PBS has a regular show of documentaries called POV (read: point of view). This past Monday night they showed The Overnighters. The film by Jesse Moss takes a look at Williston, North Dakota, and the influx of workers from around the country arriving to work in the oil fields; this influx is due to the increase in fracking and the booming oil economy. The focus is on Pastor Jay Reinke at Concordia Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) and his work in attempting to help folks who have not yet found jobs and who need a place to stay and other help.
This excellent film highlights the difficulties of ministering to a large group of people, many of whom arrive with addictions, criminal histories, and other serious problems. The pastor is seen trying to cope with not only helping these new arrivals, but a city council, newspaper, neighbors, and some parishoners who are antagonistic to people they see as outsiders, not their problem, or even a threat. The pastor’s personal life comes into play at the end of the film (I won’t reveal the ending), but what was gripping to me about the film was the pastor’s desire to minister and to reach out to people in need, especially opening a dialog in his congregation and community about the meaning of “neighbor.” Also effective was his truly listening to those who disagreed with him and not cutting them off or dismissing them. He also made a good-faith effort to reach out to local neighbors.
The film leaves many unanswered questions on multiple fronts, but it is a provocative, insightful, and sometimes disturbing exploration. One person on the web remarked that an unexplored issue in the film is the oil corporations and other major companies that are making huge profits, and their taking a role (or failing to take a role) in helping the community deal with the massive social problems that their work is creating.