Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 48 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
At last! Here is a faith-based film that seeks to entertain and inspire rather than convert its audience.
And it stars two actors from one of my favorite TV series, Northern Exposure. John Corbett portrays the Reverend Michael Spurlock, a newly minted Episcopal priest assigned by his bishop to All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, close to Nashville. Barry Corbin plays the elderly parishioner Forrest, who takes an instant disliking to Michael because everyone knows that Michael has been appointed to close the dwindling congregation. His job is not to pastor the people but to inventory all the congregation’s possessions—Forrest disparagingly calls the new pastor the bishop’s “errand boy.” Indeed, when the pastor’s adolescent son Atticus (Myles Moore) declares that he will be bored in such a small place, Michael assures him that they will not be there very long—probably just for the two months needed to close the deal with a prospective buyer.
The other church members are not happy about the closure, but they have bowed to the inevitable, and thus are more accepting of Michael. Then the unexpected happens. A group of Karen refugees from Myanmar come to town. Ye Win (Nelson Lee) is their leader, largely because he is able to speak English. They were Episcopalian in their strife-torn home country, so, to Michael’s and everyone’s surprise, they show up in church. Almost against his will, both the priest and his supportive wife Aimee (Cara Buono) become involved with the Karen, her part being to teach the music to the group.
One night as he stands alone outside the church, Michael has an epiphany. The Karen are in dire need, but the church is broke and about to be sold. However, the church does own considerable acreage, enough to plant a variety of crops—and the Karen are farmers, though many at the present are plucking feathers at a chicken factory. He proposes that the members and the Karen plant crops, part of which can feed the refugees, and part of which can be sold for cash to pay off the church’s mortgage.
Without consulting Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), Michael gives the boot to the two developers planning to buy and replace the venerable church with a big box store. Accepting the priest’s plan, the Karen and church members pitch in to plow the field and plant the crops. Help comes in a variety of forms, sometimes from those not a part of the church. After receiving an offer from a stranger, Michael amusingly asks Aimee if he really heard that. The Karen especially put in long hours, those who work at the chicken factory rising early before going off to work, and upon their return, working past sunset.
However, there are obstacles that threaten to scuttle the plan. First, there is Bishop Eldon Thompson, upset that Michael has scuttled the sale of the property without forewarning him. He reminds Michael that he had promised to obey him, and he poses the disturbing reminder, “Be sure it’s God’s voice and not your own.” Always good advice after wrestling with a spiritual experience!
The Bishop’s cabinet also needs convincing. Obtaining their permission is difficult, but when compared to the problems raised by Nature as spring turns to summer, that task seems easy. There is the hurdle of not enough water, requiring some form of spraying it onto the plants. Then, when That problem is solved and matters seem to be going well, a huge rainstorm threatens to drown the crops, requiring the people to fill sandbags to protect the plants. Much of the produce is lost, but the drenched harvesters manage to save a truckload of produce for which an urban buyer is willing to pay them enough to save the church. But then, still another disaster…
I am not spoiling matters to reveal that there is an Easter following this crucifixion event, so that the results really do take on the miraculous. All this is made plausible in the excellent script by Steve Armour and directed by Steve Gomer. And what a joy to see at the end credits shots of the real pastor and the Karen people, many of whom played themselves in the film, which was shot in Smyrna at All Saints.
With no ad campaign to promote it, the film came and went in the Dayton area within two weeks, so you might have to watch it on line. It is well the effort you spend in tracking it down, especially if you want a deeply spiritual and inspirational film that does not insult your intelligence!
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the October issue of Visual Parables.