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‘The Church Is Ending’

May 03, 2019 | 831 videos
Video by Spencer Creigh and Bobby Moser

Bobby Moser never much liked going to church. Growing up in “a tiny slice of nowhere” in Texas, as he described it to me, evangelical churches were the norm. “With big crowds and loud music and rock-concert-like energy, faith became spectacle, not personal,” Moser said.

His grandmother’s church, however, stood in stark contrast to its Baptist neighbors. Built in 1885, George’s Creek is a small white chapel 10 miles outside Glen Rose, Texas, a region sparsely populated with farmhouses and known for its dinosaur fossils. Somewhere along the line, the church became a refuge for members of the community who sought a quieter, more intimate churchgoing experience. Visiting George’s Greek changed Moser’s own perspective on going to church. “It’s a place where people come together to find comfort in each other,” he said. “We’d eat BBQ and just hang out. Everyone there began to feel like an extension of my grandmother.”

On the phone with his grandmother recently, Moser learned that George’s Creek is dwindling. “To put it simply, the church is ending,” Moser said. “It’s only hanging on by Pastor Earl’s will to continue.” The 90-year-old pastor, who began his tenure in 1962, now preaches to as few as six or seven parishioners; most of the church’s members have passed away. When not caretaking for the church, Earl tends to his wife, Catherine, whose Alzheimer’s is progressing rapidly.

Moser and his co-director Spencer Creigh’s short documentary, Last Sermon at George’s Creek, is an elegiac portrait of Earl and his church. “The church is slipping away, like the memory of Pastor Earl in his wife,” Moser said. “We fell in love with his quiet acceptance of that.”

Shot on 35-mm film and with a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, the cinematography has the flavor of an album of old photographs. One hazy composition depicts a creek shrouded in mist and flanked by a tangle of trees. It could almost be an impressionist painting by Monet. Many shots linger on empty spaces, with dappled light streaming through windows. “The idea was almost as if the camera had been placed in these exact points in space forever,” Creigh told me.

Ultimately, Last Sermon at George’s Creek evokes the heartbreaking passage of time. “One thing that always struck me when I talk to my grandma or members at the church is how casual the idea of dying is,” Moser said. “It’s just a part of life that they seem to accept gracefully and gently.” Moser pointed out a semantic distinction in the parishioners’ language: “They say ‘passing,’ rather than ‘death.’ I think passing is voluntary.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.