Posted in Christian Chronicle

Tulsa officer charged in shooting still welcome at church


Tulsa officer charged in shooting still welcome at church (reporting from Glenpool, Okla.): Hugs and well-wishes greet Betty Shelby at the Sunday morning assembly of the Glenpool Church of Christ.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

GLENPOOL, Okla. — After a week in the national headlines, Betty Shelby received hugs and well-wishes from her church family Sunday.

Shelby, the Tulsa police officer charged with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting of an unarmed black suspect, offered to stay home from worship to avoid causing a commotion.

But leaders of the Glenpool Church of Christ — a 200-member congregation in this fast-growing community of 13,000, south of Tulsa — made it clear she was welcome to attend.

“She got a lot of hugs and a lot of words of personal support,” pulpit minister Benjamin Williams said. “Nobody here claims to be a law enforcement expert and to know how that part of it might play out. But we support her as a person.”

Shelby, 42, turned herself into the Tulsa County jail on Friday and was released after posting $50,000 bond. A conviction would carry a penalty of four years to life in prison.

In the opening prayer Sunday, elder Bill Path mentioned the turmoil in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-largest city, and asked God to intervene and maintain peace.

“We want to again pray for the comfort of the Crutcher family during this loss,” Path said, referring to Terence Crutcher, the 40-year-old man who died, “but also pray for the strength of the Shelby family.”

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

Posted in Christian Chronicle

Reporting news that informs and inspires — in all 50 states


Reporting news that informs and inspires — in all 50 states (column from Faith, S.D.): The Christian Chronicle’s Bobby Ross Jr. celebrates faith-filled milestone.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

FAITH, S.D. — After chasing stories all over the United States, I found Faith — a town in South Dakota with a population of 421.

With my recent trip to the Dakotas, I reached a personal goal: reporting for The Christian Chronicle from all 50 states and the nation’s capital.

What a blessing for me and, I pray, for our loyal readers who love news that informs, inspires and unites Churches of Christ!

Some of my favorite memories:

1. Getting to know faithful inmates inside prison walls in Alabama.

2. Witnessing the unity of Christians at a statewide lectureship in Alaska.

3. Hearing the resilience in Arizona Christians’ voices after a church member died in a mass shooting.

This column appears in the October 2016 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Posted in Christian Chronicle

Sparse numbers, strong faith in North Dakota


Sparse numbers, strong faith in North Dakota (reporting from Bismarck, N.D.): Small, isolated congregations face challenges in the state with the nation’s fewest Churches of Christ.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

BISMARCK, N.D. — Talk about a Sunday commute.

For 15 years, Rod and Rosalyn Genrich drove 100 miles each way to worship with the Minot Church of Christ.

The Genriches, who farmed 1,900 acres of wheat in the small North Dakota community of Fessenden, made that trip three Sundays a month.

“The fourth Sunday, we tried to invite people from around the neighborhood, kind of like a house church,” said Rod Genrich, now retired and living in this state capital of 69,000 souls, where he serves as an elder of the Bismarck Church of Christ.

For members of Churches of Christ in North Dakota, long commutes to services are not unusual.

Bismarck member Bernice Gullickson, for example, owns a farm 55 miles away and has made the weekly drive since 1962.

“No big deal,” she said as she made her way into worship. “We’ve got good roads.”

This mostly rural state stretches 335 miles wide from Montana east to Minnesota and 211 miles high from South Dakota north to Canada.

Yet North Dakota has just seven Churches of Christ, the fewest of any state, according to a directory published by Nashville, Tenn.-based 21st Century Christian.

This story appears in the October 2016 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Posted in Christian Chronicle

Learning NOT to love chicken-fried steak


Learning NOT to love chicken-fried steak (reporting from Waco, Texas): Texas minister and wife focus on eating better and exercising more.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

WACO, Texas — When Jordan and Debbie Hubbard married nearly 13 years ago, they shared a love for tasty, high-calorie foods.

Think Texas-sized chicken-fried steaks.

“We were both fat and happy,” said Jordan Hubbard, 42, who at one time weighed close to 320 pounds.

“We ate a lot of good meals together,” agreed Debbie Hubbard, 41, who said she “always was just defined as a ‘big build’ girl.”

But three years ago, the couple — who met when he served as youth minister and she as children’s minister for the Central Church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas — decided something had to change.

The parents of three children — Jenae, 10; Avery, 8; and Jarrett, 5 — committed to eat better, exercise more and pay closer attention to the physical bodies God gave them.

“We were both uncomfortable. We were just at a spot where we said, ‘Let’s do this,’” said Jordan Hubbard, minister of the Word for the 650-member Crestview Church of Christ in Waco — a city of 130,000 about halfway between Dallas and Austin. “For me, I found that the commitment to exercise and diet was really a spiritual discipline as well.”

