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Friday, August 25, 2017

"All Saints" Movie Review

AUTHOR: Based on a book by John Corbett
PRODUCER: Affirm Films / Providend / Sony Pictures 2017

All Saints Episcopal Church is a historical Church that has became a pale shadow of its heydays with only a dozen aging members left. Like many churches in the West, this Church was about to be shut down for good, her assets sold, and the members given the freedom to move to other churches. Enters a salesman-turned-pastor by the name of Michael Spurlock (played by John Corbett) whose first call is to assist in selling the Church. At his ordination, he was asked to pledge obedience to the church authorities even when he may disagree with the policies or decisions. Everything seemed going to plan according to the powers above until he meets a refugee community. He finds ministering and providing shelter and hope to them a lot more fulfilling than to sell the Church using his knowledge and skills as a salesman. After all, his first calling is to God rather than to fetch the best price for the land. Slowly but surely, the story is about how Michael manages to persuade the church authorities not to sell the Church; how he gathers the congregation to work together as a community; and how he ministers to the refugees looking to build their lives anew in Smyrna, Tennessee. It is a powerful story of hope in the midst of great difficulties. Together with his wife Aimee (played by Cara Buono) and his young son Atticus (played by Myles Moore), he begins the journey of saving the Church through farming. Honestly, the farming is just the cover for something more important: The restoration of hopes and dreams.

Let me share Seven thoughts. [Warning: Spoilers ahead]

1) Great use of the seed metaphor. Start small. 
This is the key focus of the entire story. Based on a true story of a Church that owns acres of real estate but are losing members, it all started when the new pastor of the Church came and proposed to turn the land into farmland. It reminds me of the many seed metaphors Jesus had used. Farmers have the ability to see the big picture, to envision dreams, and to plan the resources for seeding, for watering, for planting, and for harvesting. These acts of cultivating the growth of seeds is very much a metaphor for our spiritual growth. We all need to begin as seeds, with stored up potential for growth without to be unleased. We need water, lots of water, at the initial stage to stimulate the conditions for growth. We need constant care and weeding to ensure that pests and unwanted creatures do not damage the growing seedlings. We need fertilizers and lots of hard labour. The willingness to till the land is something quite lost in the mentality of many people in the West nowadays. Growing up in homes where we conveniently buy our grocery from the comfortable supermarkets, we have lost the connection with real food that is grown in the farmlands.

2) Trials and tribulations are to be Expected
The challenges to a successful farming experience are huge. From the beginning there is the barrier of skepticism from others, even the most trusted fellow ministry workers. Michael had to present his idea to a skeptical board in order to stave off closure of the Church. He had to deal with the barrage of discouragement from lack of resources to lack of belief. Even after mustering a lot of help and spending thousands of dollars for equipment and farming tools, he had to deal with the exhaustion, often offering his own time and energy to get the work done. Plus, there is Ye Win's marital breakdown due to his overwhelming responsibilities. With both people, relationships, weather, and tremendous opposition from the forces of discouragement, it is quite amazing to see how Michael and his parish pull it off. They attributed the fruits of their labour to God. The Bible did tell us that believers are to expect trials and tribulations to come their way. It is how we deal with it that matters rather than preventing any trials from happening in the first place.

3) Theme of Sacrifice
There are always monetary resources available in any organization. It is not about the lack but about priorities in spending. In our modern world, not many are willing to sacrifice for the sake of others. Just as the congregation at All Saints Episcopal Church were to be closed, the bishop did an about turn. Instead of selling off the Church assets, he resigned so as to allow the Church to become a mission center. Who says there is no money to save the Church? Bishop Eldon Thompson was one of the strongest advocates to sell the Church due to the dwindling size of the congregation. He must have been deeply touched by the work of the small congregation to raise funds for the sake of ministering to the refugees in their midst.

Leaders must be prepared to do their share of sacrificial giving and living when the time calls for it.

