Ye Win (Nelson Lee) instructs Rev. Michael Spurlock (John Corbett) where to plant the crops to be grown in the fields at All Saints Church, in the new movie All Saints. At right is Spurlock. Photos courtesy of Affirm Films, BDEV

Inspiring lesson in film of church revival

  • August 26, 2017

It was an impossible task.

Ten years ago, newly ordained Episcopal Rev. Michael Spurlock had just been assigned to a small Tennessee church with 25 people in its congregation and $850,000 in debt. Church closure seemed inevitable, but it turns out God had a different plan.

All Saints is a new film (in theatres Aug. 25) based on a true story of how a salesman-turnedpastor and a group of refugees from Burma revived a dying church.

“They came to us at our most vulnerable point,” said Spurlock, 48, who is also releasing a book companion to the film. “We were about a month away from receiving an offer on the church property. We were right on the cusp of losing everything.”

The film comes at a time when Canada is experiencing its own wave of church closures. Most recently, Archbishop Valéry Vienneau of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton, N.B., announced that he is reviewing 20 of its 53 parishes that are in danger of closing.

In the next few months, the archbishop will be visiting four English-language and 16 Frenchlanguage churches to discuss possible recovery plans before the archdiocese reaches a final decision.

With dwindling congregations in Christian churches across North America, Spurlock told The Catholic Register the story of All Saints is an example of how miracles can happen when all of God’s blessings are being used to its fullest potential.

However, Spurlock also insists that All Saints is not a template on how to save a church.

“Every church, even a small church, has wonderful people resources and are we putting all of that to work, to our advantage?” asked Spurlock. “I think that’s a key to revival in the church. Let’s open our eyes and see what we do have and really use it.”

All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tenn., had less that $10,000 in its bank account. When the refugees from the Karen community along the Thailand- Myanmar border first came to meet with Spurlock on Easter Sunday 2008, he felt that he had nothing to offer them.

“That really became a statement of faith for me because ... I don’t know how we’re going to help you but you should definitely come to church here and we’ll figure it out,” he said.

A small Christian congregation of 25 turned to almost 100 when Spurlock welcomed the Karen refugees to the All Saints community. A month later, Spurlock got a call from his Episcopal bishop saying that the diocese has accepted an offer for the property.

Spurlock was heartbroken and he took a walk around the church’s 22 acres when a he heard a still, small voice speak to him.

“‘I have given you farmland. And I have given you 65 farmers from the other side of the world. What don’t you understand, Michael? You must start a farm,’”Spurlock recounted in his book All Saints.

In May 2008, Spurlock and the All Saints community came together to till the soil and plant its first crops.

The church’s farm was not without its challenges. Spurlock had no money to purchase a tractor or even an efficient irrigation system, but small little miracles came along the way. Unexpected rain and strangers that left cheques in the church mailbox were signs of hope that kept the community going.

By 2009, the church farm was producing crops that could feed the Karen people and have enough profits to sustain the church.

“One of the things that I’ve been more gratified about is that it happened almost without me,” said Spurlock. “I haven’t forgotten that Jesus is the interesting part of this story.”

Spurlock served All Saints for three years, until he was reassigned to St. Thomas Church in New York City. It was while he was serving his new congregation that Affirm Films, known for producing faith-based movies like Risen and Miracles from Heaven, approached him in 2010 with the idea for his own film.

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