I didn’t think a documentary on housing could take so many turns. This is truly a must see film for social justice workers, congregational leaders, clergy and all those who have hoped and tried to make the world a better place and wondered, “what went wrong”? Your story has been told.
A reverend in a small town lets persons looking for oil related fracking jobs sleep on church grounds and dubs the program “The Overnighters”. Those in the program are grateful that they have a place to sleep, that they have an opportunity to make money and that they can get a second chance in life. The pastor is happy that he can bring a sense of community to those he is providing sanctuary to and that he can “demonstrate loving thy neighbor as thyself.” Then things get messy. The next hour and half documents the highs and lows of doing ministry in a broken world and with broken people. Oh, and when I say broken people I mean everyone. The overnighters, the congregation, the neighbors of the church and the pastor himself deal with all sorts of gossip, safety concerns, employment setbacks, personal demons and suspicion if not out right paranoia. The thoroughly engaging documentary shows how difficult it can be to do the right thing especially when so many people are unsure on what that looks like.
Wow. Building the Beloved Community is hard.
What stood out the most, (for me) is that the one party who has the most to do with the influx of laborers and the strain it is causing is absent in the film. The oil companies seem to be completely missing from the dialogue on how to keep their workers from living like refugees because of a lack of affordable housing.
Can anything good come out of fracking?
Also, when we are chasing the American dream, what are we chasing?
Lincoln Temple’s history has had similar struggles. I was told by an older member that Rev. Channing Phillips would open up the church to let persons rest who had travelled to hear him preach or participate in civil right marches. Having “others” sleep in the building incensed some members. Discussions have circled around what to do with the men and women who sleep on the church steps at night. This documentary captures the realness of church life.
This is a gospel story: a there-has-to-be-a-better-way, cross bearing and thank-God-for-Resurrection-Sunday type of story. In the pursuit of building a just community things get ugly way before they get better. But at the very end you begin to see the resurrection and then realize that the documentary doesn’t end. If you have been moved, you now become part of that resurrection story and can do social justice work in a very broken world in a new way.
If you have seen The Overnighters, share your views in the comments.