A Resilient Parish

New Bethel Baptist Church was founded in 1946 by clergyman and minister C.L. Franklin, father of the late Aretha Franklin, who recorded her gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism in the church. Once a beacon of hope and refuge for the faithful, New Bethel has tragically crumbled alongside of its once vibrant community. But much like the city in which it resides, tremendous energy of its congregation members has been revealed in its recent actions of collectively rebuilding through organizing efforts and political activism.

Methods & Research: For my project, I’d like to tell the story of New Bethel through the eyes of its congregation members and pastors. What might this church teach us about the narratives of our nation’s “Rustbelt” cities? What might this church teach us about the city of Detroit and its people? What might this church tell us about the resilience of Detroit residents? The main obstacle that I face in doing any type of immersion project like this is permission for access. I have made contact with a few pastors from New Bethel in the past, and will arrange to meet with them in person to discuss my objectives and receive formal permission. My plan is to turn over my photographs to the church for their use. I don’t foresee them having any issues with me visiting any and all church functions over the course of the semester, but earning the trust of congregation members is absolutely the key for this project to be a success. I will need to communicate why it is that I care about this church and why I am interested in telling its story.

Pastor Melvin Rogers

This main method I’d like to use for this project is a photographic essay and/or a short video (maybe 5-10 minutes long) similar to Anthony Suau’s essay, Struggling Cleveland  Additionally, I ‘d like to write an immersion memoir about my experience. Pieces classified as “travel journalism” seem to exemplify the type of style I’d like to adopt in my immersion piece. John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Upon This Rock.”  I would like to conduct several formal interviews. These will all be incorporated into the recorded video, used as voice-overs for the photo essay, and quoted within the journalism piece.

That’s all I’ve got for now!

3 thoughts to “A Resilient Parish”

  1. Rachel! Tremendous opportunities here, not least because so many already perceive Detroit as serving this exemplary function, as either inspiration or cautionary tale (or both). Do you have any preferences as to how you’ve previously seen the community and the city represented in documentary formats?

  2. This sounds so cool! I love that you’re taking on a topic that, at least I feel, is really important and that can provide a lot of moments for genuine, intimate exploration of your subject matter.

    One thing I wonder about is have you thought about how you might distribute and deliver this project to an audience? I think this could be a really cool piece that people would WANT to see, so thinking about how you might bring this to them may just add another dimension to what already sounds like a pretty developed idea.

  3. Thanks for your enthusiasm, Ray and Josh! The most recent documentaries I’ve seen of Detroit that come to mind are “Detropia” and “Searching for Sugarman,” both which (as I interpret) cast the city as a dangerously, mysteriously asylum for artists and express a hopeful optimism in the power of creative expression to reinvigorate the city. I’m not sure where I stand in the popular debates that these pieces, (and several others created by young artists), romanticize or exploit Detroit’s urban decay. This project will be an experiment with the intersection of truth (is there such a thing?) fact, and art.

    Josh, I think that teaching myself about documentary film-making and the appropriate sites where I could broadcast this in will be part of my learning experiment, because, quite frankly, I only know how to launch QuickTimes onto Vimeo and YouTube :/

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