What the world sees, by Megan Castellan

This summer has been a season of reflection and consideration, not just for the Episcopal Church, but across the Christian spectrum.  Voices across the Mainline spectrum have united in calling for a renewed focus on our mission and ministry to the world.  And so, we, in the church, have been quite preoccupied with what this new thing that God appears to be doing will look like.  Where are we called?  What are we to do?  What committees shall we form?

But, lest we forget, while we’ve been bustling around inside our churches, the unchurchifed world has twirled merrily onwards.  This summer, Hulu started showing a British show called “Rev.”–marking the first time this show has been made available in the States (legally, cough cough).  The show follows an up-and-coming Anglican priest who is appointed vicar at a tiny inner-city London parish (played by Tom Hollander).    He struggles with disillusionment, odd parishioners, and pressure from the diocese to fill the seats at any cost, all the while wondering if what he’s doing makes any sense in the rapidly-changing world around him.

The show is brilliant as an examination of church life, so go watch it and cringe and laugh appropriately.  (It’s here.) But what’s really been fascinating to watch is the critical reaction in America.

The AV Club, the Onion‘s serious, culture-discussing sibling, has been reviewing each episode as it appears, and has fallen in un-ironic love with the show.  Each review has prompted the critic and the community of commenters to discuss themes of faith, doubt, God, and what it means to be an ethical person in this day and age.  This went so well, in fact, that the AV Club interviewed the creators and writers of the show about their perspective on faith.

One of the unique hallmarks of the show is that it depicts people struggling with being faithful, and struggling with being Christian, but at least making an effort in the struggle.  The protagonist, Adam, is frequently depicted praying, but never gets a response, at least directly.  But he does keep talking.

When we talk about evangelism and mission, it is at least as important to clarify how the world sees us, before we figure out what we want to say to the world.  The temptation is always to pass ourselves off as Brilliant Experts in Life, Faith, and Everything by virtue of our Church Attendance Excellence! Somehow, we think this will make people want to be like us, for we have, after all, achieved Excellence in Everything, and who wouldn’t want that?

But I don’t think that’s either believable or attractive.  Reading through the comments at The AV Club, I don’t have the sense people long for a Stepford community to make them all perfect.  I have the sense that people want to know that others struggle with the larger questions, just like they do.  They want to hear the hard-won wisdom of others who’ve been through some similar struggle.  They’d sort of appreciate it if they could see the put-together churchy folks laugh at ourselves once in a while.

And the good news for us is:

We can do all of that.