No one in the Episcopal Church hierarchy knows what will happen at Christ Church in Accokeek, Md., once push really comes to shove.
But everyone knows the bitter battle for control of the 303-year-old Colonial parish is a big story, perhaps even a pivotal one in the global Anglican wars over sex, salvation and the Bible. But it's getting hard to pin down the precise details.
What happened last week when parish leaders denied Washington, D.C., Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon access to their altar? How many parishioners worshipped inside? How many joined Dixon for her quick Mass on a nearby basketball court and how many of those were imported activists? Who heckled whom? How many bishops joined in this liturgical circus? And what in the world really happened when a parish officer collided with the bishop's husband?
The firebrand cyber-scribe David Virtue reported that, during chaos caused by a heckler, "junior warden Frank MacDonough stepped forward to take control of the situation. Immediately Dixon's husband David M. Dixon stepped forward and placed both his hands on the shoulders of the warden pushing him back. A verbal exchange ensued." MacDonough finally exclaimed, "You don't put your hands on me."
Virtue added: "I have been informed that there is every likelihood that charges will be pressed against both Dixons. The complaint against Jane Dixon is for trespassing and against David Dixon for assault."
That would certainly be news. However, an Episcopal News Service (www.dfms.org/ens) story about Accokeek didn't mention the shove in question and neither did the next day's Washington Post report.
Everyone has a story to tell. But, these days, the stories that are shaping life in the Episcopal Church and other religious bodies are often laced with conflicting plots and details.
The web is like that. Thus, some consider it a font of venom and warped information. Others believe it's opening doors that must be opened. After all, as St. Luke warned religious leaders: "Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." A modern paraphrase might be: "Don't say things that you wouldn't want to see on the Internet."
"The big boys," said Virtue, "have always assumed that they get to control all of the juicy information in the church. Well, they can't do that anymore and they're freaking out."
The Accokeek battle is the kind of story that has sent rising numbers of Anglican readers -- around the world -- to the "Virtuosity" (www.orthodoxanglican.org/virtuosity) site for online reports. Virtue's critics have a name for this -- propaganda.
"A lot of journalism in the Episcopal Church today ... is nothing short of muckraking. It's descended to that level," said Bishop Steven Charleston of Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts, speaking to the national Episcopal Communicators. "There's so much glop that goes on to email systems and into print that is considered to be news -- it's just shameful."
Virtue and other web conservatives are not alone. The church's left wing has long looked for news and commentary in the sprawling site created at Rutgers University by Louie Crew (www.andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew), founder of Integrity for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Episcopalians. He now sits on the national church's executive council. Other readers turn to AnglicansOnline.org and a host of establishment sites.
The bookish leader of the Episcopalians keeps trying to tame the Internet tornado.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold wants journalists who cover his church to "take the high road" and focus on "the work of reconciliation" while weaving together the "divergent dimensions of truth that exist among us." Sadly, he told a forum at the Episcopal Media Center, there is a lot of "dubious communication that is making its way round the church, serving highly partisan ends and serving ... causes of division and conflict, characterized by untruths and misrepresentations."
These are the kinds of Zen-like quotations that make Virtue cackle with glee and rush to his computer.
"Let me unspin all of that," he said. "The World Wide Web is driving these guys nuts, so they want to nail my hide to the wall."