Dec. 15, 2004
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Supporters of Beth Stroud hold a banner outside Stroud�s church trial in Pughtown, Pa.
By Linda Bloom*
A UMNS Report
Philadelphia’s First United Methodist Church of Germantown is most
recently known as the church of Beth Stroud – the former pastor stripped
of her ministerial credentials Dec. 2 after a clergy trial – the
congregation has a long history of activism and social justice ministry.
history, as well as the impact on the church when its pastor of 37
years retired and a new pastor was appointed, is part of “The
Congregation,” a new documentary produced by Alan and Susan Raymond. The
documentary will air Dec. 29 on PBS.
recipients of numerous awards for their work, the Raymonds filmed the
groundbreaking PBS series, “An American Family,” featuring the Loud
family, in 1973; won an Academy Award in 1994 for “I Am a Promise: the
Children of Stanton Elementary School”; received international acclaim
and an Emmy in 2000 for “Children of War,” a look at the effect on war
and terrorism on the lives of children; and most recently documented a
prison inmate-run literacy program in “How Do You Spell Murder?” in
Raymond told United Methodist News Service that “The Congregation” is
their first documentary to focus on religion, a subject they believe has
been overlooked on television. “You don’t really see a kind of
depiction of ordinary religious life that often,” he said.
our documentary will shed some light on why these congregations have
endured, even though they are now faced with a more ethnically and
religiously diverse nation,” the Raymonds say in a commentary at http://thecongregationmovie.com,
the documentary’s Web site. “We decided to focus on a mainline
Protestant church because of the historic importance of Protestant
churches in American life.”
of the first Methodist churches in America, First United Methodist
Church of Germantown, known today by its acronym FUMCOG, was founded in
1796, a few miles from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The
cornerstone of the current building was laid in 1896, and the
congregation had 2,000 members by the end of World War II.
church building’s beauty, featured in such scenes as a Christmas
service in chapel, was appealing to Alan Raymond. “I like the whole idea
of the church as a kind of sacred place,” he said. “That was one of the
first things that attracted me to (First) church.”
many urban churches, First Church lost members as the middle class
migrated to the suburbs during the 1950s. With the appointment of the
Rev. Ted Loder in 1962, the congregation committed itself to social
justice issues, becoming involved in the cause of civil rights and
opposing the Vietnam War. In 1984, the church declared itself a public
sanctuary for Guatemalan refugees, and in 1990, it became a
“reconciling” congregation, supporting the full participating of gays
and lesbians in the church.
Noting the congregation’s concern today about issues such as the war in
Iraq, and its commitment to social justice through programs such as
after-school tutoring for students, Alan Raymond said he was glad to
find people “who still care about things in the world.”
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Rev. Fred Day, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of
Germantown, speaks with reporters during a press conference at the
clergy trial of Beth Stroud.
filmmakers also captured a tumultuous period for First Church. Loder’s
retirement in 2000, followed by the appointment of the Rev. Fred Day the
next year, led to a division among its members, some of whom considered
Day too traditional for their congregation. The documentary follows the
transition of the new pastor into the church.
that transition is part of the film’s dramatic structure, it also is a
common experience for many churchgoers. “Everyone who has ever been a
member of a congregation … has had pastoral change,” Susan Raymond
church trial of Stroud, then associate pastor, was not in the script
when the Raymonds began filming, but it became an integral part of the
are scenes of the staff-parish relations committee talking with Stroud
about her decision to publicly acknowledge her sexual orientation, of
Stroud writing the April 2003 sermon that would reveal she was a lesbian
living in a committed relationship with another woman, and of Stroud
gathered with family and friends just before delivering that sermon.
“They’re having one last pause before the sermon, knowing this was going
to change everyone’s life,” Susan Raymond recalled.
filmmakers said they felt privileged to follow Stroud’s journey. “She
never wavered in her decision,” Susan Raymond noted. “It became clear
she was going to go all the way to the end.”
side of this issue you’re on, it’s rare to see someone who sticks to
their principles in this way,” Alan Raymond added.
church trial court found Stroud guilty on Dec. 2 of being a
“self-avowed practicing homosexual,” which is not acceptable for pastors
under United Methodist law. The court removed her ministerial
credentials, and she remains on staff at First Church as a lay employee.
The premiere of “The Congregation is 9:30 to 11:30 p.m., Eastern time, Dec. 29. Check www.pbs.org/tvschedules for local listings.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.