I did not see this film coming! Having seen a few American Christian films that used clichéd and heavily out of context bible passages and theological thoughts, I figured I had this one sorted before the opening credits. I expected a triumphant view of ministry and church life (think 7th Heaven). What I got instead was a film that reflected a deep understanding of the nature of church life with its day-to-day joys and the real struggles of ministry. With such a focus on the helping the underdog and the realities of farming and hard work, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t from Australia! For me, the most compelling characters (though many in this film qualify) were Michael, Ye Win, and Forrest.
Based on a true story (make sure you stick around for the credits to see those who inspired the characters) this film focuses on the ministry of pastor Michael Spurlock, his wife Aimee and son Atticus, in an Episcopal church on its last legs in Tennessee. While All Saints is about the church’s journey, Michael’s faith journey is particularly honest and confronts the common difficulties of doubt and uncertainty when you’re a ministry leader. We’ve heard from many clergy families about the complications of being called to work in a small church context, so when the church members of this church showed a mixture of emotions, ranging from hope to bitterness and resignation in the face of the church’s foreclosure approaching, I was encouraged that the filmmakers had done their homework.
It’s into this captivating church context that a group of refugees from Myanmar arrive. Led by Ye Win, this group reaches out to Michael’s church for help. Here too I was pleasantly surprised, as the character of Ye Win was so convincing as the young former Myanmar soldier now taking responsibility for the needs of the largely non-English speaking refugees escaping persecution. Michael and Ye Win fight to help the vulnerable refugees with the little resources available to their small parish. His dogged determination, personal struggles, and frequent exhaustion reminded and inspired me of the importance of perseverance in difficult ministry situations.
Enter Forrest, the cantankerous retired farmer and Vietnam Vet who couldn’t talk straighter if he tried! Having grown up in a church full of farmers myself, it feels like this grumpy, wise man could have been based on any one of them. What really rung true for me as we get to know Forrest, through his relationships with Michael and Ye Win, was that for some parishioners, loyalty is very hard won. But if it is, it can be fierce and invaluable. One of my favourite quotes of All Saints comes from Forrest. When Michael has somehow wrangled some resources out of thin air, Forrest looks at him with concern and says “Michael, did you let your stupid off the leash?!” It was a reminder of the importance of having refreshingly honest people around while you journey through ministry!
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. In more ways than I have space for here, it reflects the reality of ministry life, with imperfect characters living out their Christian faith as best they can in difficult times. In particular it addresses the way direction from God can be tested by unexpected challenges. All Saints is engaging, funny, sad, moving and I would highly recommend it to both clergy families and churches in general.
We enjoyed this movie so much we have two copies to share with you! If you'd like to enter our August Resource Giveaway, visit our Giveaway page before 24th August 2018.
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