WATCH FROM HOME: The Shepherd of the Night Flock

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George C. Stoney, James Brown, Paul Barnes
black & white, 56 min, 1975

Available on DSL and DVD

The Shepherd of the Night Flock is a documentary about a jazz ministry at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan which was led by Father John Garcia Gensel.

Gensel formed the Jazz Vespers for those musicians of his growing night ministry who couldn’t make it to Sunday morning service after playing late Saturday night gigs. The ministry became the church home for many musicians, including Zoot Sims, Billy Strayhorn and Billy Taylor, and even the legendary jazz great Duke Ellington. Ellington called Pastor Gensel “the shepherd who watches over the night flock,” eventually inspiring the title for this film.

The church’s community and programming were incredibly varied, often creating a divide among parishioners. While elderly German church members ran a traditional morning service, the Jazz Vespers sang and worshiped in the evening. More traditional church-goers perceived the Jazz Vespers as a group starkly different from them, far disconnected from what their idea of what a congregation should be. Thus, The Shepherd of the Night Flock evolved into a tool to introduce different parts of the congregation to each other.

Stoney quickly realized the unifying potential of the film: “And so, we started making stuff about the Jazz Vespers, and then combining 10 minutes of the morning service and 10 minutes of the Jazz Vespers. And we found that the morning people didn’t realize that the Jazz Vespers was actually a religious experience, and the Jazz Vespers people saw that the morning service people really cared about the traditions of the church. And it began to pull the congregation together.”

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