Scenes from a Parish, which airs tonight on PBS (check local listings), is absorbing, conscience-stirring, and occasionally tinged with political correctness, but grounded in everyday reality. This superbly filmed Independent Lens documentary centers on St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the poorest city in the state and the 23rd poorest in the nation.
Led by a Harvard-educated activist priest from an affluent family, the congregation—some members wholeheartedly, others grudgingly—reaches out to immigrants, to the hungry and the homeless, to "the least of these." Over the course of several years, during which the parish raises money to build a center that provides free meals with no strings attached, the film's director and producer, James Rutenbeck, tracks the lives of a handful of parishioners against the background of the larger story of the church's calling.
We see people transformed by the love of Christ, and we see instances of failure, confusion, and disappointment. Many scenes in the sanctuary—including a beautifully simple foot-washing ceremony—remind us that there should be no disjunction between worship and service to the community.
Here's the trailer:
John Wilson is editor ofBooks & Culture, one of CT's sister publications