It was the long awaited return of Rev to BBC2 last night. You can watch last night’s episode here. The clip above shows one of the many moving pastoral encounters from the previous series which are typical of ministry.
Rev is poetry, not prose. It is inner city parish life dramatised, moving and comic. It rings so many bells.
There is a wonderful cast of actors playing a wonderful range of characters. This series introduces the Area Dean, the Diocesan Secretary, the local Imam and Baby Smallbone. Colin is still there, staking a claim as godparent for baby Smallbone, and crack addict Mick offers to babysit for money to visit his dying Mum in Southend (hasn’t she already died three times?).
There are signs that Reverend Adam Smallbone is an endangered species as the Area Dean and Diocesan Secretary scent blood and are on the tracks of pastorally reorganising St Saviour in the Marshes out of existence. There are signs that there is no room in ministry for the Micks and Colins of the world. Presence and engagement are what satisfies the Adam Smallbones of the Church of England. Up and down the country clergy are present, engaged and overwhelmed by the poverty and deprivation of their parishes. (And research suggests that clergy have the most satisfying occupation.)
Area Dean, Diocesan Secretary and Archdeacon all scoff at Adam’s “presence and engaging”. They probably think that Adam has had his chance. If he was any good he would have a larger congregation. (Archbishop Justin later apologised for the impression he gave that good vicars mean growth. It’s not as predictable as that.) I hope the Area Dean and Diocesan Secretary don’t win. There aren’t many people who Colin can talk to, and there aren’t many doors that Mick can knock on. Presence and engagement ought to be the measure of ministry in such communities, not bums on seats.
It is true that Adam is out of his depth. He probably did do better in his previous country parish. But here he is in inner-city London. He and his achievements look very small when compared to the Imam and his achievements. Adam wonders whether his ministry would be more successful if there were more rules. But, unlike Islam, little Christianity is very short on rules and perhaps feeling out of our depth should be typical for clergy. Isn’t it natural to feel overwhelmed by the dilapidated children’s playground, the crushing poverty and the huge culture gap between church and community?
Adam Smallbone, Reader Nigel, the congregation of St Saviour in the Marshes and the community they are a part of need our support. They need a pastoral reorganisation that makes their presence and engagement more sustainable and fruitful. Area Dean and Diocesan Secretary please take note.