“The Calling,” a two-part documentary series premiering on the PBS Independent Lens series on December 20, is the inspiring story of a group of seven young people of different religions who share the experience of being called to serve as clergy. We follow Christian, Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim Americans through their studies, their struggles, and their triumphs as they work to better understand and practice their faiths, to grow closer to God, and to support their communities. We see their differences and we see their bigger similarities, their shared sincerity of purpose and generosity of spirit. This is a hugely important program and a powerful reminder that at the core of the holidays we celebrate at this time of year is a need to connect to the divine and to each other.
Embarking on life paths that demand tremendous personal sacrifice and commitment, these seminarians must uphold timeless truths in an era that values quick fixes and hot trends, and face a public that challenges the very relevance of their mission. A new look at an old job, The Calling takes viewers into the unknown world of seminaries to tell entertaining and compelling personal stories of how faith is lived in today.
As this new generation of religious leaders prepares to take its place in our society, our characters’ unfolding stories explore some of the current issues facing America’s religious communities. Islam strives to establish its American identity. The Catholic Church responds to sexual abuse scandals and to the profound demographic shift to a Spanish-speaking majority. African American churches adapt to women taking more active leadership roles.
The United States is one of the most religiously observant and spiritually diverse countries in the world, yet mainstream media has underplayed the significance of faith in our lives, and our pluralism has been addressed almost exclusively in terms of race and culture. Most explorations of faith often focus on single faiths, church scandals, fundamentalist extremists, or religion’s polarizing effect on society. The Calling underscores our spiritual common ground and offers intimate portraits for a nuanced examination of faith in America.