"It's about how we as Americans handle who we choose as our leaders.
"With The Congregation the Raymonds have captured lightning again. Out of all the places to film a documentary on mainliine Christianity, they chose the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, a 200 year old congreation in Philadelphia. No sooner did they start shooting there than controverysy erupted, one that would reach the highest levels of one of the countrys largest denominations and result in the churchs associate pastor being defrocked.
The Congregation, though, is an exemplary film for reasons that have less to do with the filmmakers luck than with their prowess as storytellers. This is a celebration of a different kind of American family, the church, whose members profess their love and support for each other despite deep differences in outlook and even belief. ...
Although at least half of this films two hour running time is spent watching folks in meeting rooms talk to each other, you cant take your eyes off The Congregation. At least not if youre one of the those people who sees real drama in the way church people wrestle with the idea of community when every outside force is urging each side to stand its ground, no compromise. It would be so easy to create a film where two sides were pitted against each other, Fox News style, with only the angriest and most explosive excerpts included in the movie.
I suspect someday more churches will be like FUMCOG than not, especially if gays are allowed to marry, move to the suburbs, and vote Republican. When that happens, well look back on The Congregation as yet another period piece from the Raymonds by which to remember a very different time."
"Along with Frederick Wiseman, the Raymonds pioneered the cinema verite style of filmmaking for television. Their 1973 PBS film An American Family, chronicling the ups and downs of the Loud family of California, is considered by many the birth of reality television.
The Congregation is the gripping saga of a church life and, in the process, not doing so well by some of its memebers ... they tell it with poignancy, passion and balance."
"This film is full of quiet dignity and earnest Methodist faces. Even as they disagree, they are easy to love. It helps explain the mystery of why people keep trying to find God together, when the results can be so uninspired.. . . PBS deserves credit for bringing this to light."
"This documentary offers a non-judgmental approach by eliminating the omniscient commentator in favor of individual voices from the congregation, interviews with the staff and impromptu scenes from memberhip meetings. Thought this incremental development, the filmmakers turn the discord at FUMCOG into a fuller analysis of the discord facing mainline Protestant denominations.
The Congregation proves once more the sad truth of the adage: The church is a perfect institution until the first human arrives on the scene."
"The Congregation shows the human stories of sacrifice and courage."
"You wont get old-time religion from this documentary about a Methodist church in Philadelphia. The congregation portrayed is progressive and more into diversity than dogma. Debates over the new pastors preaching ability make for the fillm's tensest scenes; yet nobody blinks an eye when associate pastor Beth Stroud proclaims her lesbianism from the pulpit. At times Congregation's verite style makes it seem like a long church meeting, but its a valuable reminder that Christians are a diverse lot."
"The strength of The Congregation is the patience of its pacing....We come to feel we know the place...and see the raw guts of church work."