4) Theme of Community
One of the most touching scenes is the way the members of the Church and the 70 Karen refugees come together to save the fields from an impending flood. Regardless of ethnicity, everybody chipped in to salvage as much crops as possible. They opened up the Church premises. They organized people into groups. It was all hands on deck as they helped, braved the rains and floods, to get as much as possible. Even though they lost most of them, the spirit of cooperation and community move hearts more than anything. Michael could not have survived it on his own. His family played a huge part in the decision. Without the support of his family, especially his wife, he wouldn't have gotten even half the distance. It is normal to encounter difficulties with congregational apathy, but Michael began with one person at a time.

People are naturally gravitated to crowds and commotions. When there is a spark, it may spur a little interest. When the flames are there, people soon follow. Leaders must have the vision of letting God use the single spark to light a fire in which people will willingly spread from one person to the other.

5) Forgiveness
Often, seeking forgiveness from others is more important than depending on our own strengths. One clear example is when Michael and Ye Win needed help to water the seedlings. Due to a previous tiff between Michael and Forrest, a grumpy veteran farmer, he had tried to do things in his own way instead of seeking help. It took an act of forgiveness to enlist the help of Forrest once again, who heroically salvaged much of the fields as well as providing technical help with tractors and watering strategies.

A key element of leadership is the willingness to take the initiative to seek forgiveness without waiting for the others party to begin. Forgiveness is not waiting for someone else to start the process. It is about one initiating the process.

6) Challenging our perspectives on refugees.

There is a lot we need to correct ourselves when it comes to knowing the world at large. One scene shows a woman calling for a Korean translator to help talk with the Karen refugees. She had mistakenly presumed that the refugees were "Koreans." Without the knowledge of anything Korean or Karen, it reminds us of our tendency to jump to conclusions and embarrassing ourselves for our ignorance instead. This calls for a wider cultural awareness education. Perhaps, every Christian community should from time to time talk about various cultures from around the world. They could even begin with the very people in their midst. The more cultures they welcome, they more they would likely understand. The West has been blessed by thousands of immigrants over the years. Why not invite them into our midst and learn from them. Michael's wife who helped with the formation of the choir is a case in point. Instead of trying to get the Karen children to sing an English hymn, which they were struggling with, she showed her humility and willingness to learn by asking them to teach her instead how to sing. That is a lovely and classy move indeed.

Leaders can show the way by reaching out to the needy and the marginalized by example. The website has a host of refugee resources to give us ideas on how to do just that. Preachers can share about the needy cultural groups regularly. Leaders can take initiative to share about needs in the community. It is easy to become inward looking that we forgot to look out for others. When we learn to be more outward looking, not only can we see the greater needs beyond us, we might even realize how petty our daily struggles can seem to be.

7) Look not at numbers but to God
Every Church will have their fair share of ups and downs. Small churches are many. It is easy for small congregations to envy the large ones, to the point of giving up on their hopes and dreams and simply jumping ship to the next megachurch or hip congregation in town. This is most common in people who are stuck on numbers. This movie shows us that we need to look at our community not in terms of numbers but in terms of family members. A wise churchman once told me that he will never leave the church even though the numbers are dwindling. For the Church comprises people he regards as family. This is the key. Being in the family of God means being faithful through both thick and thin.

Overall, I recommend this movie for leaders and parishioners of churches that seem to be shrinking in numbers or not growing at all. It will create a spark of hope to get the fires of our dreams going. If you want to begin this spark, begin by watching this movie with a couple of leaders you know.

Resources from FaithFilms.ca:
  •     Check out the official press release (link)
  •     Watch this “Prompting from God” scene from the film (link)
  •     See the original book (link)
  •     See the official movie website (link)
  •     Download the high-res movie poster (link)
  •     Download the refugee infographic (link)
  •     Download the 9 page discussion guide, and the student discussion guide 
  •     Download Movie Web Banners (link)

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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