Thursday, April 28, 2022

These Nice Guys Aren't Anywhere Near Finishing Last...

The Hollars
This film was directed by Jim from The Office. Okay, the director is actually named John Krasinski, and he's a man who's had a quite surprising career since he left the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. I don’t think many would have thought of him as an action star (we here at Movie Churches certainly didn't), and yet he starred in a Michael Bay film (13 Hours) and followed in Harrison Ford’s footsteps as Jack Ryan. He directed two of the most financially successful horror films of the last five years, A Quiet Place and its sequel. One of the most extraordinary of Krasinski's career moves was a 2020 web series called Some Good News. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic as the nation and the world were shutting down in March 2020, Krasinski offered a voice of hope. When public figures seemed to be taking every opportunity to verbally attack other public figures, the tone of Some Good News was unfailingly, well, nice.

In The Hollars, Krasinski’s second feature film as a director, he presented a member of the clergy who speaks and acts in a manner that is almost as nice as Krasinski's seems to be.

Krasinski stars in the film, playing John Hollar, a struggling graphic artist living New York CIty who returns to the small Mississippi town where he grew up when his mother (Margo Martindale) falls suddenly ill and must have brain surgery. He leaves his pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), in New York when he goes to stay with his father (Richard Jenkins) and his brother, Ron (Sharlto Copley). His brother Ron is the reason we meet the clergy member that gave us here at Movie Churches an excuse to rewatch the film. 

Ron recently left his wife, and he takes his brother, John, along with a pair of binoculars to spy on his wife and two daughters. Ron parks his car across the street from his old house. 

John was not expecting this and is horribly embarrassed by his brother's behavior. A man comes out the door of Ron's former home.

“He’s the new youth pastor at Mom and Dad’s church,” Ron explains as the man heads toward the car.

It's Reverend Dan, and he's played by Josh Groban. Yes, that Josh Groban. The first thing Rev. Dan asks when he gets to Ron's car? “I heard about your mother. How’s she doing?”

“Fine, no thanks to you,” Ron growls. 

“What did he have to do with it?” John asks his brother. 

“He’s supposed to talk to God, isn’t he? Maybe he put in an order for a brain tumor,” Ron tells him.

“That’s not how it works, Ron,” Rev. Dan tells him. 

“How does it work, Reverend Dan? Tell us,” Ron retorts.

“Well, I’m just a youth pastor, so…”

“So, you couldn’t get a job as an adult pastor?” Ron snarks.

“No, I just like kids,” Rev. Dan responds.

“That’s nice,” John says.

“Yeah? That’s creepy. That’s creepy,” Ron says.

“Look, Ron,” Rev. Dan says, “I know you’re going through a hard time right now, okay?”

“Oh, really? You do?”

“I do, I appreciate that very much, however…”


“Stacy was wondering if you could stop parking in front of her house and staring at her with your binoculars.”

“Yeah? Well, F you Reverend Dan!” And after a more explicit form of that statement, Ron tries to peel off with a speedy getaway. But something’s wrong with his car. It won't start, and he's stuck..

Rev. Dan says, “It sounds like you have a broken t-chain. I mean, I could take a look at it for you if you want.”

To his great chagrin, Ron must answer, “That would be helpful, thank you.”

Ron says under his breath, “This guy…” 

John tells him, “Shut your mouth.”

So in a very awkward and tense situation, Rev. Dan behaves with humility and grace.

Ron continues to do stupid things throughout the film. He climbs up into his daughters’ room in the middle of the night and asks to be allowed to sleep there. The girls agree, but one of the girls calls Rev. Dan after Stacy (quite rightly) calls the police. 

The police handcuff Ron and escort him out of the house. Dan asks the police to take the handcuffs off Ron (which they do). “What were you doing in the house, Ron?” Rev. Dan asks.

“I don’t know,” Ron says, “I was lonely and didn’t know where else to go. I mean, they’re my kids too.”

“Would you like to talk about it?” Rev. Dan asks.

“No,” Ron says, ‘No. I mean, kind of, but…”

“Hey, come on,” Rev. Dan says, “I’m gonna buy you a cup of coffee.”

Ron asks, “You aren’t going to push any of that Jesus [excrement] on me, are you?”


