Thank you to Jordan Smith for sharing with us about her new location and her new career. Please be sure to click on the links within this blog to read her first two contributions to the newspaper where she is employed. We will be sure and check in on her from time to time.

The last time you heard from me, I was just about to walk across the stage, grab my diploma, and move off Liberty University campus and out of Lynchburg, Virginia, to start a job in Wyoming.

Except…not really. I still had to take an internship course, which is a class that everyone in my major must do while they work at a professional internship.

I am happy to report that I successfully completed that last course and got my diploma (praise the Lord). Wyoming has been home since June, even though it simultaneously feels like I’ve been living here forever and like I arrived yesterday.

I still remember that feeling when my mom and I broke through the Wyoming state line from Nebraska. I told her I felt like I just landed on Mars. Why was the sky so big? Where were all the people?

After the initial period of adjustment, it really has been great. Professionally, I love what I do, and I feel so blessed to be able to say that.

My position as a copy editor and reporter is flexible, so I can be either depending on what the other staff need me to do. One of my first tasks after I settled in was to choose a beat. In journalism, a “beat” is just an area (or a few) of interest that a reporter focuses on.

I had no idea what I wanted to write about. I knew what I liked to write about in college, but this wasn’t college.

When I arrived and after I settled in, I started looking for a church. This was not an unexpected task, as I knew when I moved that I was going to be on the search for one for a little while. However, the search also prompted me to consider questions I had never really stopped to think about before: Who am I? What kind of person do I want to be? Who is God to me? Who is God to others, and what role do churches and religious communities play in our cities and towns?

It then hit me: if there was anything that I was meant to write about, it was religion. After all, I couldn’t be the only one pondering these questions. (Now that I think about it, this blog is also proof that I’m not the only one pondering these questions!)

And thus began my journey of religion reporting. The copy-editing part of the job I had down pat (I had spent most of the summer doing that), but in August I started working on my first story.

With the overturning of Roe in June, Wyoming’s abortion ban law was set to trigger, or go into effect, soon after. The state’s only abortion clinic filed a lawsuit against the trigger law with several other plaintiffs: a nurse, a nonprofit abortion fund and a Jewish woman who claimed that the trigger law would prevent her from practicing Judaism as she felt led.

This was of particular interest to me. I had never considered that Judaism might take a different stance on abortion than that of evangelical Christianity.

Indeed, they do. Many Jews (let’s be clear: not all, and there is very much a spectrum of beliefs on this issue) believe that passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy say that if a pregnancy could cause harm to the mother or threaten her life, than abortion is encouraged, and in some cases, mandated. However, Jewish leaders emphasize that this decision is not to be done with consulting knowledgeable doctors, rabbis and partners.

What a first story! I felt as if I had jumped off the precipice and straight into dark, icy waters with that one. But that’s how you learn to swim, I realized, and speaking with Jewish leaders taught me so much.

And that’s exactly why I wanted to write about religion. It wouldn’t be easy, that I knew, but how enlightening to get the chance to speak with different religious leaders and communities.

When I can get ahold of them, that is. I’ve learned that religious leaders are particularly difficult to reach. I pursued one source for over a month before I finally got to sit down and speak with him. When we did, though, we had the best interview and discussion.

Wyoming is about as conservative as a state can be, and religion’s role in why it is so solidly red provides me the perfect opportunity to talk about the relationship between faith and politics. Of course, not everyone leans to the right, but that also gives me the chance to give minority voices a platform. Cowboy culture, abortion, the role smaller faiths play in the religious landscape here – the story ideas go on and on.

Since that first story, which you can read here, along with an introductory column that I wrote to go along with it, I’ve written about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, talks on Native American spirituality and Christianity, a Catholic women’s conference and the reactions of pro-life churches and leaders to Roe’s overturning.

Recently, we had two people quit to move out of state, so in their absence the rest of our beats have shifted to accommodate everything that needs to be covered. Our health and education reporter is now covering state and local politics as well, our community reporter is now helping to cover politics in addition to city and crime and I am covering more community stuff, which I don’t mind. I find that covering religion and covering community often goes hand in hand. We’re hiring for the two jobs that opened but have not hired anyone just yet.

When I’m not chasing down religious leaders for interviews, I’ve taken up crocheting (the perfect cold weather creative activity, in my opinion) and have gotten back into running, but it’s getting a bit cold for that. I found a church that I’m sticking to for right now. I’ve helped two stray animals find their homes again; they keep coming around my building. I live downtown, so I walk to get coffee or drinks with friends after work.

Though Wyoming was and still is quite a shock to my system, I’ve found it a beautiful and spacious place to live. What was once a sky too big to comprehend has opened up my view to see the mountains, which have been recently dusted with snow, and the cliffs and prairies too. Sometimes, it still feels like a different planet, but now it feels like home, too.

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