First UMC Newcastle finds fellowship in food and film

January 10, 2017
Submitted by the Rev. Michael Jarrell
Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Newcastle, Wyoming

It’s always fun when we start something new or pick up something familiar with new people. The thing that seems to be getting them to come back so far is cornbread: southern recipe, White Lily, and cornbread. No matter what else is going on the cornbread has definitely gotten everyone's attention. Well, that and the movie ... and the conversation ... and the rest of the food. Maybe an explanation is on order.

A few years ago, a friend and fellow minister, Christopher Peterson (PCUSA), introduced me to an idea that I have been running with since. We met at his house in Thomaston, Georgia with some members of his church for something he called Faith, Food, and Film. It sounded simple enough at the time, meet with church people and watch a movie. We were curious and wanted to hang out with our friends, so my wife and I tried it. Since that evening, I am now on my fourth iteration of the idea, having created groups at churches and seminary in Georgia, Kentucky, Colorado, and now Wyoming.

So, what is Faith, Food, and Film? Exactly what it sounds like. We gather with people who are from our church or community, from inside or outside the church, have a pot-luck (or carry-in as they call it here in the Black Hills), and watch a film. As we go along, I stop the film at key points and point out things that I or others think have spiritual, personal, or other significance and we discuss. On average, a two-hour movie takes about three hours to watch for all the discussion before, during, and afterward. The current group here at FUMC Newcastle has viewed Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, It’s a Wonderful Life, and most recently Doubt. I usually tailor the movies to the audience but I still like to challenge the group as much as possible.

The thing that always amazes me is how story, especially film, gets people into discussions of life and faith. Our moviegoers always find deep, personal connections in their lives and the lives of those they know by connecting with media. In our last meeting while watching the Oscar winning film Doubt, it took us nearly forty minutes to watch the first eighteen minutes of the film. We discussed education, race, control issues, Christian practice vs. Christian belief, and a myriad of other topics. When it was all said and done, the first question asked was, “What are we watching next month?”

To me this is a great method of ministry because it connects people to God in the way Jesus most often connected them: story. My hope is to keep finding good stories and letting God make good connections with them.