Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Priest Idol

That’s right.

A Wheaton grad ends up on British reality TV. His mission: Save a dying church.
In his interview with Christianity Today, Father James McCaskill, an American, makes the following observation:

'The Church of England has done a really good job of compromising itself, lowering the standard to where people are, rather than calling the people to something greater in the church.’

Is the Church of England the only one guilty of this?

Well, on this week's installment, the second in this three-part spiritual reality series, some of the more memorable moments:

  • The archdeacon persuades Fr McCaskill to take voice tuition from an old friend of his. Her way to get him to learn to project his singing voice to the masses?
    Do you have a dog? Well, pretend your dog is about to run out to greet a speeding bus. What sound would you use to keep your dog from doing that?

I always wondered if Jesus had a pet dog when he was a kid, or even as an adult.

  • The two hip non-Christian guys from the marketing and PR firm hired by the Diocese to spruce up the church’s image attend church, both for the first time in about 30 years. They check out Fr McCaskill’s church in Lundwood, and can’t understand the liturgy or a word of anything -- the prayer or Fr James’s American accent.

    So, the next week they skip over to another town about 20-minutes away, with a
    completely different demographic to Lundwood (which the guys in the editing room don’t manage to include in this week's episode) that’s pulling the people out of the pubs, bingo halls, and gentlemen’s clubs and packing them in! It’s Church Café ... Anglican style. The female vicar serves up great buns with her sermons. They like it.
  • The archdeacon, Fr McCaskill, and the churchwarden travel to the posh and very urban marketing firm for the unveiling of the PR campaign. Today, they learn their mission, should they choose to accept it, has been re-branded ...


Seriously. Oh, and the ‘t’ in ‘Lite’ is fashioned as the cross.

Pretty original concept, I guess, for non-Believers.

My first thought mirrored that of a parishioner who thought it reminded her of an American tub of margarine. My second thought was that my husband calls watered-down worship services ‘JC Lite’. Hmmm … is there a subliminal message beginning to develop here?

  • The baptismal font has to go! After donkey’s years placed in the same spot in the church, it has to be moved to make the new glass-topped tea table more accessible for the tea and biscuit fellowship after the services.

Will the church split now?

  • Fr McCaskill himself finally paints over the ‘F’ word painted by local yobs a few years back on the outside of the church hall which used to read ‘F--- God’. The rainbow, and God, remain.
  • The interior designer from the marketing firm and the archdeacon go over the textures of textiles being considered for selection to frame the church’s new ‘Reflection Section’. She prefers the voile. But some of the older parishioners can see a boudoir and feel the voile is highly inappropriate. Oh dear.
  • Most of the 6,000 in the parish of Lunwood are typical of today's British: they only value church-going for hatching, matching, and dispatching, and the parties after. A man may not support his local church most of his life, but by God (or without) he ought to be buried there! So it is encouraging when the congregation goes from 8 attending members on a Sunday morning to 15 in just a few months. Progress. Plus Fr James enlists a young lad to serve as acolyte. When the filming crew ask the pre-teen about his new life at the church, he says he knows his friends make fun of him, but it’s okay because he loves Jesus and God. He knows God will take care of him. And when he’s a teenager in a year’s time, he still sees himself a part of the church. Now that’s real progress!
  • The archdeacon tries to do a Trinny and Suzanne on Fr James. When he holds out one flamboyant and flowing vestment for consideration, Fr James demurs and says it reminds him of a ‘mu-mu’. When the archdeacon does not quite understand, the lithe Fr James explains that a mu-mu is what obese people wear to hide their size in. So then the archdeacon turns to hats. He places a black wide-brimmed clergy hat on Fr James’s head, and somehow, the mu-mu seems not quite so bad. In the end, however, both are rejected. Ah, the English and their sense of pomp and pageantry … whew!
  • One of the sadder parts of this whole filming project is the way the former vicar of Lundwood views the new vicar and the plans to revive the church. There does not seem to be any spirit of Christ's love or encouragement genuinely extended to Fr McCaskill. Instead, the former vicar seems to be waiting for Fr James to hang himself. The British hate success.

Perhaps that’s just one of the ways the filming crew and editors are trying to manipulate the situation. Producers of these reality shows love to conjure up an antagonist.

As if disgruntled parishioners aren’t enough.

Stay tuned. Part III, the final chapter, next week.

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