A church shooting. Deadly twisters. Racial justice protests. And the biggest news in this tumultuous year: COVID-19.
These were among the most memorable stories that I covered in 2020.
Here is my personal year-end Top 10 list, mostly in chronological order:
• Texas church shooting: A gunman opened fire at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, killing two worshipers before an armed member fatally shot him. While the attack occurred at the end of 2019, it remained an important story in 2020. In the immediate aftermath, I covered a members-only prayer vigil, recounted minister Britt Farmer’s experience and explained why Farmer chose to talk to me. I profiled victims Richard White and Tony Wallace. Later, I moderated a panel discussion on church shootings. And I wrote about the church’s emotional return to its auditorium.
• Women in the church: My Christian Chronicle colleagues and I produced an in-depth package of stories on women’s roles in Churches of Christ. I focused on two distinct congregations: an Arlington, Texas, church that embraces traditional gender roles and a Los Angeles church that has added female elders.
• Tennessee tornadoes: On my last flight before COVID-19 grounded me, I traveled to Middle Tennessee to report on tornadoes that cut an 80-mile swath of death and destruction. I highlighted the leading role that Churches of Christ played in the disaster relief effort. I interviewed a church teen who was serving her community while grieving her 4-year-old friend, Hattie Jo Collins. I covered the funeral for a Christian family killed in the storm. And I reflected on how sadness gave way to gladness on the Sunday after the tornadoes.
• COVID-19: As of this moment, the global pandemic has killed 1.8 million people around the world. My Christian Chronicle colleagues have produced amazing journalism on this challenging time. My first coronavirus story reported on numerous Churches of Christ canceling Sunday services, some for the first time ever. Three months later, I explored the precautions put into place as many congregations returned to in-person worship. Most recently, I noted churches going virtual again as infections surged to record levels. Also, I wrote about “Zoombombing,” post-pandemic attendance fears and a Louisiana couple trying to balance compassion and safety. On a personal note, I reflected on my fears, lamented my son’s canceled college graduation, discovered my great-grandfather died in the 1918 flu pandemic and found comfort viewing the pandemic through the eyes of my 2-year-old grandson.
• Oklahoma City bombing anniversary: The first larger-than-life story of my journalism career came in 1995 when I was a young reporter for The Oklahoman. The April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City claimed 168 lives and remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. At the 25th anniversary, I did a retrospective story for The Associated Press on a prayer service four days after the bombing that began the healing process for Oklahoma and the nation. I also caught up with a victim’s mother I first interviewed in April 1995 for a front-page profile of hope in The Oklahoman.
• Racial justice: The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody galvanized weeks of protests denouncing systemic racism and police brutality. The demonstrations started in Minneapolis and spread, sometimes devolving into rioting and looting. I organized a series of Zoom discussions with Black church leaders and wrote about the role of Christians in the protests. I delved into why the “Black Lives Matter” movement is so controversial to many Christians and described how a civil rights hero’s great-grandson found a way to show courage himself. And I interviewed longtime Tennessee state Rep. John DeBerry, who integrated an all-White high school and witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech but was kicked out of the Democratic Party because of his conservative positions on social issues.
• Election 2020: In advance of the presidential election, I did a series of stories on Christians and politics. One piece offered tips for keeping politics from dividing fellow Christians. Another feature explained why some 21st century David Lipscombs didn’t plan to vote for Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden. The question of whether abortion or character mattered more in the White House race drew a lot of discussion. And a Q&A with three experts gave insight into Christian nationalism.
• Weekend Plug-in column: At the beginning of 2020, I launched a new weekly column for Religion Unplugged, an award-winning online religion magazine. Each Friday, the column features analysis, fact checking and top headlines from the world of faith. Some of my favorite columns of the year featured a fact check on Tim Tebow, faith (or not) at the Democratic National Convention, President Donald Trump’s famous church photo op, key religion questions in Election 2020 and the Supreme Court flipping the script on COVID-19 worship bans. Last week, I highlighted the top religion journalism of 2020.
• Take me out to the ballgame: Just kidding. Because of the pandemic, I didn’t get to visit Globe Life Field, the Texas Rangers’ new $1.2 billion ballpark. But I was blessed to do a few features about retired players. Before COVID-19, I traveled to Florence, Ala., and interviewed slugger Josh Willingham and his wife, Ginger, about their ministry feeding hungry children. I did a fascinating Q&A with Hall of Famer Rod Carew about his new memoir and his complicated faith. And I talked to pioneering relief pitcher Lindy McDaniel about his decades of Christian service after his career. Sadly, McDaniel, 84, died of COVID-19 a few months after our interview. I also put together a list of my 10 favorite baseball stories involving members of Churches of Christ.
• Space church, forgiveness and more: I’ve reached the final spot on my list, but I still have stories to share. So I’ll combine the rest of my favorites here. They include my interview with Christian astronaut Victor Glover, my feature on how Roy and Jeanie Willmon found peace by sharing Jesus with their daughter’s killers and my personal reflections on the 50th anniversary of the White’s Ferry Road School of Preaching and on seeing my late Papa Ross’ World War II grave marker.
Yes, I love what I do — and am blessed to do it.
Thank you for reading and for all your encouragement and ideas.