Angels on Diamond Street, by the Netherlands-based director Petr Lom, is rich with quotable quotes. It is a tender look at an American church with an old, persevering, social justice soul, and the people who make their soup kitchen a communal magnet.
The film was recorded during a two-year focus on North Philadephia’s activist congregation of the Church of the Advocate in the heart of a poor, African American neighbourhood. The church building is a huge, stone beauty finished in 1887, named the George W. South Memorial Church, but is best known by its current moniker. Informative and strung together chronologically, it grows into an occasional conversation between the man behind the camera and the people he follows. You can read a lot in its details.
The human warmth of Angels on Diamond Street radiates from its big soup kitchen as Mamie Mathias, the lead cook, prepares hot meals for about 90 to 125 covers a day. But we are led through a lot of history by Barbara Easely-Cox, a veteran of the Black Panther movement and its grassroots social work. She quips, «I’m a loner. I walk with God.»
The story of the Advocate’s activism goes much further back than Donald Trump’s presidency. As an example, the first eleven female Episcopalian ministers were ordained together in this church in 1974; all of them were white. Now, the film demonstrates how the church is rolling with the needs of its patrons, how it manages the people who come and go who are not so in control of themselves or who need to feel they are in a safe spot, and how it’s reaching out in new ways too. Like many old houses of worship, the stone remains but the space’s use evolves. Here, huge, colourful murals were painted and hung in the 1970s. They were commissioned to bring African American narratives into the space when the congregants felt unrepresented by the original stained glass that rings the church with images of white-skinned saints. When Dr. Renée McKenzie, the Episcopalian minister who heads the church, explains the limits of how they can legally shelter one undocumented Mexican family, Carmela and her four children seeking sanctuary, she also tells us this is the first time the church is …
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