Arthur got given Rev Season 1 for his birthday. It’s a BBC comedy about a country vicar who gets promoted to an urban church – a huge historical building with a congregation of less than 10. You can watch a clip of it here or here.
There are some hilarious moments which will be well recognisable to those who’ve been in ministry or around Anglicans for any length of time. I chuckled when the church’s flower lady objected to having smoothies after church instead of coffee – it’s just wrong! Everyone knows coffee should be drunk in church! Likewise, I tittered at the exploits of the pedantic lay reader whose Bible knowledge far outstrips his people skills.
There are poignant moments as well, all deeply relevant to ministers and full-time ministry. The loneliness of ministry and its competitiveness are profiled. The lack of privacy is clear as people constantly invade the vicarage. The Rev struggles to juggle fundraising with the felt needs of his parishioners and his own desire to reach out to the community. There are ethical dilemmas about who qualifies for a place at the church school. There’s confusion about how to handle a case of sexual harassment.
And there are some incredibly sad moments. For all the Rev’s good intentions, he struggles to see himself as having something to offer. He attempts to reassure himself with the refrain ‘It’s a calling’ or ‘It’s a vocation’ but the only thing he seems that sure about is that people like having him around because the presence of a vicar is reassuring, especially at things like weddings and funerals. He’s frustrated by his own irrelevance: in one episode he says he’s tired of just being nice to people and wants to take a moral stand. Yet, he deprives himself of the very resources which would give his ministry purpose: to him, the Bible is simply a metaphor, an ancient human attempt to come to terms with something bigger than themselves. Though his desire is to reach out and offer meaning, his own liberalism reduces him to little more than a social functionary, albeit a well-intentioned and sympathetic one.
This is well worth the watch for the laughs and the critique. But for me, it also re-doubled my own confidence in the gospel: anything else is a poor substitute.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.