Related story:

Throw away those gigantic suit jackets (reporting from Nashville, Tenn.): These preachers say they’ve shed pounds for good.

These stories appear in the October 2016 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.


Posted in GetReligion

GetReligion: September 2016


Links to posts by Bobby Ross Jr.

‘Shame List’ sequel: Why reporting both sides is not propaganda but — yes — journalism. Published Sept. 1.

Charming, ‘God-fearing’ Southern woman goes to church — but don’t ask where. Published Sept. 6.

Theology lite: New York Times offers a positive but shallow view of Christians serving refugees. Published Sept. 7.

‘End-times cat cult’: Why Bob Smietana’s ‘Apocalypse Meow’ story really is the cat’s meow. Published Sept. 8.

No ghosts here: Faith in the ‘Vindication’ of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Published Sept. 9.

The Palombo 10: At the 9/11 anniversary, an exceptional story of family and faith from CNN. Published Sept. 12.

What’s happening with NCAA boycotting North Carolina? Don’t bother reading Raleigh paper. Published Sept. 13.

Thousands of strangers help an 89-year-old Popsicle vendor — surely there’s no holy ghost? Published Sept. 14.

Let’s dig below the surface of Donald Trump’s awkward visit to a black church in Flint, Mich. Published Sept. 15.

Time offers a little more insight on friendship between Donald Trump and Paula White. Published Sept. 19.

‘Respect the culture’ of family of black man shot dead by Tulsa police — but what culture? Published Sept. 20.

How do you report on ‘Muslims Get Out’ sign? Interview diner owner who put it up, of course. Published Sept. 21.

In Bible Belt town split on immigration, passing glimpses of religious influence raise questions. Published Sept. 22.

Houston, we have a problem in this stew of a story on a Baptist church’s inclusiveness. Published Sept. 26.

Digging into Islamophobia: CNN’s award-winning religion editor does actual reporting. Published Sept. 27.

‘Pitch’ this: When boys and girls play on the same sports field, religion enters the mix. Published Sept. 28.

That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it. Published Sept. 29.

Posted in Christian Chronicle

Young man with autism has a heart for homeless


Young man with autism has a heart for homeless (reporting from Camarillo, Calif.): California church member overcomes fears as he leads ministry that serves the needy.

By Bobby Ross Jr.  | The Christian Chronicle

CAMARILLO, Calif. — A few miles from the Camarillo Church of Christ, a man with a backpack and a bicycle squats at a busy intersection.

Chris Kibbe, who describes himself as between jobs and homeless, holds a cardboard sign.

“Spare a little kindness,” the handwritten message begs. “God bless.”

Not long ago, many members of the Camarillo church — which meets in a palm-tree-shaded building just off the Ventura Freeway — might have averted their eyes and driven right past Kibbe.

But now — thanks to a packet ministry started by Luke McAllister, a 20-year-old church member with autism — the congregation is equipped and eager to help.

“It’s easy to become blind to things,” preacher Alan Beard said. “But in the same way that if you have a watering can, you look for flowers to water — if you have a packet, you look for someone who’s thirsty or needs a quick meal or a couple of dollars.”

“Luke’s Packet Ministry” offers snacks, cash — and hope — to downtrodden souls.

This story appears in the September 2016 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Posted in Christian Chronicle

Amid massive biker rally, Bible camp thrives


Amid massive biker rally, Bible camp thrives (reporting from Deadwood, S.D.): Deep in the Black Hills National Forest, Christians from the Dakotas and beyond renew ties and enjoy fellowship.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

DEADWOOD, S.D. — Revving engines of Harleys, Yamahas and Kawasakis are the first clue you’re getting close to Black Hills Bible Camp.

For a half-century, the youth and family camp has brought together members of Churches of Christ during the same week as the world-famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

“It’s a little piece of heaven,” said Dustri Brown, 33, who met her future husband, Lance, at the Bible camp when she was 9 and he was 8. “You’re singing and praising God. The worldly things don’t matter. It’s the joy of being together with fellow Christians.”

Each August, the motorcycle rally attracts an estimated 500,000 people to the southwestern region of South Dakota — and thousands of bikers cruise U.S. Highway 385 near the turnoff for the camp.

About 15 minutes south of Deadwood — around the time you see a green sign that says Mount Rushmore is 39 miles away — you reach a gravel road shrouded by yellow pines that stretch 80 to 100 feet high.

Four miles of bumpy twists and turns inside the Black Hills National Forest lead you past an outdoor swimming hole, over a little bridge and — finally — to the kitchen, the chapel and the wooden cabins that serve as the weeklong home for nearly 200 Christians from the Dakotas and nine other states.

From the campers, you hear conflicting stories about why Black Hills Bible Camp always coincides with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

This story appears in the September 2016 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.