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Is Nashville the center of the religion news universe? For today, let’s say so

Twenty years ago, I moved to Nashville, Tenn., to work for The Associated Press.

I spent less than a year in Music City before transferring to Dallas, but oh, what a fun 11 months for a religion reporter (and country music fan).

I covered the fight over a proposed Tennessee lottery and a prayer service on the night the Iraq War began, but some of my favorite stories were less weighty:

The Tennessee staff of The Associated Press in 2003

The Tennessee staff of The Associated Press in 2003

A profile of a man who paid children $10 each to learn the Ten Commandments (until 15,000 “memorization affidavits” from across the nation flooded his mailbox after my story ran).

A feature on Gospel Music Week, when some of Nashville’s most popular bars and nightspots traded lying-and-cheating songs for hymns about prayer and redemption.

An interview with the 104-year-old widow of a famous Black traveling evangelist.

Blame Liam Adams, The Tennessean’s religion reporter, for this trip down memory lane.

In a fascinating deep dive published this week, Adams and his colleague Cole Villena delve into “Williamson County, the suburban ‘new frontier’ for American evangelical Christianity.”

“An already heavily Christian area is on track to become a capital of evangelicalism in the U.S.,” the story asserts, referring to the fast-growing county south of Nashville.

Related: How five Nashville churches came together

I pointed out to Adams on Twitter that my family lived in Williamson County — Spring Hill, to be precise — in our brief time in the Nashville area.

“All religion reporting roads lead through greater Nashville apparently,” chimed in Christianity Today’s Kate Shellnutt, herself a former Nashville resident.

Then Lifeway Research’s Aaron Earls added, “Now I’m curious of all the current religion reporters who’ve been through Middle TN and which ones we still need to draw here for a stint.”

Me too!

And my nostalgic brain was off to the races. So here we are, talking about religion news in Nashville.

Speaking of which, congrats to Holly Meyer, The Tennessean’s former religion writer and now AP’s global religion news editor. She played a key role in Tennessee Press Association awards won by her former paper last week.

And congrats again to Bob Smietana, another former Williamson County resident and religion writer for The Tennessean. His book, “Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why It Matters,” came out this week.

In case you missed it, I interviewed the author — now a Religion News Service national reporter —in last week’s Plug-in. It’s probably no surprise, but Nashville figures prominently in the anecdotes shared in the book.

Is Nashville the center of the religion news universe? For today, let’s say so.

Read the rest of the column.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

“Weekend Plug-in,”  featuring analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith, is produced each week by Religion Unplugged.

Filed under: Godbeat Music City Nashville National News Opinion religion reporting The Associated Press Top Stories Weekend Plug-In

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