Faith, food, color-blind equality: A photographer turns her lens on a dwindling 20th century religious movement

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Photos: Kristin Bedford

Devotees of the early twentieth century spiritual leader known as Father Divine don’t go to church. They practice what they believe by living together, communally, and preparing an enormous banquet each day. During their feast, they listen to tapes of the man they called God, who died back in 1965 and who at one time had tens of thousands of followers.

Besides his claim of divinity, the man known as Father Divine was a radical in another way, particularly for an African-American whose height of fame was in Harlem in the 1930s: He believed in racial harmony. “They don’t say ‘black’ or ‘white,’ they say ‘dark complected’ and ‘light complected,'” said Los Angeles-based photographer Kristin Bedford.

After attending one of the so-called Holy Communion Banquets several years ago, Bedford found herself invited to live with the group for five weeks, organizing Father Divine’s photo archives and documenting their day-to-day activities. Only 18 followers remain, all senior citizens, given the religion’s core belief of celibacy, and they dwell together on a spectacular estate outside Philadelphia.

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“It’s very rare when you’re photographing faith to have a literal manifestation of an act of belief,” Bedford told us when she paid a visit to KCRW. “For Father Divine, that integrated daily activity was the realization of his truth.”

Bedford will show photos of her time with the followers of Father Divine at a talk she’ll give this coming Sunday. Details are below.

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The man who called himself Father Divine

Kristin Bedford talks about Father Divine Sunday, May 31st at LAVA’s Sunday Salon/Library Bar, 630 W. 6th Street, DTLA. To register, click here.   

To learn more about Woodmont outside Philadelphia, click here.