Peter Smith used sources and expertise developed over many years on the religion beat to explain that while the majority of United Methodist Church congregations aren’t breaking from the church over its bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages, hundreds of its U.S. congregations have already left and hundreds more are preparing to leave.

To get a sense of this historic moment, Smith checked in with his sources — some of whom have been ministers for decades. He also delved into the news archives and read through reports, finding some of the biggest congregations in various states were headed for the exits. The result was one of the most approachable narratives of this slow-motion exodus, offering both nuance and clarity to engage those close to the Methodist church and those new to the story.

Methods AP 22282785842493 2000i

Rev. Chris Morgan leads his congregation at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, Pa., Oct. 9, 2022. His church remains committed to the denomination while hundreds of U.S. congregations are leaving over the United Methodists’ bans on same-sex marriages and ordaining openly LGBTQ clergy.

AP Photo / Philip G. Pavely

The piece was illustrated with photos by freelancer Phillip Pavely, showing a Pittsburgh-area pastor who wants his congregation to remain in the UMC.

Smith’s story, which ran amid a surge of high-profile news stories, was No. 5 on AP’s list of most-viewed stories for the week and even caught the eye of Smith’s competitors on the religion beat. It was also highlighted as a “top read” in the weekly newsletter Religion Unplugged.