Scenes from a Parish

By Ratti, John | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Scenes from a Parish


Ratti, John, Anglican and Episcopal History


Scenes from a Parish. A film by James Rutenbeck. (TransitMedia, DVD 89 min., 2009. $24.95, home use.)

This is one of those exceptional documentary films that has almost everything to recommend it. Although the excitement at the heart of the film is generated by the congregation of St. Patrick's Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and by the pastor, Paul O'Brien, who is a palpable presence without dominating or controlling the action, the filmmaker James Rutenbeck is certainly the skilled magician who makes it all happen.

First of all, Rutenbeck allows us to really see Lawrence and St. Patrick's Church. Lawrence is a gritty mill town that has seen better days and St. Patrick's is a red brick Victorian monument to a particular kind of nineteenth-century piety. But without much fuss, Rutenbeck is able to show us unexpected beauty in Lawrence, and in the parish church - and certainly in the diverse people of the congregation, as they struggle to work together to form a caring community. Both Rutenbeck, and probably O'Brien, too, have obviously decided that the best way for viewers to understand the dynamics of the community is to see a mosaic of many people and situations. St. Patrick's was once the parish center of a predominandy Irish-American community. It is striving to become the home for a growing Hispanic community (as well as some Southeast Asians) . We see O'Brien playing basketball with young men in the parish; we see the parish viewing a classic Hispanic Via CrucL· (an enactment by parish actors of Jesus' tormented progress to his crucifixion) on Good Friday; we hear bits and pieces of both English and Spanish liturgies at different points in the liturgical year; we hear an elderly Anglo woman confiding to the camera that she has it on good autiiority from a friend that all Puerto Ricans really can speak and understand English - they just don't want to botiier! (And, by implication St. Patrick's does not really need to bother with all those Spanish liturgies. …

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