Tuesday, November 15, 2005

If I were you, I wouldn't start from here...

OK…so what did you make of Priest Idol last night? For those not within viewing reach of Channel 4, this is a new series about a young American priest, imported to undertake the huge and horrendous task of reversing the fortunes of the parish of St Mary Magdalene in Lundwood, a former mining community near Barnsley, N. Yorkshire.
Apart from the cringeworthy title, I thought there was a lot to learn from the programme, and not only in terms of how not to do 21st century parish ministry (though this message certainly camethrough loud and clear!).
The previous incumbent probably did himself no favours in sharing his (understandable) hurt at the way the community had turned its back on the church. And the picture of him walking the parish in full becassocked finery surely confirmed the general view that the church is not only irrelevant but laughable. But it wasn’t unrelieved gloom even here…a friendly exchange with a small boy on the street was a genuinely smiley moment….and then, enter stage left, young James, the new incumbent.
"Oh HELP! " was my first reaction. "They’ll eat him alive…"
He came complete with huge commitment, enthusiasm and the sort of faith that I can only envy…but he also came with the idea that his mission was to get people into church. No matter if the local teenagers (his chosen primary mission target) think that the building is “spikey” and “scarey”. No matter if the church itself is so run down and repellent that it is hard to imagine anyone actually wanting to cross its threshold, however keen they might be on an encounter with God. James is adamant that if he can get them into the building, he’ll be on the right track.

Sadly, his first experiment fell very flat indeed. He got the kids into church (through an inspired invitation to the pop choir from the secondary school) but when they arrived, they had no idea what behaviour might be expected of them, not could they see any good reason for the expectations of others. What might have been a positive beginning was turned into another “Oh-no-I-can't-bear-to-watch” moment, as the kids left in disgust, after they had been firmly put in their place by one of the tiny congregation. The sight of them walking out during the first carol on Christmas Eve was one of the saddest moments in a sad, sad programme.,

But, I still have hope. Not so much in the marketing men whom the diocese has called in, though they do add an interesting twist to the story. The trouble is, I don’t think they’re really sure that they have anything worth selling,- after all, they too are intent on selling the church, whereas I’d hope to see a bit more aspiration to connect with God…
No, my hope is in the sheer goodness of young James (though he does make me feel so very old,) and his courage, and yes, - maybe even his calling. Why else would anyone cross the Atlantic to minister in Lundwood? I'll certainly watch the whole series...lots to ponder.

(There is more discussion on Dave's rather wonderful Cartooon Church blog...and a good link from there too and an interview with James here )

9 comments:

SpookyRach said...

This sounds like an interesting show, to say the least! I can't imagine it being tried in America. The religious right would probably be up in arms over it and run it off the air. Yet, so little is said about the trashy shows we do have - as long as the don't mention religion.

Kinda weird.

Kathryn said...

Huge difference, Rach, is that while 70% of the US population attend church, less than 10% do here...Which is one reason why it's such a huge cultural shock for poor James, and why I suspect that whatever he achieves it will in no way match his initial vision. It will be interesting to see, though.

Mark said...

Thanks for the review - having missed it, it was very helpful to read your thoughts. The sad reduction of mission to 'getting more people into church [meaning building]' was very much in my thoughts as I was away.

1 i z said...

I'm contemplating forming a posse to hunt down the blonde woman who so unlovingly abused the teenage lads, put her in an alien cultural environment and then slap her upside the head in return, when she fails to know how to act.

Any joiners?

Rachel's Big Dunk said...

Oh, Kathryn,

Since we don't get Priest Idol across the pond, can you please keep us posted on the developments? It sounds like a very interesting show!

(A somewhat embarrassed "reality" tv addict..)

Kathryn said...

I'll do my best, Rachel...Will have to record next week's, as I'm out that evening...also interesting to see what turn the discussion takes elsewhere.
Liz, I'm not very good at affirmative action, but I could always preach at that woman. I have a sermon on Revelation that should be punishment enough for anyone....

see-through faith said...

sounds really interesting. it doesn't air here either ... too English I guess ... so hope you keep us updated.

blessings
God is our hope :)

the reverend mommy said...

Hmmmm.... now I want to see it. It really sounds facinating. In a "let's watch a train wreck" kind of facinating....

David Bullock said...

Sorry I have to say this program sickens me. Strangely because I would not even describe myself as Christian (in any conventional sense). However, I find the increasing commodification of every aspect of human life repellent. To reduce Christian thought to a brand is to cheapen not just the church but all of humanity. If the most sacred and profound beliefs can be replaced with slogans and marketing demographics then we are truly without hope. If getting people through the doors at any cost is the answer, then turn Church into a shopping mall. If we are more godless as a nation these days it is precisely because we have devalued everything through relentless marketing. To "sell" God this way is to truly make a pact with the devil.

Regards
David (a sad atheist)