Church at the Movies

The 2018 Tribeca Film Festival is happening in a few weeks, and All Angels’ is planning to be there.

*Scroll to the bottom of the page to see what films we’re seeing at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival

Oh man, I love movies! From VHS Star Wars nights to Thanksgiving weekend blockbusters with out-of-town cousins, a hallmark of my childhood was captivation with the big screen. It wouldn’t have been reasonable to call me a “movie buff”, but if I were given a choice between watching a movie and doing anything else I’d usually opt for the movie. This may be universal experience or maybe it’s in my genes because my kids seem to be just like me.

For years I gravitated to releases with the biggest budgets and the gentlest MPAA ratings. Since I came up in a fairly conservative Christian home I was concerned to be entertained safely. My parents’ scruples–and later my own–kept a great many films at arm’s length. Behind this filtering process was an assumption that movies exercise some sort of power over viewers, but I couldn’t articulate that then. I only knew I wanted to experience the thrills of some movies while avoiding at all costs the worrisome effects of others. In other words, I knew that movies did something, but I wanted to control what I allowed them to do to me. For the most part, I wanted to be entertained by feel-good stories that ended happily ever after.

I went to seminary in Southern California, home of the movie industry. My school actually offered courses on film and theology, so I signed up. We watched 15 movies over 10 weeks and attempted to bring each into conversation with the biblical book of Ecclesiastes (admittedly not a favorite of mine before this class). You may remember that Ecclesiastes isn’t an especially hopeful book. It doesn’t pair so well with the feel-good movies I used to prefer. But what Ecclesiastes does offer is an honest take on the human situation. My professor Rob Johnston summed up the message of Ecclesiastes, saying, “Life is absurd and painful and joyful and worth dying for, all at the same time.” In this tension lies a certain mystery. A friend of Rob’s, theologian Bill Dyrness, says the theological task is “located at the intersection of hearing God’s story and telling our own stories.” So, in this class we attempted to use the mystery of Ecclesiastes as a lens through which to view the whole of the Bible, the witness to God’s story, and each of the assigned movies. Some of the films I watched in this way challenged and stretched me, but all turned out to be rewarding.

That first course gave me confidence enough to sign up for a second: an immersion course at Sundance Film Festival. This was a truly profound experience–watching movies, feeling the power (or lack thereof) in their stories, and considering what light, if any, they shed on God’s story. I also recognized a growing sense of responsibility as a Christian participant in this influential cultural event. Lots of people assembled there in Park City for the festival: filmmakers, producers, distributors, film fans and cultural leaders of all stripes. Each year this group makes a significant contribution to the cultural landscape of the coming years by deciding which movies hit theaters and shape the public that sees them. And I was there, present and engaged, as a Christian, as a witness to the Lord Jesus.

We have an opportunity of our own to participate in a major film festival in April. The 2018 Tribeca Film Festival opens downtown in a few weeks, and All Angels’ is planning to be there! Movies can be entertaining and fun, but they’re also powerful vehicles for telling stories and exploring people, the world, and God. I believe we do well to practice “hearing God’s story” and “telling our stories” together as a community. The movies offer us a way to do this. So you’re invited to join me and All Angels’ as we head down to Tribeca and see some movies later this month. We may learn more about ourselves and refresh our understanding of God’s story in the process. And of course, as living members of Christ’s Body, our presence will itself be a witness to God’s gracious presence in the world and an expression of mission in this city.

– Seth Little, All Angels’ Director of Worship Arts

Grab some popcorn. We’re going to the movies!

The 2018 Tribeca Film Festival is happening in a few weeks, and All Angels’ is planning to be there! We’ve selected six movies to see, showing Saturday-Wednesday, April 21-25 (with two on Tuesday evening). Anyone is invited to secure their own tickets and join us, but we’re currently seeking volunteers to attend a screening and write a review for this blog. If you’re interested in volunteering please contact Seth Little at We’ll cover your ticket if selected! Learn more about the festival at

Here’s our All Angels’ Church @ Tribeca Film Festival Schedule:

  • Blowin’ Up (Documentary Competition), 6:30 PM – SAT 4/21, CINÉPOLIS CHELSEA 8
  • Zoe (Gala), 9:30 PM – SUN 4/22, REGAL CINEMAS BATTERY PARK 11-5
  • Tanzania Transit (Documentary Competition), 8:00 PM – MON 4/23, CINÉPOLIS CHELSEA 6
  • Charm City (Viewpoints), 8:00 PM – TUE 4/24, CINÉPOLIS CHELSEA 6
  • Little Woods (U.S. Narrative Competition), 9:00 PM – TUE 4/24, CINÉPOLIS CHELSEA 9
  • Diane (U.S. Narrative Competition), 9:30 PM – WED 4/25, CINÉPOLIS CHELSEA 8

Remembering Mama Jean


Last Saturday, we had a beautiful memorial service for Mama Jean Pannell, beloved member of our All Angels’ family since the 1980s. The gospel choir sang some of her favorites like “How I Got Over” and “O Happy Day,” imagining her singing and dancing her heart out right there with us. There were both tears and laughter as we shared stories about her. The Reverend Mark Swanson, former Director of Community Ministries, sent this precious remembrance of her from his days on staff at All Angels’:

My most prominent memory of my friend Jean comes from a winter’s day after a coat drive we had just completed at All Angel’s Church. Among the bags and bags of coats we received, someone had donated a beautiful fur. I can’t, for the life of me, understand what it was doing inside one of the black hefty bags I unloaded from the back of my father’s truck that day, along with the surplus army jackets and worn topcoats. I kept it in a closet in Palmer Hall and then, after the Pathways drop-in center closed its doors that Thursday afternoon, presented it to her as a gift from the Lord. Jean began to cry. And jump up and down. And hug me, as she cried, and jumped up and down. I don’t think I’d ever experienced such undiluted gratitude before, and I haven’t since.

Another memory that comes to mind is her ability to take teasing and the occasional practical joke, especially from me. One of Jean’s greatest fears was of rats. She, for very understandable reasons, hated them more than you can imagine. One day, someone brought in a remote controlled rat- a fake rat pelt covering a toy car chassis with eyes that had a malignant red glow. Well, Jean was at the front security desk and so I sent the rat into her space from around the corner of the stairwell. As I followed it in a moment later, smiling ear to ear, Jean was standing up on top of the desk, looking for the heaviest object she could find to throw at the little beastie. And then she saw me, and that she had been had, and immediately collapsed into unbridled laughter, her eyes shut, tears rolling out of them. Jean was a good sport.

I have been away from New York for nearly ten years now, and when I think of my days at All Angels’, Mama Jean is among the best of all the people I had the pleasure to know. She was tough as nails, kind and giving, deeply loyal, and never one to put up with what she felt to be false or unjust. She was a force. She was, as I think about my life as I approach my fiftieth year, one of the few people who have every truly loved me. That’s a fact.

I miss her, but I now look forward to the day in Jesus’ presence when I will see her again, and she will hug me, and we will cry, and jump up and down together again.

-Rev. Mark Swanson, Vancouver British Columbia.