This American movie tells the true story of a Christian Pastor who learns the importance of what a Christian community means, after he is ordered to sell the land on which his Church was built.
Michael Spurlock (John Corbett) was a successful Corporate sales manager, who gave up his career to become a minister in the Episcopal Church. After being ordained as a Pastor, he was sent to “All Saints” Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, U.S.A.
His small country church had lost most of its parishioners, and had accumulated debts that could no longer be paid. Michael is told by his Bishop (Gregory Alan Williams) that he must close “All Saints” down. It sits on a prime piece of real estate land. Developers want the land, and they are more than happy to pay well for it.
Michael starts to welcome refugees from Burma into his Church. He actively encourages those in dire need around him, and finds himself working alongside them to turn the land on which the Church rests into a working farm that he thinks has the potential to pay off the Church’s bills. The Church’s congregation begins to farm the land to reduce the debt, and at the same time it is helping those living in poverty in the Parish. Under Pastor’s Michael’s charge, the congregation comes together as a community, united in what it see as a Christian project in which everyone can be involved. Parishioners, as “one family in Christ”, put their faith in Christian action, and become involved in a project which they see as truly Christian and making a difference.
There were multiple difficulties in getting the project going. A lowly Pastor had to argue with his Bishop and the Diocesan Council that his Church should look more obviously to its financial future in ways that recognise Christian principles. Selling the land removes the debt, but Pastor Spurlock argued that the Council should delay the time of reckoning. Michael argued that the delay should be tolerated to express faith in his God, and theirs. He could produce no real evidence that his project would be successful, but he wanted others to believe that success was possible.
There was resistance also to the fact that the project was tapping the skills of poor and uneducated people. However, the Burmese refugees knew exactly what to look for in the piece of land on which the Church rested, and how to farm it productively.
For some, the social justice nature of the project characterised a definite risk. Michael was asking his Bishop and the Council to take a chance. Pitted against behaving in a “safe” way to protect the financial future of the Church, Michael’s planning was around social justice need. The risk became a hard thing for his critics to accept, but the Council gave Pastor Michael the chance.
John Corbett is excellent in the role of Pastor Michael, and is ably supported by Cara Buono as his loyal and loving wife, Aimee. Gregory Alan Williams nicely captures the look of authority, as well as the well-intentioned doubts, of a sympathetic Bishop, who was responsible for Spurlock’s actions, and who eventually moved decisively to personally support him. The film’s direction by Steve Gomer is an assured and understanding one. He casts the movie in ways that the viewer can immediately identify with, and it is obvious that he knows some of the conflicts being experienced by the modern Church.
One can easily generalise across religious beliefs and practices in this movie. Persuasively and realistically scripted, the film makes thoughtful comment on the implementation of mission in Christian Church life. It is an inspiring film about the significance of building a welcoming community as the cornerstone of Church parish-life. It is a simple movie, unpretentiously directed, well-acted, and it has important things to say.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting