Faith, respect for refugees at heart of “ALL SAINTS”
This message is so important that a version of it is included in The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church: “We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”
So when the film’s main character, the Rev. Michael Spurlock, a paper-salesman-turned-Episcopal-pastor, asks his small congregation “What would you do to save your church?,” the answer seems as clear as the Burmese refugees sitting together in a back row.
Rev. Spurlock, portrayed by John Corbett, is sent by his bishop to manage All Saints Church, a small Episcopal church in rural Smyrna, Tennessee, located 30 minutes southeast of Nashville. The church has been struggling for years and the bishop wants Spurlock to oversee the closing and sale of the church to a “big box retail store.”
But in the midst of making plans, taking inventory, and talking to the retail developers, Spurlock realizes that God has a different plan for him and the church. He believes that God “wants us to save this little church” by turning the land around the church into a farm.
The pastor believes that the arrival of refugees from Burma, known as the Karen (Kah-REN), can help stabilize the parish with new members and new revenue from their farming endeavors.
“We build a garden, there’s good ground at All Saints,” says Ye Win, a former soldier who leads the local Karens as they struggle to settle and make a living in America. Here’s another connection for United Methodist viewers: Win, portrayed by Nelson Lee, got his start in the U.S. with sponsorship from Rhems United Methodist Church in North Carolina.
Together the new and old church members work hard while trying to overcome the many obstacles to building a successful farm. Along the way, they end up building something more important: a community.
“This is the story of a man who perceived God’s will was one thing and discovered that it was so much more,” says Rich Peluso, executive vice president of AFFIRM Films.
“Michael’s story around All Saints is a great example of responding to what God puts right in front of you,” says Ben Howard, executive vice president of Provident Films.
“The Karen people knocked on the door,” Howard continues. “It would have been very easy to say ‘Sorry, we’re too busy today. We’re closing the church. We’re not able to help you. But he reached out and loved them,” Howard says.
“It’s an amazing story of people coming together to form a community, (people) who apparently have nothing in common, but who found in their faith and in their commitment to each other a real future together,” says screenwriter Steve Armour.
The faith message in the film is clear: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. The inspiring work of Michael and his wife Aimée, Ye Win and the All Saints church all serve as examples of real faith in action.
“Jesus was not vague on this issue," says Armour. "This isn’t one of those where you have to read between the lines. He says 'what you’ve done this to the least of these you’ve done it to me.' So it’s pretty clear what our obligations are. And I think Michael Spurlock felt that.”
“If you will really surrender yourselves to God,” says the real Rev. Michael Spurlock, “God will do much more wonderful things than you could ever dare, ask or imagine on your own.”
“You do not have an All Saints without faith,” says Rev. Spurlock. “You do not have an All Saints without Jesus Christ. Human willing would not have been enough to save All Saints.”
Every day, especially during hard times, it comes down to our faith and our trust in God.
As Rev. Spurlock asks in the film, “What would you do to save your church?
This article was originally published on August 31, 2017.