When the phantasmagorically weird Beatles film Yellow Submarine premiered 50 years ago, its psychedelic colors and peace-and-love sensibility quickly influenced fashion, graphic design, animation and music.
But the 1968 movie also influenced organized religion — a fact lost in the hubbub over the release of a restored and remastered version in American theaters on July 8.
Not long after the British-made film landed in the United States, “submarine churches” attracted urban, young people. They adopted the outline of a yellow submarine with a small cross on its periscope as their symbol and displayed it alongside peace signs, flowers and other popular emblems of the 1960s.
There were enough of the churches a year after the film’s release that they operated The Submarine Church Press, which published a national directory of 40 such churches, most with mainline Protestant or Catholic roots, and held a three-day “rap session,” or conference, in Kansas City, Mo. Attendees came from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis and Akron, Ohio.
“In the Beatles’ movie, the submarine was the place where they loved each other in a groovy way and got strength to do battle with the Blue Meanies,” Rev. Tony Nugent, a former co-pastor of a submarine church in Berkeley, Calif., told The New York Times in 1970. “It also shows that a church has to have flexibility and maneuverability.”
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