Writer-director Robert G. Lee is a clean stand-up comedian and studio warm-up comic. He’s directed plays and produced videos for Bel-Air Presbyterian Church. In this movie he presents quirky church people with a love and deep faith missing from mainstream movies.
As one character says, the story is how “the worst possible thing turned into the best possible thing.” Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Although the protagonists don’t have faith, God uses them.
Frank and Daphne (Jamie Alexander and Jacquelyn Zook) are on the edge of divorce. They’re working harder on their careers than on their marriage.When Frank witnesses a murder, he and his wife are rushed into the federal witness protection program. The materialistic Daphne is more concerned about losing her business than possibly her life.
They’re whisked to another city as Jack and Julie Jacobs. “You shall be called by a new name bestowed by the mouth of the Lord” (Isaiah 62:2b).
They live in the shabby basement of First Fresno Presbyterian Church, the former crown jewel of the neighborhood that has lost members and hope. The church’s stained-glass windows are covered, both literally and figuratively, keeping out God’s light.
Jack is the new associate pastor.
He knows nothing about religion. The jovial but burned-out senior pastor (Kevin Brief) says the job is “window dressing.”
Pastor Bronwen is going through the motions. To him, the church is a place of retreat from the evil world, not a force to change society. He kowtows to Mary Fogg (Catherine Gaffney), FFPC’s wealthiest contributor and the one who really runs the church.
FFPC is typical of many once-vibrant congregations. As youths move away and neighborhoods change, those remaining cling to what is familiar and comforting.
Fogg, an apt name with her muddled thinking, cannot visualize “church” as something other than what she once knew. Why does she remain with a dying congregation? Is it habit, duty, nostalgia, power or the fear of change?
Bronwen can be found in many pulpits, nice people worn down by years of declining influence and dealing with Foggs. Complacency has replaced mission.
Fogg and Bronwen are not bad people—they’re just stuck in survival mode.
The FFPC members are lovable oddballs. Like real Christians, they have their faults.
Jack is clueless about his job, so he and some parishioners start helping nonmembers. When asked what he is doing, Jack replies, “I have no idea. Isn’t that what churches do?”
Jack’s passion and innocence spark a revival. One Sunday, he asks the congregation, “If God calls us to go out and save the world, what are we doing in here?” Churches are not resurrected through structured growth programs or praise bands but through service and love.
No music crescendos, no bright lights or histrionics are used for scenes of spiritual enlightenment. Such quiet moments are more realistic of conversion than Hollywood spectacles. (The converts are not baptized, but that’s for a sequel).
The message sign outside FFPC reads, “We don’t raise our hands in church. We’re afraid God will call on us!” Believers are scared that God will ask them to step outside their comfort zone. We want security, not challenges.
When things get rough, Jack exclaims, “I didn’t sign up for this!” Believers don’t know what’s in store when they “sign on” to the faith. But God provides the needed resources, as Jack discovers in his darkest hour of doubt and danger.
It’s a family-friendly film for small groups to watch together and ask, as Jack does, “Do you really want to belong to a church that only exists to help itself?”
Watch for the movie’s director as Hollywood Harry, a victim of the riches-to-rags nature of the entertainment industry.
Reach Sally Carpenter at firstname.lastname@example.org.