Praying for a Living

PBS’s ‘The Calling’

A tattoo of a cross shimmers on an African Methodist Episcopal minister’s calf, a few inches above her red stiletto sandals. A chubby-cheeked young rabbi and his newly pregnant wife dig into celebratory pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. A Muslim chaplain leafs morosely through boxes of paperwork—reports on anti-Islamic harassment he experienced while working in a federal prison.

Those are just a sample of the striking images that jostle together in The Calling, a documentary that will air on PBS December 20 and 21 (check local listings). Presented by the Emmy Award–winning series Independent Lens, and supervised by series director and executive producer Daniel Alpert (A&E’s A History of God), the program tracks seven young men and women studying for, and beginning, careers as professional clergy. Though it is too broad in scope for its four-hour running time, the film is well textured and affecting, implicitly celebrating both the diversity of America’s religious life and the determination of those who have resolved to make ministerial life their full-time concern.

Similar in look and style to Scenes from a Parish, a cinematic study that Independent Lens aired last December (see “Feeding the Multitudes,” Commonweal, December 18, 2009), the new documentary nods briefly to its subjects’ stints in seminaries. For instance,...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.