there named Jon Hall, who helped me find the confidence I needed to turn my writing abilities into a career as a reporter.”

Her first writing job came with her Michigan hometown weekly, The Romeo Observer, followed by stints with The Macomb Daily in Mount Clemens, Mich., the New Haven Register in Connecticut and The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio. Along the way, she covered beats ranging from general assignments to municipal governments to state courts to education to crime.

Shortly before a strike hit The Vindicator, she left and earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. That led her to The Associated Press, where she worked for several years, starting in the Detroit bureau before moving to Columbus, eventually serving as a breaking-news staffer.

“I came to The Columbus Dispatch in 2013 because I missed beat reporting and being part of a metro newsroom,” Viviano said. “It was a scary choice, with the way the industry has been, but I’m glad I made it. The Dispatch has remained strong and is a supportive, positive place to work.”

This analysis of media coverage appears online at GetReligion.org.

When Christians remember the Titans, neglect the saints


When Christians remember the Titans, neglect the saints: Faith, football and a focus on gridiron gods.

In my Associated Press days, I wrote about a church that developed a “Holy Huddle” program to combat people leaving services early to watch the Dallas Cowboys.

More recently, a preacher I know in a different NFL city complained about members slipping out in the middle of a sermon to pay homage to the football gods.

On any given weekend, anywhere between 63 million and 118 million Americans go to church, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. At the same time, that many or more tune into professional football, which for 30 years has reigned supreme among American sports, as noted by Sports Illustrated.

I decided to ask ministers about their experiences with Christians who find it easier to remember the Titans than to gather with the saints (no, not those Saints).

“Someone must have emailed you to let you know that me and three buddies ‘slipped out’ during the invitation song this past Sunday night to head to the Packers game in the Superdome!” said Eric Dishongh, minister for the Hickory Knoll Church of Christ in Harahan, La., and a New Orleans Saints season ticket holder.

This column appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Tragic Sunday: Kentucky church elder, wife, daughter shot to death

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Tragic Sunday: Kentucky church elder, wife, daughter shot to death: State troopers are investigating the relationship between the family and a fourth victim suspected of killing the others.

Lindsey Champion and his wife, Joy, attended Sunday morning worship, as always, with the Cadiz Church of Christ in western Kentucky, where he served as an elder.

Preacher Randall Evans visited with them and shook their hands after the 10 a.m. worship assembly Oct. 26.

“It was actually a great day,” Evans told The Christian Chronicle. “The sun was shining. The sky was blue. We had a great Bible class.”

But before noon, the couple and their adult daughter, Emily Champion, were found shot to death at the family’s rural home, Kentucky State Police Trooper Jay Thomas said.

A fourth victim, Vito Riservato, 22, of Hopkinsville, Ky., is suspected of killing the others. All four bodies were discovered in and around the Champions’ home.

A motive remains under investigation.

This story appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

In a Latino trailer park, Terry Davis pays his blessings forward


Part of The Christian Chronicle’s “One Nación Under God” special project.

A ‘bus ministry kid’ gives back (reporting from Norcross, Ga.): In a Latino trailer parkTerry Davis pays his blessings forward. 

NORCROSS, Ga. — Terry Davis found Jesus on a “JOY bus.”

Growing up in a housing project on Atlanta’s south side, Davis slept on the ground to avoid flying bullets.

“I still shake when it comes to bullets and sounds of the guns,” said Davis, now 43.

But the East Point Church of Christ’s bus ministry showed him hope and a better way of life, he said, recalling that “JOY” stood for putting Jesus first, others second and yourself last.

Now director of a faith-based nonprofit called Corners Outreach, Davis treasures memories of the faithful Christians who invested time and energy in him.

These days, he pays his blessings forward in this northern suburb of Atlanta — with a predominantly Hispanic trailer park serving as his mission field.

“What makes Corners Outreach incredible is the comprehensive way Terry Davis and his co-workers have immersed themselves in the community,” said Don McLaughlin, pulpit minister for the North Atlanta Church of Christ.

Related story: In Atlanta, technology brings together Spanish, English speakers

This story appears in the December 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Five tips that can help churches secure more favorable lending terms

Get a Loan in the ‘New Economy': Five tips that can help churches secure more favorable lending terms.

An emphasis on changing its culture to reach a younger generation has helped the Copper Pointe Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, quadruple in size in recent years.

The evangelical church — with ties to the Assemblies of God — has grown to more than 2,500 people at its weekend services.

Copper Pointe’s seeker-friendly approach has helped fill the pews but created a financial challenge, according to David Gaona, a longtime lay member who serves as the church’s treasurer. “You’re reaching out to a segment of the population that has no concept of tithing, for one,” says Gaona, a certified financial planner. “And secondly, they don’t have a lot of money.”

Despite lean coffers, particularly before the economy improved, the church was able to buy an existing warehouse and expand its facilities to accommodate the burgeoning flock. And this year, Copper Pointe renegotiated its mortgage to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest.

The church’s annual interest rate of 5.5 percent was lowered to an average of 3.45 percent for two bank loans negotiated by Nathan Artt, principal of Ministry Solutions, a consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Banks have really opened up,” says Artt, assessing the state of the church lending market in the wake of the 2009 recession. “The challenge the church has is getting the banks to understand their financial statements. But if you can do that, you’ll have a myriad of options available to you.”

Other experts interviewed by Church Finance Today echoed Artt’s positive assessment, with a few caveats.

This article appears on the October 2014 cover of Church Finance Today, a publication of Christianity Today.

5Q+1: From holy pig wrestling to Mass at a Packers game, Holly Meyer has Godbeat covered

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5Q+1 interview: From holy pig wrestling to Mass at a Packers game, Holly Meyer has Godbeat covered

GETRELIGION.ORG — Holly Meyer cheers for the Green Bay Packers, eats a lot of cheese and tells stories about northeast Wisconsin.

Meyer, a reporter for The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis., splits her time between early-morning breaking news and the Godbeat.

Her religion writing earned her the 2014 Cassels Religion Reporter of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association. That award honors excellence in religion reporting at small-sized newspapers.

She grew up in rural Illinois and started her reporting career at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s student newspaper.

“That’s where I learned you can get paid to do this really neat job,” said Meyer, a 2009 graduate.

Her first professional gig was at the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota, where she spent about three years and covered everything from ranch families to police shootings. She joined The Post-Crescent’s metro team in 2012.

This analysis of media coverage appears online at GetReligion.org.

The introvert behind the pulpit


The introvert behind the pulpit: For these preachers, devotion to ministry requires balancing need for solitude with passion for sharing God’s word.

No offense, but people drain Mark Littleton of much-needed energy.

Here’s what invigorates him: sitting in his church office — alone — with his Bible, study books, computer and a Diet Dr Pepper.

“It’s not that I don’t want to be around people,” said Littleton, pulpit minister for the Athens Church of Christ in Tennessee. “I don’t mind that, for short periods, when it’s balanced out by my ‘alone time.’”

Like a surprising number of preachers, Littleton feels much more comfortable standing behind the pulpit than approaching strangers at a church fellowship meal.

“I think I was in my 30s before I realized that most preachers in my experience were actually introverts,” said Bruce McLarty, 57, a longtime minister who serves as president of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and describes himself as slightly more extroverted than introverted.

Based on the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, Lance Bennett qualifies as an introvert.

However, a person visiting the Riverside Church of Christ in Lafayette, La., where Bennett preaches, might never guess it.

Related story: What role does personality play when hiring a minister?

This story appears in the November 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.