Virginia Wesleyan University Professors Terry Lindvall and Stu Minnis examine prayer on the big screen in a newly released documentary film. Their new film investigates what these prayers are about, what they say about us, and how they may even teach spectators to pray.

terry lindvall

Dr. Terry Lindvall

It is a topic that is very familiar to Lindvall; he first began investigating the subject when he compiled a brief visual lecture on a history of prayers in Hollywood films while teaching the course “Theology and Film.” His first workshop on the subject was presented at the Virginia Film Festival in 2006. He then wrote the book, God on the Big Screen: A History of Hollywood Prayers from the Silent Era to Today, which was published in 2019. Thanks to a grant from the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, he was able to assemble a team of collaborators and create the new documentary.

The website for the film states, “Hollywood, Teach Us to Pray offers a roller coaster ride through American film history, highlighting the inclusion of prayers in movie narratives, as plot turning points (African Queen), spiritual weapons (Election), cultural markers (It’s a Wonderful Life), dramatic tour de forces (Bad Times at the El Royale), comedy (Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Talladega Nights), westerns (Pale Rider and Rooster Cogburn) and traces of transcendence (Tree of Life). People of all races, genders, ethnic groups, ages, economic status, and spiritual conditions talk, shout, whisper, haggle, cry, sing, and wrestle with God.”

This week on Watching America, Lindvall discusses the new film with host Dr. Alan Campbell. “The key is a focus on the place of prayer in American culture,” explains Lindvall, the C.S. Lewis endowed chair in communication and christian thought and professor of communication at Virginia Wesleyan. “With events like the recent one which involved many rallying around NFL player Damar Hamlin and actually praying on ESPN, we realize the centrality of our need to talk to and hear from God.”

The film first premiered at a charity event at Beach Cinema with all proceeds going to support Judeo-Christian Outreach Center and other outreach ministries. Last month, the film was also shown at the Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk. Proceeds from that event benefited The Norfolk Street Choir Project. Learn more about the film at

Listen to the interview Friday at noon on WHRV FM.