Like many children, film director Parrish Smith, the son of a Baptist pastor, often fell asleep in church. Still his father would manage to awaken his son from time to time. “When my father used parables and stories in his sermons they somehow woke me up,” says Smith. In a good story, you can extract jewels of information and knowledge.” And thus seeds were planted for the future visual storyteller.
A desire to highlight the gifted storytelling of pastors and ministers inspired Smith to interview some of the 21st century’s highest-profile ministers, evangelists, and church leaders, examining the journeys of faith, hope, and perseverance that led these individuals to the positions of positive influence they now today in the documentary “THE SCROLL: Evidence of Life Unseen.” The four-part documentary will premiere this Sunday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. on the ASPiRE network, a television network launched June 27, 2012 by Magic Johnson Enterprises. The remaining parts of the documentary will be air at 8 p.m. on the following Sundays: February 10th, February 17th, and February24th.
Some of the faith leaders featured in the documentary are: Bishop T. D. Jakes, Rev. Al Sharpton Jr., Rev. Bernice A. King, Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant, Bishop Noel Jones, Pastor Floyd H. Flake, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, Bishop Charles E. Blake, Rev. Dr. Della Reese Lett, Bishop Paul S. Morton, Pastor A.R. Bernard, and Bishop Joseph L. Garlington. A trailer of the THE SCROLL is included below:
“In THE SCROLL, I wanted to uplift and pay homage to pastors and to ministers and to my father who is deceased,” says Smith, who directed the documentary and served as its executive producer along with Leona D. Willis. “People often see the negative side of ministers – the buffoonery, money, cars. In THE SCROLL, the ministers share stories from their life and the common link is faith.”
Smith spent three years conducting extensive interviews with more than 50 of the country’s most respected pastors and ministers, and many share parts of their lives that they have never shared so publicly before.
“My interview with Rev. Bernice King was a hard interview because of who she is, and she is very guarded,” says Smith. “She talks about how her faith wavered when her mother and her sister passed away. She was mad at God. How can you be a minister and be angry with God? Just her being candid about being mad with God is not something you hear a minister or pastor saying. And just to hear a minister say that gives you hope when you go through the same situation.”
His interview with Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant was very revealing as well. “Everyone or most everyone knows that Jamal Bryant committed adultery and lost a good chunk of his congregation,” says Smith. “Many people shunned him, and he felt isolated. At the same time, God said to him I can bring you through this if you don’t lose sight of me. Adultery affects a lot of people. About 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and adultery is one of the number one reasons for divorce. These pastors are sharing a lot of candid stories and show that we are all flawed.”
Some faith leaders even shared what some may believe is unthinkable. “Bishop Noel Jones revealed that he sometimes questions the existence of God. People think if you’re a bishop, your faith should be so strong all of the time.”
Smith admits it wasn’t easy to get these pastors and ministers to share personal stories from their lives. “That’s why it took three years when I was hoping it would take one year to make,” says Smith with a laugh. “I had to go through executive assistants and publicists. When I was growing up, the ministers were touchable. I got a lot of “Who are yous?” I had to call three and four times and sometimes 10 and 15 times, but little by little, they started to say yes. The more we did, the more we were able to do.”
Also, Smith enabled the pastors and ministers to feel comfortable by establishing some parameters around the interviews. “I limited the amount of people in the room to three people when I interviewed them,” says Smith. “When you had more than three people in the room, you got a sermon, but under three people, you got a conversation. Each interview was about one hour or so and they loosened up after an hour.”
And now the faith leaders are helping to promote the documentary. Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter’s House in Dallas, another of the church leaders profiled, says the program represents “an opportunity to know, intimately, the persons behind the message. It’s like the distinction between reading the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament we learn what the Apostles said, but we don’t learn much about who they were. Sometimes our greatest messages are not in our lips, but in our struggles.”
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., pastor emeritus of the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side, says THE SCROLL “captures a slice of African-American faith life that probably nobody else has captured, from a wide variety of clergypersons…conservative, liberal, young, old, pastors, teachers, and persons who have labored long and below the radar.”
Bishop Paul S. Morton of Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church in New Orleans, adds: “I think people need to hear from people of influence in the body of Christ that they really look up to: Have they really been through anything? Has anything happened in their lives? What are they dealing with in their lives?”
For more information, go to thescrollmovie.com.