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Christian Living

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All Saints Movie a Story of Hope and God’s Providence

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

It’s a sad story that is becoming more and more familiar across America.  A local church, once the stalwart of a given community falls on hard times due to a myriad of factors including in-fighting and dwindling attendance.  Rather than working through their issues with prayer and perseverance, many houses of worship opt to just close their doors instead.  In doing so, they may have missed out on a tremendous blessing.

Pastor Michael Spurlock knows this all to well.  Roughly a decade ago, this former salesman turned minister was sent by his denomination into a tiny church in Tennessee to shut it down for similar reasons.  What he didn’t anticipate was a group of refugees from Southeast Asia stepping in to literally plant seeds for a future that would save them all.

This remarkable story of hope and God’s providence is the subject of a new movie called aptly enough All SaintsOpening in theaters nationwide this weekend, the movie stars John Corbett (Northern Exposure, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and Cara Buono (Stranger Things).

I recently sat down with Pastor Spurlock to talk about the miraculous rebirth of the once doomed All Saints Church and how God can use anything to achieve His purposes.

Michael, you lived the story of All Saints.  From your perspective, what’s the story of this movie all about?

In word, it’s a kind of a resurrection in that we had people who thought they were dying, who thought they were losing everything that they knew of their church. Life as they knew it in church was radically different and to their way of thinking, and rightly so, I think, in many ways, it was diminished. We were wondering when I was appointed as their clergyman, are we, in fact, going to lose everything that we know as church? Are we going to sell the church? Are we going to be able to stay together as a community? Will folks follow us into diminished circumstances as we try to rebuild the parish? And then when these refugees from Burma came, it turned out that the Lord had this entirely new life prepared for us, and it didn’t look anything like the old life, but somehow it was glorified. So it kind of sounds like a resurrection to me. You have the same body, but it’s glorified. It has suffered, but it has triumphed. So I would say there are those kinds of resonances in it.

Your church membership had dwindled down to almost nothing. You were down to less than 40 people. Would that be correct?

When I arrived, there were 25 people there. It had not dwindled. The parish had suffered a fractious congregational split, and the church was coming off the heels of that break.  So, we had 25 folks and an $850,000 mortgage that got left behind.  We were heavily indebted and sparsely attended.

Obviously, when you went in there as pastor, you had some very significant challenges. As related to the story of All Saints, what was your greatest challenge early on in your tenure there?

It’s hard to say which one was the hardest, but the very first challenge was helping the folks who had lived through that split heal spiritually and emotionally from what had been a hard experience for them. It was simply being able to be patient enough to listen, to let people tell their story as many times as was necessary, to be angry, to be frustrated, to cry, to vent. So healing was the first challenge. I felt until the parish was healthy spiritually we weren’t going to go anywhere. Nothing was going to happen until some healing took place. Then another severe challenge was just our financial circumstances. How we were we going to maintain the property when we couldn’t even afford the mortgage, much less the light bill and that they were paying me, and keeping the lights on, keeping worship going, having a little bit of a music program, those sorts of things. How were we going to do that? And so that seemed to be the presenting a problem, too.

As the story goes, it was when you were on the verge of the church closing its doors for good that a group of refugees from Myanmar turn up on your doorstep to ask if they could farm the fields out behind the church. 

I was not only ignorant that these folks were in our town; I was ignorant that they even existed. I had heard of Burma, but I didn’t know what Myanmar was. I didn’t know that Burma had changed its name to Myanmar. I didn’t even know who they were, and because of some language difficulties right at the beginning, you know, getting my ear attuned to especially (their spokesperson) Ye Win’s accent.  He is featured prominently in the movie.

I’m guessing that from your perspective there must have been some level of reluctance regarding the Karen people. Were you skeptical of what their intention was?

I wasn’t skeptical of their intentions. They were very forthright with me. They explained that they were refugees. They had great needs that related to transportation and employment, food, clothing, you know, just basic living necessities. What I was skeptical about was whether an embattled and such a heavily indebted church that was already in the process of beginning to sell their property to replant the church, I was skeptical that we could do anything for them initially. But then there’s Jesus.  Here is a stranger, who comes to our doorstep, and they have needs, and they want to come to church. You can’t say no to that.

So, you’ve got the church on the verge of shutting down. You have this people group coming out of nowhere. There must have been a lot of things swirling through your mind at that time, including doubt, so how was your own faith tested during this?

I certainly doubted, but I think another one of the big challenges that I faced was learning the hard lesson that it wasn’t up to me, and as a newly ordained priest, just out of seminary with no experience in how to pastor a parish and being put into such an extreme situation, I will confess to an over-exaggerated sense of personal responsibility.  A responsibility for the fate of the parish and for the fate of the refugees. That bit me several times, and it was a weight I was not able to bear.  I was being tested and I needed to stop putting so much faith in myself. It wasn’t as though I didn’t know this in my deepest heart.  It’s just that when you’re confronted with real situations and you think, well, if God’s not going to do them, I guess I’m going to have to do all the heavy lifting around here.

But I don’t think my faith was as much tested as it was encouraged, because every time that I feared I wasn’t going to be able to do it, God did the heavy lifting, and it was this long sort of learning curve that the Lord brought me on.  I learned to trust in ways that I never thought was possible for me, and I got over myself.

Diving into the movie a bit, it’s not every day that someone has John Corbett cast to play them. What are your thoughts on the production of the movie All Saints?

What I had been hoping for is that God would send good people to tell the story, because it deserves good people, not just people hacking it out, but people living into it or having already lived into it; and we got that sense from John (Corbett) and Cara (Buono) who was really excited to be a part of this by all accounts and desired to be a part of it. So I was very pleased in just the collection of a remarkable group of people that were pleased to be working on this story, because it meant something to them personally.

Final question, after people have seen the story of All Saints portrayed on the big screen what is your greatest hope for their viewing experience?

There might be more than one, but the thing that I’ve keyed in on here lately is that one of the common questions that gets asked regularly in the culture is where is God, and I think All Saints shows that He’s alive and well and at work in His creation.

Please watch a trailer for All Saints: 

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