Rector's Ramblings January 24, 2018
I finally had the chance to watch the film, All Saints this past weekend. All Saints tells the story of an Episcopal parish in Tennessee that was planning on closing down, but found new life instead. The parish had dwindled to small numbers and the diocese sent a priest to help the parish go through the equivalent of an ecclesiastical Hospice period. Instead, however, some Karen refugees from Burma showed up and the Church found itself in the middle of a resurrection story instead. The Karen refugees had been Anglicans, a persecuted minority, so they naturally found the closest Episcopal Church once they resettled.
The Karen refugees who had been resettled in the area were poor, so they could not do much to support the congregation’s finances, but they did have skills as farmers. The Church turned its land into a working farm, which allowed the Church to feed the refugees and also support the church’s budget, allowing the church to stay open; it remains open to this day, ten years later. It is a great story – a true story – about how the Gospel can accomplish amazing things when it is lived out.
As a disclaimer, if you see the movie (I rented it from Red Box at Harris Teeter), you will notice a lot of incorrect tidbits when it comes to Episcopal lingo, culture, and practice, but it’s Hollywood. At least they made us look good. Once I got past the errors in accuracy, (which are probably more glaring to me anyway!), I found it to be a feel good story that was inspiring. Critics and audiences have general liked the film, although it never had a full nation-wide release. Also, for the record, I asked the Georgia Theater Company to bring it to St. Simons when it was in theaters, and they declined to do so!
But, the story itself is one that reminds me that churches are about more than bricks and mortar, more than dwindling congregations, more than flagging resources. The church is a living, breathing manifestation of a resurrection Lord, the Son of the same God who promises to make all things new. All Saints in Smyrna, Tennessee, is not the first or the last congregation to undergo a resurrection. And not all churches get their resurrection opportunity. Some do, in fact, close their doors when they run out of money and options. We are blessed to have a thriving parish in Christ Church, and all indications are that we will be going strong for generations to come.
That is actually why we are looking at the future so carefully, as we have been with our Master Planning. The Church – Christ Church – is more than what and who we see today. It is a community that has a long history and should think and act like one that will have an equally long future. When our current lands were set aside, when our current worship spaces were constructed, they were “overbuilt” for their day. They were built out of a sense of mission that could see what would one day be possible. They were built so that future generations would be assured of a space and a community to learn the Gospel story and create a life in Christ.
The All Saints story is one that literally involves sowing seeds to ensure the future, and in our own way, we are doing the same thing here. I pray that we will continue to look to the future, listening for the leading of the Spirit, so that we can avoid a day when there are barely any worshippers on these grounds. Instead, I envision a future full of new life and new energy, meeting the needs of tomorrow’s generation and sharing the gospel for a new era. I don’t know that anyone will make a movie out of us, but there is that book about our last resurrection after the Civil War, so who knows? Perhaps we should live like we would want to be portrayed in a novel or a movie? Perhaps not. Maybe we should just strive to live like the followers of Jesus we are. The rest will take care of itself from there. And if they do make a movie about us, let’s hope they at least find handsome and beautiful actors to portray us.
Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.