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Movie Review

Thy Will Be Done

‘Thy Will’ gently explores gender identity and religion

By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / September 10, 2010

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As documentaries go, “Thy Will Be Done’’ is neither evenhanded nor a work of advocacy journalism. Instead, Arlington-based filmmaker Alice Dungan Bouvrie has created a sympathetic, almost too well-mannered portrait of a unique individual — a transsexual woman who hopes to become an ordained Presbyterian minister — and the loving, tightknit community that surrounds and supports her.

Shot on video, much of the hourlong film is taken up with the long journey of Sara Herwig from her upbringing in Wichita, Kan., as a devout young man named Stephen, through seminary studies in the Boston area, marriage, parenthood, and the final coming to terms with who she truly is. After having gender reassignment surgery in 2001, Herwig came back to the church through Waltham’s First Presbyterian, an inclusive haven for the LGBT community (among others) overseen by the Rev. Jean Southard.

Herwig’s ex-wife (tearful, supportive) and grown daughter (loving, funny) talk at length about their struggles to accept the initially earth-shattering reality of their husband and father’s transformation, and these are the strongest passages in “Thy Will Be Done’’ — essential viewing for any family members dealing with similar issues.

Elsewhere, Bouvrie casts her net a little too wide, and the film’s record of a transsexual Christian pursuing the ministry is never as focused as it could be. Secondhand reports of opposition among church elders (spoken in voice-over by actors) are all we hear; “Thy Will Be Done’’ isn’t interested in debate but a gentle celebration of Herwig’s voyage and destination, complete with tinkly music score.

In 2002, a committee voted to accept Herwig as a candidate for the ministry by a ratio of two to one; having more recently passed her ordination exams, she now only needs a post to become fully ordained. And there the matter seems to have stalled. “Is there a church out there with the guts to hire me?’’ she wonders.

Bouvrie does note the head-spinning paradox that church leaders haven’t accepted Herwig’s gender change yet do consider her to be living in a taboo same-sex union with her wife, Jenn. As far as they’re concerned, then, this person is both a man and a woman, neither of whom is worthy of answering a lifelong call to God. “Thy Will Be Done’’ puzzles at the absurdity without pressing nearly as hard as you want it to.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

THY WILL BE DONE Directed by: Alice Dungan Bouvrie

Starring: Sara Herwig, the Rev. Jean Southard

At: Museum of Fine Arts

Running time: 56 minutes

Unrated (gender stuff)

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