Celebrating our seventh year at Episcopal Cafe

Episcopal Café began publishing just a little over seven years ago, on April 19, 2007. April 19, 2014 was Holy Saturday, so we decided to delay marking our anniversary for a few days.

The Café was preceded by The Blog of Daniel, a blog I launched in early January 2006 when I was canon for communications in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to discuss the short-lived NBC television show and Daily Episcopalian, the name I gave the blog when the show closed and the topics under discussion turned toward the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and spirituality.

Daily Episcopalian joined Thinking Anglicans and Father Jake Stops the World as one of the few online outlets defending the Episcopal Church’s decisions to make Gene Robinson a bishop and to move toward equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church. For several years, two of its primary purposes were to articulate the reasons that the church felt that God was calling it to move toward the full inclusion of LGBT people, and to rebut arguments and correct the misinformation put forth by conservative Anglican websites. It was never clear to me why the communications office of the Episcopal Church had left this work undone, but there was clearly a one-sided conversation taking place on the internet. The Rt. Rev. John Chane, who was then Bishop of Washington, was as concerned about this as I was, and he gave me the editorial freedom to begin advancing a progressive point of view on LGBT issues.

Then as now, blogging wasn’t just a tool for reaching readers, it was a means of putting your arguments in front of the mainstream media, who could put them in front of far larger audiences than a blog could reach on it own. For several years during the height of the tensions over LGBT equality in the Anglican Communion, many news stories included either an assertion by the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a conservative blogger from South Carolina rebutted by me or the Rev. Susan Russell, then of Integrity, or vice versa.

Funny thing, though, if you are trying to persuade people that the Episcopal Church is something more than an argument about sex, it isn’t helpful to maintain a blog that consists primarily of an argument about sex. With Episcopal Café, which, as visitors know includes an art blog, a blog on spirituality, and a blog for essays on a variety of topics, I was hoping to show more of the fullness of the church.

Bishop Chane and Paul Cooney, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Washington, supported my idea and agreed to let me spend $20,000 from the annual communications budget to launch the cafe. Nick Knisely, who was a priest in the Diocese of Bethlehem, and who has since been dean of the cathedral in Phoenix and is now Bishop of Rhode Island, was the first person with whom I shared the idea, and his support was essential. After speaking with Nick, I began recruiting bloggers and writers whose work I had seen and liked online.

My plan was to recruit a team of news bloggers, each of whom would work one weekday. Their job would be to find three to five stories to post on The Lead blog each day. I also wanted to recruit enough essayists to post a fresh essay each day on the essay blog–which we called Daily Episcopalian, keeping the name of the old blog alive. This involved dozens of e-mails and phone calls (and good leads from Carol Barnwell in the Diocese of Texas and Sean McConnell, then in the Diocese of California), but eventually I ended up with a team of about 24 writers who said they’d be willing to write an essay once every four weeks. Later, I’d recruit people to maintain our spirituality blog, Speaking to the Soul, but at first, we filled that blog with quotations, or essays by the Daily Episcopalian writers that were more spiritual than topical.

When Mel Ahlborn, who was then president of Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts, offered to provide an image each week to brighten our homepage, all of the elements were in place.

During our first week online, we published essays on health care by Marshall Scott, race by Steven Charleston, baptizing technology by Nick Knisely and “Jesus’ family values” by Deirdre Good, who, in a nice touch, had an essay on Daily Episcopalian earlier this week. The spirituality blog that first week carried essays on The Bible in the Episcopal Church by Greg Jones, Lent by Missy Morain, Saul by Jennifer MacKenzie, relationships by Heidi Shott, and the Daily Office by Derek Olsen.

The news that first week included a story about whether the breakaway Anglican faction would receive a priest who had recently been forced out of his rectorship in the Episcopal Church in financial disgrace (they did.); news that a member of the committee that drafted the Windsor Report on sexuality in the Anglican Communion had joined a statement supporting Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe; word that some high profile U. S. cathedral deans and cardinal rectors had written to Rowan Williams, then the Archbishop of Canterbury, urging him to invite Bishop Gene Robinson to the 2008 Lambeth Conference (Williams did not), and other news about the conference, and the ongoing tension in the communion.

The original news team consisted of Nick, the indefatigable Ann Fontaine, Andrew Gerns, who had a talent for longer pieces, John Chilton, then reporting from our bureau in the United Arab Emirates where he was teaching economics, Helen Mosher, who later led us onto Facebook and Twitter, and me. Over the next seven years we were joined at various times by Chuck Blanchard (who left us to become general counsel of the Air Force), Peter Carey, Torey Lightcap, Kurt Wiesner, Theresa Johnson and, most recently Megan Castellan and Weston Mathews. The current team is Megan, Ann, Kurt, me, Andrew, Theresa and Weston.

I am especially grateful to Ann Fontaine, who is not only an ever-vigilant newshound, but has also taken over responsibility for working with the writers of the Daily Episcopalian and Speaking to the Soul blogs.

Vicki Black tended the Speaking to the Soul blog for several years, focusing on the liturgical calendar of the church and teaching us about our saints. Bill Carroll and Lowell Grisham made major contributions. Most recently, Lora Walsh has done most of the writing, while Maria Evans and Linda Ryan have written generously for both the Soul blog and Daily Episcopalian, and Laurie Gudim and David Sellery have chipped in weekly as well.

Several years ago, Mel Ahlborn asked C. Robin Janning to succeed her as editor of the Art Blog, and Robin has done an excellent job curating the words and images on what I still consider the most under appreciated part of our site.

Most of the news bloggers have limited technological skills, so we have depended heavily first on Peter Turner of the Diocese of Washington, and in recent years on the great Bill Joseph of Words if Necessary to keep the site on the air.

It has been a pleasure to publish the writing of our many gifted contributors including Sam Candler, Heidi Shott, Donald Schell, Derek Olsen, George Clifford, Kathleen Staudt, Richard Helmer, Roger Ferlo, Sara Miles, Lauren Stanley, Frederick Quinn, Luiz Coelho, Adrian Worsfold, Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, Jane Redmont, Kit Carlson, Melody Shobe, Leo Campos, members of the news blogging teach, former Washington Window columnists Martin L. Smith and Margaret Treadwell and others. Among the journalistic work that the Cafe has done, I am proudest of are coverage of the 2008 Lambeth Conference and the 2009 General Convention.

In the last few years, the Cafe has shifted its focus somewhat, concentrating more on issues of church renewal and less on tensions in the Anglican Communion, though we do still cover those issues when they arise, as they did recently.

I’d like to thank everyone who has ever written for the Cafe, allowed us to use their art, or worked to keep us online. I’d also like to thank all of the folks who have dropped in to see what we have had to say over the years. Just over 1.74 million users have visited the site and we’ve had a total of more than 6.18 million visits during our seven years online. More than 9,900 people follow us on Twitter and more than 8,500 on Facebook. That is a larger audience than we ever thought possible, and we are grateful to everyone who is a part of it.

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