“I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold,” goes a lyric from one of the rousing spirituals sung by members of Washington, D.C.’s World Missions for Christ Church. It could also serve as an alternate title for “Let the Church Say Amen,” David Petersen’s modest but affecting portrait of grassroots community activism undertaken by those who seek only God’s glory as their reward. Populated by memorable characters whose commitment to humanity supersedes religious affiliation, docu should receive a warm reception from festival auds and from television viewers when it airs later this year on PBS’ “Independent Lens” series.
Located in the shadow of the White House, the World Missions Church seems held together by faith like the lives of some of its parishioners. A true storefront operation, the building is a makeshift assemblage of pews with stained upholstery, unadorned light bulbs and carpet held together by electrical tape. But when Pastor Bobby Perkins steps to the pulpit, his fiery orations are so impassioned that all other considerations fall by the wayside.
Perkins is a reformed drug addict who credits the church, originally formed by his sister JoAnn, with his salvation. Now, he has become an important leader in the community, using his own self-empowerment to reach out to others in need. As “Let the Church Say Amen” unfolds — spending a year in the company of its subjects — it catches viewers up in the elation of once-broken lives repaired and of people driven by an irrepressible desire to do good.
In addition to the Perkinses, pic follows David Surles, a homeless jack-of-all-trades who first came to the church to repair a plumbing leak and never left; Darlene Duncan, a nursing student and mother of eight who makes no distinction between her real family and her church family; and Ceodtis “Brother C” Fulmore, whose dream of spreading the faith through gospel music was only strengthened by the tragic death of his eldest son. Long before pic’s end, Peterson has made viewers care deeply about these people, and he does it without ever once asking the viewers for pity.