Churches ‘star’ in movies, TV shows

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The United Methodist Church is no stranger to a Hollywood movie set.

The picturesque structures of United Methodist churches have been featured in dozens of films including such notable ones as "The Graduate," "Back to the Future," "Home Alone" and "The Godfather."

At least two United Methodist churches were featured in three movies and a television show that premiered in 2013. They range from a summer blockbuster and a romantic drama to a dramatic HBO movie and a network TV science-fiction series.

In most cases, the church isn't depicted as itself in these productions, but being featured in a Hollywood movie or TV show does put extra money into church coffers.

United Methodist Church of Plano, Ill.

The stained glass windows in the United Methodist Church of Plano were featured in the latest Superman movie, "Man of Steel," which premiered in theaters in June and will be released on DVD Nov. 12.

The quaint town of Plano, Ill., was portrayed as Clark Kent's hometown, Smallville, in the film, and the church's interior was the backdrop for a pivotal scene where Kent seeks the guidance of a clergyman.

The Rev. Kent Svendsen, Plano's pastor, said even though the interior of his church was featured in a nearly five-minute scene, it was depicted as Catholic rather than United Methodist. In the scene, Clark Kent enters the church and asks a priest whether he should expose his superpowers to the world.

"He has &ellipsis; a crisis of conscience," Svendsen said.

So far, the movie, which was heavily marketed to churches because of its message, hasn't translated to increased tourism for the small town or increased church attendance. But Svendsen said, "It is a point of pride."

He said the production company was attracted to the church's stained glass windows, which were commissioned before 1905. They were especially drawn to one that features American flags and an eagle.

Before filming began, the crew refurnished the church's entryway and "made it look gorgeous," Svendsen said.

The production company paid the church to rent its parking lot for the entirety of the movie shoot. That money went toward maintenance and upgrades for the church.

Because of "Man of Steel," an independent film crew asked to shoot a scene inside the church as well. Svendsen said he didn't know the nature of the film.


'I'm ready for my close-up'

This year seems to be a big year for United Methodist churches on the big screen, but they've appeared in movies for a long time.

The most famous may be the La Verne (Calif.) United Methodist Church, the location for the ending scenes of "The Graduate."

Bethany United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., was the setting for 2012's "Joyful Noise," starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah.

United Methodist-related Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, was the backdrop for the 2007 Denzel Washington film "The Great Debaters," an account of the historically black school's 1935 debate team that won a national championship.

Hollywood United Methodist has appeared in so many films it should have its own agent. Perhaps owing to its proximity to Hollywood film studios, or its distinctive gothic architecture, the church and its gym have shown up in "The Godfather," "Back to the Future," "Sister Act" and "That Thing You Do." The church has also guest-starred in television shows such as "Murder, She Wrote," "Jake and the Fat Man," "The Golden Girls" and "Days of Our Lives."

Trinity United Methodist Church, Southport, N.C.

The sanctuary of Trinity United Methodist Church in Southport, N.C., was used as the setting for a funeral service in the HBO movie "Mary and Martha," which premiered early this year.

Trinity trustee chair Ronnie Pickler said the church was selected for its "historical value." The structure was built in 1887 by a ship builder, and its interior is a dark pine.

"It reminds you of an old country church," he said.

In the film about the fight by two women to eradicate malaria, the church was depicted as a non-denominational church in New England.

Pickler said the Wilmington and Southport areas of North Carolina are used frequently as the backdrop of Hollywood movies and television shows because of their beautiful landscapes. And, in turn, his church has shown up in several as well.

Exterior shots of Trinity United Methodist were shown in the film "Safe Haven," released in theaters in February 2013, and in the CBS drama "Under the Dome," that premiered on the network this summer. A church service/town-hall meeting for "Under the Dome" also was shot inside the church.

Pickler said the church asks production companies not to use the church's real name or make any changes to the structure. Even though it doesn't further the mission of the church, he said it is nice to see it on the big or small screen and the rental income helps pay for building upkeep.

Let's play ball

Two baseball-themed movies have United Methodist ties as well.

"Home Run" was filmed at New Haven and West Tulsa United Methodist churches in Oklahoma. The movie is about a highly ranked major leaguer whose drinking problem begins to affect his career. Suspended from the team, he returns to the small town he grew up in, attends a 12-step recovery group and begins to coach a youth baseball team. There he rediscovers the joy of the game and his faith in God. "Home Run's" co-producer, Carol Spann Matthews, became a Christian while taking part in the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Tulsa-New Haven United Methodist, and chose to shoot several scenes for the movie at her childhood church.

The United Methodist Church was also mentioned in the Jackie Robinson biopic "42."

Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager Branch Rickey were devout Methodists, but the faith was only briefly mentioned in the film.

When learning that Robinson risked military court-martial for refusing to sit in the back of the bus, Rickey states, "If he were white, we'd call that spirit. Robinson's a Methodist. I'm a Methodist. God's a Methodist! We can't go wrong."

*Edgemon is a freelance writer in Montgomery, Ala.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].


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