Mary Katharine Ham

I mentioned some time back that my church-- The Falls Church in Falls Church, Va.-- was breaking away from other Episcopal Churches in what amounts to a pretty big shake-up for the Anglican Church.

I'm not a member, but I attend regularly, along with about 2,500 other worshippers, including Alberto Gonzales, Fred Barnes, and Porter Goss. It's a conservative, Bible-based church that thinks Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life," and doesn't cotton to the "evolving" teachings of the Episcopal Church that aren't so sure about that whole Jesus thing, which is the entire basis of our faith.

It is a lovely church that welcomes people of all denominations, or no denomination in my case. It is a church that sends folks to build houses in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that recently broke ground on a community building in urban, Southeast D.C. for ministry there, that brings children from other countries to America for complex cardiac surgeries they can't get at home, that sends missionaries beyond its walls, and that serves thousands of people within them. In short, it's a regular American church.

But how does the Washington Post characterize it? First paragraph:

Parishioners say it happens quietly, unobtrusively: As the sick make their way to the altar, some worshipers begin speaking in tongues. Occasionally, one is "arrested in the spirit," falling unconscious into the arms of a fellow congregant.

Now, I have seen people speak in tongues. I've seen it in Pentecostal services, and in non-denominational services in Georgia, when I was in school there. It happens. No problem with it. I was raised in the South. People love the Lord in many different ways. But I have been going to The Falls Church regularly for over a year, and I have NEVER, EVER, ONCE seen anything even remotely close to anyone speaking in tongues in that congregation.

When I read the lede, I had to check to make sure he was talking about my church, so far off was it from my own experiences. If anything, the congregation at The Falls Church is achingly normal, with its merino wool V-neck sweaters, and Vera Bradley diaper bags, and 2.5 children per family-- shaggy-haired, flip-flopped teenaged boys and dirty-blonde pre-teen girls flipping their first sets of highlights.

But noooo, in the Washington Post, the church is something else indeed (emphasis mine):

But the votes appear less sudden or surprising when one realizes that for more than 30 years, Truro and The Falls Church have been part of a "charismatic revival" within mainline Protestantism, said the Rev. Robert W. Prichard, professor of Christianity in America at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.

Charismatic, in this case, refers to an ecstatic style of worship that includes speaking in tongues, a stream of unintelligible syllables signifying that the Holy Spirit has entered the worshiper. It is a hallmark of the fast-growing Pentecostal movement but unusual for Episcopalians, who are so thoroughly associated with solemnity and tradition that they are sometimes referred to teasingly as "the frozen chosen."

Yeah, that's us! Listen, I'm not saying it doesn't happen in my church sometimes, but I have NEVER, EVER seen it or even a hint of it, which makes me think this is a very unfair characterization. In my experience, we sing praise songs instead of straight-up hymns. We have a drum set in the sanctuary. Sometimes people raise their hands toward the ceiling while singing. Cuuhhhrazzy stuff, huh?

But to the WaPo writer--conservative congregation breaking off from the wise and kind liberals? Must be a bunch of backwoods, shine-swillin', snake-handlers, right Cletus???

Well, looky here:

Parishioners say the practice continues today in both congregations, though not at Sunday morning services. Some members have never seen it.

Coulda used that in the lede or near it for some context, no? But that would have ruined such a neat picture! Ooh, it gets better:

Unlike many Episcopal churches nationally, neither Truro nor The Falls Church was active in supporting the civil rights movement or in protesting the Vietnam War.

Snake-handling bigots and war-mongers! Is there anyone out there who thinks that little bit of "context" wasn't just a cheap shot? This church full of racists, by the way, is breaking away to join the lily-white Anglican province of Nigeria.

The last two paragraphs finally get down to the real disagreement between the conservative Episcopals and the Episcopal Church:

Many say the rift involves something deeper -- whether the Bible is the word of God, Jesus is the only way to heaven and tolerance is more important than truth. When he was a newly ordained priest almost 20 years ago, Wright said, he talked with several other priests about how to respond to a teenager who asked, "Do you really believe in the Resurrection of Jesus?"

"The rest of the priests agreed that it was a sticky question, and they felt that way because they didn't believe in it, but they didn't want to say so," he said. "That's where the Episcopal Church has been for the last 20 years. It's not where we are."

Yeah, we believe in Jesus. It is Christ that makes us Christians, and being a part of a larger organization that does not believe that, and that may someday keep my church from preaching that, does not serve Him. So, we break away.

The Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Oh, and the snakes and the tongues. Don't forget those.

I'm gonna e-mail this guy and find out if he got directions to the right church.

Update: My commenter Don makes a great catch. The writers of this article refer to the Episcopalians as the "frozen chosen," but that's a common nickname for Presbyterians.

Correction: There's some disagreement in the comments over whether "frozen chosen" refers solely to Presbyterians. In my experience, it is certainly most commonly used to refer to Presbyterians, but my commenters tell me it's not unheard of for it to be applied to Episcopalians. Apologies on that one.

I wrote an e-mail to the WaPo writers:

Dear Mr. Cooperman and Ms. Salmon,

I'm a blogger who also happens to attend The Falls Church. Your characterization of it as primarily "charismatic" and tongue-speaking based on a visit to the healing service was completely misleading. I've been attending the church for over a year, and have never seen anything even approaching tongue-speaking or "charismatic" worship.

I've been to Pentecostal services; I've seen people speaking in tongues. I know charismatic. To insinuate that The Falls Church is a church of that ilk is silly and inaccurate.

Which services did you attend, and how many, before you wrote this story? I imagine most people who've ever attended The Falls Church would quarrel with your characterization of it.

Also, the "frozen chosen" is a common nickname for Presbyterians, not Episcopalians.

I hope to hear back from you about how you came to characterize the church this way. Thanks for your time.

--Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of HotAir.com, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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