Welcome back for the March 2021 entry here at “Church of Christ Celebrities”! After trips to the courtroom and the concert hall, we now move to the silver and small screens to spotlight the religious connections of noted actress Frances McDormand (1957-), who was suggested to me as a potential blog topic several months back by a reader of the blog.
McDormand is one of only a handful of entertainers ever to win at least one Oscar (she has two), at least one Emmy (also two), and at least one Tony (one), collectively known as the “Triple Crown of Acting.” McDormand has appeared in a number of films by the Coen brothers, including Raising Arizona and Fargo. More recently, McDormand starred in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
McDormand may not have connections to Churches of Christ specifically, but as we will soon see, she has many ties to the Stone-Campbell, or Restoration, Movement more broadly. For one, McDormand is a graduate of Bethany College, the Disciples of Christ-affiliated school founded in what is now West Virginia by Alexander Campbell himself. (1)
McDormand’s ties to the Disciples come not just from her education, but from her family as well. Several articles on the actress have pointed out that her father, Vernon Weir McDormand, was a Disciples minister; his entry on Find A Grave gives considerably more information about his ministerial career. (2) One such article from the Guardian tells us quite straightforwardly that…
…McDormand was adopted at the age of 18 months by Noreen McDormand, a nurse, and her husband, the Rev Vernon McDormand, a preacher with an evangelical sect called Disciples of Christ. Because her father specialised in re-energising failing congregations, Frances and two adopted siblings had a peripatetic childhood around the US.
“We were the preacher’s kids, so wherever we lived my mother felt we just had to keep up appearances a little bit more,” the actor has remembered, but stressed that her father, in the pulpit, was more of a heaven-warm than hellfire preacher. (3)
Both by alma mater and by father, then, Frances McDormand has many points of connection to the Disciples of Christ. So while there may not be a link to Churches of Christ in particular, the SCM ties are strong, and to that extent, at least, the connection is confirmed. Thanks for tuning in for this short but conclusive entry, and be sure to click back over in a month’s time for a return trip to the world of country music!
(1) “Bethany College Alum Wins Her Second Oscar for Best Actress,” Bethany College, accessed December 28, 2020, https://www.bethanywv.edu/about-bethany/bethany-college-alum-wins-second-oscar-best-actress/ .
(2) “Rev Vernon Weir McDormand,” Find a Grave, added April 3, 2011, accessed December 28, 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/67846899/vernon-weir-mcdormand .
(3) Mark Lawson, “Frances McDormand: two defining roles, two decades apart,” The Guardian, February 17, 2018, accessed December 28, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/17/frances-mcdormand-two-defining-roles-two-decades-apart . A similar piece from the Age adds that “Her birth mother may have been one of Vernon’s parishioners.” See “Naked ambition,” The Age, October 25, 2003, accessed December 28, 2020, https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/movies/naked-ambition-20031025-gdwlg8.html .