Plus a Q&A with Barry Yeoman about this week's big piece
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By Kyle Villemain      August 7, 2022

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It’s a pretty exciting time at The Assembly.

One of our editors (me) is running the Blue Ridge Relay next month, but is wildly out of shape. The anxiety is palpable.

We officially moved into a new coworking space in Durham and our growing team is (mostly) in one place. There’s a "Target run" on the books for Monday.

But most of all, we’re getting ready to hire.

This fall, we’re hiring our first round of full-time reporters. It’s part of the plan we laid out in the spring, to transition from a scrappy start-up to a high-energy statewide news organization.

This spring and summer, we expanded our leadership team, bringing on smart, talented folks who have overhauled how we operate and doubled the number of stories we publish.

We now have room to breathe; "spare bandwidth" as the business school kids might say. And it means we’re ready for our next big step.

Exceptional freelancers will always be at the core of what we do. That includes amazing writers like Barry Yeoman, whose Tuesday story on the United Methodist Church we discuss below.  

But to grow, we also need full-time writers with strong source networks, deep knowledge on the issues, and who can report with authority and confidence.

Hiring full-time reporters is also important in making sure our organization reflects this state. It’s hard being a freelance reporter, and the pool of potential writers is skewed both geographically and demographically. We need to offer well-paying, stable reporter positions to change that, so that’s what we’re going to do.

We’ll keep bringing you interesting stories on a wide range of topics, like we have on lithium mining in Gaston County, evangelism in the Triangle, and the next wave of top chefs across the state.

But we have three priority areas for this first expansion: higher education, state politics, and the courts.

We want to hire a mix of younger and more experienced reporters. Their mandate will be fewer stories than they may be used to, but more ambitious and authoritative as well.

We’ll start reviewing applications on August 22. The application is easy – just send a resume and answer four questions designed to get the conversation going.

We’re also raising money to fund the positions for two years, after which time revenue from subscriptions and advertising will fill the gap.

We’ll acknowledge and post all our donors' names publicly before we spend any funds – and I’d love to add your name to the list. You can give online, or send me a note at and we’ll chat. It’s all tax deductible.

Details on the job posting:

What We're Reading

Billion-Dollar Disasters: Tar Heel born and bred reporter Brady Dennis takes a deep look for The Washington Post at the rise of high-dollar storms, in a piece that doubles as a look back at Tropical Storm Fred and its toll in western North Carolina last year.

Chapel Hill and Rock & Roll: The recently revived Creem Magazine says Chapel Hill is "one of the greatest independent music towns on the planet. How the hell did that happen?"

The Wild World of Crosswords: Assembly contributor Matt Hartman writes for The New Republic on the "elite, underpaid, and weird" world of crossword puzzles. The jury is still out on whether The Assembly should enter the puzzle space.

Leandro: A high-profile amicus brief supporting more school funding in the long-running Leandro case ran into some controversy, as one listed signer said she had not given her permission to be included. More from Carolina Journal and the North State Journal.

The current flash point has to do in part with constitutional questions behind the proposed money transfer. We explored those questions last year: "The State’s Looming Constitutional Crisis"

A Q&A with Barry Yeoman

On Tuesday, we published a deep dive from Barry Yeoman exploring the ongoing schism in the United Methodist Church, through the eyes of a diverse congregation in Statesville.

"Sometimes the most potent stories take years to unfold," wrote The New Yorker’s Emma Green in a tweet about the piece. "Barry Yeoman has a textured and complicated look at the bitter split happening in one Methodist church in NC -- a parable for broader ruptures in America."

We talked with Yeoman about his story, the reporting process, and what he thinks will happen next.

After years of acrimonious debate, the United Methodist Church has started to rupture. One church—with members ranging from 'flaming progressive to dang near fundamentalist'—tries to reconcile an increasingly unavoidable divide.

The Assembly: For this story, you focused on one congregation. What drew you to Wesley Memorial and Iredell County?

Yeoman: I was looking for the richest possible microcosm–in this case, a congregation that embodied the tensions present within the United Methodist Church (and America).

Originally, family connections put Iredell County on my radar. What drew me, in particular, to Wesley Memorial was unearthing a video of that May 1 meeting, in which Pastor Cliff Wall argued that other Methodists had abandoned Jesus’ teaching by embracing the LGBTQ community. As I watched some members push back against Wall, and also argue among themselves, it became clear to me that this was a congregation at the cusp of a major decision and a potential split.

Of course, there’s a big difference between identifying a potential subject and being welcomed in. When I first called Wesley Memorial’s pastor, Chris Fitzgerald, he told me this was a tender and intimate issue. He wasn’t sure a journalist’s attention was welcome. My job at that point was to show that I’m not the type of journalist who parachutes in and then disappears. I showed up, and then I showed up again, and again. I sat in the back and listened quietly. As members came to recognize the sincerity of my curiosity, they began to open up.

The Assembly: Fitzgerald is one of the story's central characters, a self-described "dinosaur of a preacher." What was he like to follow?

Yeoman: Once Chris decided to talk with me, he was incredibly transparent–about his history, his personal struggles, and the toll that this fight was having on his health. I was nervous asking him questions that he might consider intrusive, like his decision not to baptize the twin babies of a lesbian couple. But he was forthright in his responses. He never flinched.

The Assembly: Just 18 of Western North Carolina's 1,000 UMC churches have left the denomination this year. Wesley Memorial is poised to debate the issue formally this fall. Do you think the number of departures will increase?

Yeoman: I do. When the Global Methodist Church was born on May 1, 2022, there wasn’t enough time for congregations to vote on disaffiliation before their regions’ annual conferences. I suspect the real movement will begin during the 2023 annual conferences.

The Assembly: A core question in the piece was whether ideologically diverse institutions can survive today. Did you leave the reporting process more or less optimistic on that question?

Yeoman: American culture, throughout my lifetime, has always been pretty atomized. Our civic infrastructure has crumbled; think about Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam's seminal book about the decline of civic life in America. Today we are in our most fractured period ever, and the state of the United Methodist Church reflects that.

I personally liked everyone I interviewed at Wesley Memorial. But I did not come away feeling confident that they’ll wind up liking one another, or even that they’ll find a way to coexist. I hope I’m wrong about the liking-one-another part.

Where I did see a big tent was at Monticello United Methodist Church, which figures into the second-to-last section of my article. There, parishioners of different ideologies and theologies, including LGBTQ members, have managed to keep the congregation welcoming to all. It’s a reminder that coexistence is possible, with daily contact and deep listening.

Read the piece: "Schism in the Body"

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