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Fascinating Portraits Document the Devotees of Father Divine, an African American Spiritual Leader

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15 Minutes Until the Banquet Is Rung

Love Child with Father and Mother Divine.Kristin Bedford

Love Child with Father and Mother Divine

Father's-Estate,-'The-Mountain-of-the-House-of-the-Lord'.Kristin-Bedford

Father’s Estate, “The Mountain of the House of the Lord”

Meet the devotees of the “The International Peace Mission Movement,” a group of followers to Father Divine, a figure they believe to be God. The movement began in Harlem during the 1930s and attracted thousands of followers, states Kristin Bedford, who spent five weeks living with and photographing the community of Father Divine in an estate outside of Philadelphia. The movement’s abiding faith and dedication despite their dwindling numbers and aging followers captivated her attention to document their traditions. Bedford describes, “My visit felt like a special intersection of time, history, and devotion. I had the chance to experience their traditions before they fade away. With these photographs I hope to offer glimpses of a mysterious and enduring faith.”

Bedford’s project highlights the simplicity and beauty found in working with one another to overcome racial inequity and achieve harmonious communal living. She describes that the Father Divine community completes daily chores to create their “holy communion banquets.” The followers play recordings of Father Divine who died in 1965. He used photography as a way to explain faith where one should ‘focus their lens’ on peaceful living and racial equality. Whether through gardening, cleaning, food preparation, serving, or setting the dinner table with fine china and pressed linens, Bedford recalls the photo project as simply about chores in the beginning but quickly turning into something new. “I saw that the followers were not approaching Father Divine’s vision of perfection with bold moves. They were realizing his truth in constant, small gestures. Preparing for their banquets was a way for followers to embody Father Divine’s vision of peace and integration, and in turn create their own “Perfect Picture.”

It seems easy to interpret the living practices of “The International Peace Mission Movement” as outdated or cult-like. Yet, one of their goals to address racial problems over meals together is nonetheless an enduring tradition practiced by various personal stories, origins, peoples, and beliefs systems. Bedford states that Father Divine followers might have stories different than ours or different from the mainstream ideas of religion but that there is room for deconstructing and expanding what our idea of “faith” looks like.

Costume Jewelry for the Banquet.Kristin Bedford

Costume Jewelry for the Banquet

Miss Life.Kristin Bedford

Miss Life

Listening to Father, Reel to Reel.Kristin Bedford

Listening to Father, Reel to Reel

Margritha After the Storm.Kristin Bedford

Margritha After the Storm

Miss Life and Miss Truth.Kristin Bedford

Miss Life and Miss Truth

Miss Seraphim, Ready to Serve at the Holy Communion Banquet.Kristin Bedford

Miss Seraphim, Ready to Serve at the Holy Communion Banquet

Mr. Nahum Sets the Table.Kristin Bedford

Mr. Nahum Sets the Table

Sisters Bath House.Kristin Bedford

Sisters Bath House

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Mr. Victory and Mr. Mahaska

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Mother and Father Divine Ornaments for “American Christmas”

The Perfect Picture.Kristin Bedford

The Perfect Picture

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Mr. Victory in His Crusader Jacket

All images © Kristin Bedford

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