THE CONGREGATION, a cinema vérité documentary by Alan and Susan Raymond, profiles a progressive United Methodist church in the midst of profound change as it struggles with the arrival of a new minister and must reinvent itself under new leadership.
Producers Alan and Susan Raymond spent over one year filming the tumultuous life of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG). Located in a changing Philadelphia neighborhood, it is a racially mixed urban church with a commitment to a ministry of social justice.
Conflict arises upon the arrival of the Reverend Fred Day, a newly appointed traditionalist minister who replaces a progressive pastor who retired after 37 years of service. The congregation must confront the realities of a divided and dwindling membership and subsequent financial shortfall as they clash over Reverend Day's style of leadership, changes in the order of worship and a perceived shift to a more conservative ministry.
The congregation decides to seek outside consultants to conduct an examination to determine whether Reverend Day is the proper selection as pastor and to evaluate new directions for their church. This eight-month process causes further tensions within the congregation as they struggle to decide whether the new senior pastor should remain.
Another ordeal emerges when their associate pastor the Reverend Beth Stroud announces to the congregation that she is a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Although openly admitting her sexual orientation puts her at risk of losing her ministerial credentials, she receives the full support of the congregation in her challenge of church law.
On Dec. 1, 2004 Reverend Stroud faced a jury of thirteen Methodist ministers who voted 12-to-1 to find her guilty of violating the United Methodist Churchs ban on self-avowed practicing homosexuals being ordained as ministers. Reverend Strouds ministerial credentials were removed and she can no longer administer baptisms, marriages or Holy Communion. She remains a lay minister at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. The two-day open clergy trial drew national media attention to the debate over gays in the clergy.
During the year, Reverend Day and the congregation continue their ministry for social justice by participating in anti-Iraq war protests at The National Cathedral in Washington, DC and supporting AIDS victims in South Africa as they host the Sinikithemba HIV Choir. The importance of teaching the congregation's next generation is shown through Reverend Stroud, in her role as youth minister, who guides the confirmation class and escorts the senior youth group on a community service project in Appalachia.
THE CONGREGATION presents a microcosm of the mainline Protestant churches who have historically supported liberal causes such as civil rights, racial and economic equality, anti-war movements and full inclusion of homosexuals. These churches, long-time standard bearers of the liberal tradition, have faced declining membership over the years and are now challenged by more conservative forces. The First United Methodist Church of Germantown represents the vanguard of churches that must persistently fight for both its liberal causes and its financial stability.
THE CONGREGATION offers an intriguing look at the behind-the-scenes work of a church in transition and the intimate stories of its two ministers. It is a complex portrait of a Protestant church moving into the 21st century.
A production of WETA Washington, DC and Video Vérité.