The ministry of journalism

Published 7:10 pm Saturday, August 29, 2015

I had a visit this week from an aide to Congressman J. Randy Forbes, a young lady who was in Suffolk for the first time and eager to know more about the city and the newspaper.

I’ve grown accustomed to such meetings through the years. Someone new takes over the communications job on the congressman’s staff, and that person then makes the rounds of newspapers in the district, getting to know the editors who shape the coverage of events in Washington, D.C.

It’s often rather a pro forma kind of meeting, but this time things were a bit different. When I described — as I often do when I meet folks who want to know more about the Suffolk News-Herald and my job here — my belief that my position here is part of my ministry field as a Christian, she asked how that played out in the daily grind.

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It’s there — or at least, it should be there — in everything I do, I explained. From the stories we cover to those we ignore, from the tenor of the questions to the tone of the writing, from the columnists to the editorial cartoons — I believe they all should reflect and confirm the fact that I’m a follower of Christ.

That doesn’t mean we don’t cover the hard stories, ask the probing questions or write the confrontational opinions when the situation calls for those things. But in the end, I firmly believe that our newspaper should look different, because I’m a Christian, than it would look if I were not. I probably fail in pursuit of that goal as often as not, but I don’t claim to be a perfect Christian by any stretch. I’m just a sinner saved and being made holy by the grace of God.

As the conversation progressed, I mentioned that I had appreciated Forbes’ column a while back about LeOtis Williams (“’Faith it forward’ with L.W.” June 23, 2015). Forbes wrote about how Williams personifies the generosity of the American spirit, and he used Williams’ annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway as an example, pulling heavily from stories we had published about the annual event.

I had just chatted with LeOtis the previous day, during a Salvation Army advisory board meeting, and had come away once again impressed by his caring spirit. I had been making small talk with him when he got very serious and asked how my wife was doing. She’d had a recent medical emergency, an event I’d written about in a previous column, and he had read that column and remembered to ask about her when he saw me.

It was, perhaps, a minor thing, but it proved to me once again what a selfless man he is and what a blessing it is for Suffolk to have someone like him as one of the faces of the community. I’m a big fan of LeOtis Williams, and his simple, thoughtful question about my wife confirmed why that’s so.

One of the first times I talked to him about his turkey giveaway, LeOtis told me he’d been blessed by God and wanted to share those blessings with others. I’m blessed, too, in so many ways. But what strikes me now is how blessed I am to edit a newspaper where I can so freely write about my faith and the faith of others, a place where I can carry out my own kind of ministry each day while doing the work of a journalist.