In cinemas September, 2017
What potential ministries could we be part of if we looked further than our front doors? How does God show us his plans for us? And what happens when we trust completely in him, even when all seems hopeless?
These are some of the issues considered in All Saints, which manages to tell its true story of faith, care and God’s provision without sugar coating any of the people in it.
Michael Spurlock (John Corbett) a newly ordained Episcopal minister, is placed into a dying Tennessee parish for the express purpose of taking an inventory of the church and its assets to clear the way for a quick sale. The bishop is bluntly clear about what he wants, and how soon he expects Michael to do the “godly work” of helping the locals face the loss of their church. Ouch.
The handful of parishioners left at All Saints’ know exactly why Michael is there. Some are resigned – others resentful, particularly the curmudgeonly Forrest (Barry Corbin), who rebuffs Michael’s friendly overtures, angry that the diocese seems to want nothing more than the money to be made from the 30 acres the church building stands on.
“Church is more than a couple of billfolds, or didn’t your preacher school teach you that?” he asks angrily.
Michael is torn – wanting to help, but not seeing any option beyond the task he’s been given. However, to make the keener parishioners happy while he can, he agrees to put church flyers up around the local area. And this brings a handful of Karen refugees to their door the following Sunday.
(The Karen people, for those who don’t know, are an ethnic group hailing from the border region of Myanmar and Thailand. As a result of mission work from the 18th century onwards about 15 per cent of the Karen are Christian. They’re persecuted in Myanmar because they are an ethnic minority, and are often persecuted or ignored in Thailand also.)
The leader and carer of the refugee group, Ye Win (Nelson Lee), explains to Michael that they’re Anglicans: their forebears “learned about Jesus Christ from the British”. They are also destitute – they’re sleeping on floors and need food, jobs and a sense of safety and community in the new place they’re calling home.
Michael is sympathetic but at a loss. How can a parish that’s $850,000 in debt, with only a few members, meet such needs? And how can he stop the diocese from selling the church out from under him?
A pivotal moment is when he says to his son that they should ask God to help the Karen. His son pointedly responds, “Aren’t you God’s help?” It’s an excellent observation – and quite a challenge for a new, green pastor who grapples with a constant tendency to go his own way.
This is one of the best things about All Saints. It shows us a warts-and-all Christianity, where pastors aren’t clichéd cardigan wearers or ranting nutters, but people who love God, struggle to understand his will and have personal shortcomings – just like everyone else. The onscreen Spurlock is lovable, but often the last person in the room to understand and trust in God’s grace and provision!
So often we don’t know why events in our lives happen the way they do. We can desire to serve God but we don’t understand how he will bring about his plans for us and those around us. And second guessing him is never good. It’s not for nothing that Isaiah 55:8 says, “‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord”.
It is this truth, plus our entire dependence on the goodness of God, that Michael Spurlock and his family, the Karen, the church and the wider community have to learn – along with the transformative power of love, faithfulness and friendship.
It’s worth noting that there really aren’t any “bad guys” in the film, and that’s a welcome change. There are bad choices, sure, but often it’s simply through misunderstanding, ignorance, or a lack of trust in God.
The remarkable journey of All Saints’ church and its people, and the blessings God gives them, shows how extraordinary his answers to our prayers can be.