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A Church That Looks Like the Body of Christ

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 10:29 AM
A Church That Looks Like the Body of Christ Randall Murphree AFA Journal Editor MORE
  1. A church mortgage of $850,000.
  2. A huge church split.
  3. A disheartened remnant left with little hope. 

Three strikes. You’re out. Then add insult to injury – heap on a small army of jobless, hungry immigrants who won’t go away. Sounds like a recipe for disaster all around – or an opportunity for God to work miracles. 

The heartrending story of All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, comes to the big screen August 25 when All Saints, the movie, debuts in theaters. The Sony/Provident film is well done – acting, production, and story. 

An extraordinary solution 

Rev. Michael Spurlock is the pivotal character, played by John Corbett in this gripping film. Spurlock pastored All Saints during that turbulent and challenging season from 2010 to 2013. And he proposed a risky “solution” to the dilemma faced by the dwindling congregation. 

“The truth was even more dramatic than the film,” Spurlock told AFA Journal. 

It was, he said, like Gamaliel, New Testament scholar and mentor of the Apostle Paul, who once said:  “[I]f this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39, NKJV). 

Spurlock’s unorthodox plan put into motion a fast-moving story that is an extraordinary illustration of how the body of Christ can impact a people and a community. Thus, in hindsight, one would be hard pressed not to agree that it had to be God’s plan. 

An engaging story 

The story began in the early 2000s when All Saints was wrestling with various cultural, social, and faith issues. In 2006, the rector and most of the congregation left to found another church in a nearby city and affiliated with the more conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America. It was a heavy blow. 

With about 25 attendees, the All Saints faithful continued to worship in the beautiful church they had built a few years earlier on 22 acres of rolling farmland. But the overwhelming mortgage hovered like a dark shadow over everything they did. By 2008, they were haunted by the unspoken fears that they might lose the property. 

The film picks up in 2010 when presiding bishops of the church sent Michael Spurlock, a salesman turned clergyman, to shepherd the small flock and perhaps initiate the process of selling the property. Spurlock was just out of seminary and it was his first assignment. 

Denominational leaders believed the most feasible plan was to sell the property and relocate the small congregation in a storefront or other low-overhead facility until it could recover and rebuild.

An energizing surprise 

What the bishops didn’t anticipate was how the tenderhearted Spurlock would respond to a group of Burmese refugees who had been forced out their native land because of their Christian faith. Many of the band of about 70 immigrants were Christians, members of the Anglican church. 

“They were U.S. sponsored political refugees,” Spurlock explained. “They had fled their homeland to refugee camps in Thailand.” Settled near Nashville, they were desperate to find work and a way to feed their families. 

When Ye Win, unofficial spokesman for the refugees, first approached Spurlock, the pastor tried to explain that All Saints could not help their desperate situation. But they kept coming back until they won the pastor’s admiration and support, and he persuaded his elders to give the church one more year to try to survive. 

A farm operation was soon in full swing on the All Saints acres. Predictably, countless challenges plagued the few southern church members and the refugees as they struggled to live, work, learn, worship, and grow together. 

“I understand All Saints is now a thriving congregation of some 350 congregants,” Spurlock said, “and it’s one of the healthiest churches in the diocese.” Spurlock is now on the clergy staff at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City.  

All Saints is a heartwarming story dealing with big themes – following God’s call, tackling life’s challenges creatively, overcoming tensions in a ministry family, and having faith to plant seeds even when the harvest seems impossible. Its message is more powerful because it is the story of real people who found real purpose and experienced real progress in their faith journey. 

Editor’s note: For more information and to locate theaters, click here. All Saints is rated PG for thematic elements. A book of the same title, authored by Michael Spurlock and Jeanette Windle, is available at booksellers.

 

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