Faith & Film

To tell you the truth, I never really thought about those two words—faith and film—in the same sentence. But one of the great things about working in Continuing Education at Concordia Seminary is that I am continually learning new things myself, not only about theology but about all the incredibly gifted people God has called into his kingdom, and maybe most of all, his amazing timing.

In late June, just one week before I officially took over as Director of Continuing Ed, I got an email forwarded to me. It was a very exciting proposal from Heather Choate Davis (who lives in L.A.) and Pastor Jacob Wampfler (who serves a church in Topeka, KS). I knew them both pretty well. Heather has spoken at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis several times, and Jake graduated in 2014. What I couldn’t imagine was how in the world they knew each other.

It turns out they’d met at a small missions conference in San Diego in January of 2015. They sat at the same table. Neither of them remembers much of what they discussed but somehow they decided they were going to be friends. When Heather went to Jake’s Facebook page to connect, she gasped. His cover photo was the above image from the movie Calvary. Heather had seen the movie three or four times but couldn’t find another person in the church who knew—or cared to know—anything about it. Seeing that picture was one of those great moments that C.S. Lewis refers to when you find a true friend, “What? You, too?”

For the next four years they engaged in weekly Facebook messenger conversations about their shared love of film, their frustration over the wall between the church and culture, and their deep sadness over the loss of life-giving conversations that might come from faithful souls being willing to recognize themes like redemption, reconciliation, mercy, and faith in contemporary cinema. For Heather, movies were part of her “pre-Christian” formation. She wrote screenplays long before she ever read Scripture, and earned her Writers Guild of America (WGA) card 25 years before her MA in theology. For Jake, his deep compassion for broken characters and his abiding confidence in “the light that shines in the darkness” drive him to write and podcast monthly with his brothers on their show, Cinema Brothers. As we consider how God works through vocation, it’s worth noting that Jake’s first call was to a city a stone’s throw from AMC headquarters, making it possible for him to see everything from the latest blockbuster to the tiniest indie film right in his own backyard.

“You know what we should do?” they decided. It was Ash Wednesday of this year, just after Heather had binge-watched the BBC series Broken at Jake’s recommendation. “We should have a film festival. A gathering to help church folks develop ‘eyes to see’ the many ways that movies can widen our view of the fullness of the living God at work in the world.” They were quick to reach out to some of our Seminary profs who loved movies too—David Lewis and Tim Saleska, for starters. Plus, the Seminary is blessed to have our own resident filmmaker, Dale Ward, who has participated in both the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase and the St. Louis International Film Festival. The network was growing.

Within a matter of weeks, thanks to the Holy Spirit and all the growing enthusiasm here at Concordia Seminary St. Louis, we had a date on the calendar. January 23-25, 2020, right before spring semester classes begin.

My vision for the Continuing Education program is to keep finding fresh, compelling ways to support our church body in becoming lifelong learners. The Faith & Film Festival (or, as I like to call it, “Sundance meets Symposium”!) is, for me, a perfect example of the kind of annual offering that I hope will be a game changer for how we think about lifelong learning. We’ve placed the Festival in that rare sweet spot on the calendar when folks have recovered from Christmas and are not yet in the thick of Lenten planning. We expect that some of our students will be eager to come back a few days early for the new semester to be a part of this. It will be great for them to learn early on how to look beyond the simplistic formulas of commercial, Christian-ese movies and dig into the art form in all its complexity. And, together, we’ll hunker down for forty wintery hours, watch back to back to back movies, and engage in rich, sometimes challenging, conversation with professors, subject matter experts, and others who are ready to tear down the wall between the church and the culture in perfect trust that the Creator of all our stories will be in our midst to guide us.





4 responses to “Faith & Film”

  1. Mark Avatar

    That is a great movie, Calvary. I tried to screen it for the congregation. (Along with a few others over the years. Shh, I just projected the Blu-ray.) But I must be the only film fan in the place. Because it was usually me and maybe one other rotating person who took pity on me. We usually retired to my place to watch it in comfort and with beer.

  2. Matthew Versemann Avatar
    Matthew Versemann

    Keep me informed of the film festival.

  3. Jerome Avatar

    Keep me on your list for the “Faith & Film” film festival. Sounds like a great 40 hours!!

  4. Russell Lucas Avatar
    Russell Lucas

    This is great news. I’ll be interested to see the film lineup when you guys get it set up. I’ve been part of several events over the years at Pittsburgh’s First Trinity Ev. Lutheran with Pastor Eric Andrae, and we’ve had a great time sharing the films of the Dardenne brothers, Kieslowski and others to a broad group of laymen, college students and clergy. Films are made to shared over good discussion, so God bless your efforts!

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