“You promise?”

“I don’t force my beliefs on anyone, Ron,” Rev. Dan tells him.

“Really?” Ron asks, then pauses a moment. “What are your beliefs?”

Now that’s some fine evangelistic jiu-jitsu, Reverend Dan!

Reverend Dan is not a perfect guy. I’m not sure it's wise for him to date Stacy, the mom of two elementary-school-aged children, before she and Ron are divorced. I’ve heard from separated and divorced friends about the difficulties of introducing their kids to people they’re dating. The kids are in a delicate place, and it probably isn’t wise to let kids get attached to a parent figure that might not be around long.

But otherwise, Reverend Dan responds to attacks with kindness, turns the other cheek, and offers help and hope even when he is personally attacked. In short, he behaves in a Christlike manner. He exhibits the fruit of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

That’s why the youth pastor gets our highest Movie Churches rating of Four Steeples.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Stand By Your Preacher Man

I'd Climb the Highest Mountain
Church search committees always say, “We are not hiring the spouse.” 

They are usually so hiring the spouse.

Most job interviews exclude questions about marital status, at least from employers seeking to avoid lawsuits, but churches interviewing prospective pastors are a different matter. It isn’t uncommon for search committees to ask single candidates about their matrimonial intentions. Spouses quite often are a part of the candidating process. While considering a candidate, committees and congregations usually scrutinize the spouse and consider them in their decision.

The scrutiny doesn’t end when a pastor is hired. The spouse and children of a pastor more often than not continue to be under the microscope throughout years of ministry. I've known co-workers for years in secular jobs without meeting their spouse, but some churches come right out and say that the pastor’s husband or wife better be in the front row every Sunday.

While watching 1951’s I’d Climb the Highest Mountain, I realized that in the years (and years) of writing this blog about clergy, I've never specifically written about clergy spouses. 

It’s about time.

This film is based on A Circuit Rider's Wife, an autobiographical novel by Corra Mae Harris, though it’s a much happier story on the screen than it was in real life. Corra had a troubled marriage with Rev. Lundy Harris, who was eventually forced to confess his adulterous sins publicly. The marriage in the film is much happier.

Susan Hayward plays Mary Elizabeth Eden Thompson, the new bride of the Methodist Reverend William Asbury Thomson (William Lundigan). The Reverend has been serving in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia. The locals love their preacher and happily welcome his new wife, but she's a city girl who will need to learn to adjust to country life.

As they arrive at their home, her husband says, “I hope you can make good biscuits.” She admits she really doesn’t know how to cook, and that she'd lied about that. He tells her he knew she was lying, which makes her rather cross, “I’m an old hand at dealing with liars here, but don’t worry, we ministers have stomachs like goats.” They kiss and make up.

The Rev. Thompson does have his faults. He races his carriage with one of the town toughs and makes a bet on the race -- but the stakes are holy, “I want to see you in church Sunday, in the Amen corner.” The preacher wins the race and the bet.

Mary’s great trial comes when sickness arrives in the parish. The town doctor comes to the Reverend and tells him he’ll have to close the church because the Fever has come and it would be foolish to let so may people gather in one place. And the Reverend agrees (which might have seemed strange to some viewers in 1951 but not at all to viewers in 2022). Eventually, the Reverend offers the church building as a hospital, and the doctor gratefully accepts.

Mary joins the doctor and her husband in caring for the patients that grow in numbers. When the Reverend tells a grieving lover that his sick girlfriend will live, “The Lord’s not going to let Jennie die. I don’t know how I know, but I know.”

It’s all too much for Mary, “I wish I were dead. Jennie is going to die like the rest of them. I’m not fitted for this sort of life. I don’t pretend to understand your God, I never did and never will.”

Now this talk of “your God” makes me wonder if William and Mary ever talked about faith in their apparently brief courtship. It's helpful for a minister if their spouse shares their faith, especially with the Apostle Paul’s talk in 2 Corinthians 6 about “unequally yoked” partnerships (not a fan of mixed marriages, the man from Tarsus).

Preacher William tells his wife, “I don't think God would fail me in a time like this. You accepted this life of your own free will. If I let you run away, you’ll never forgive yourself.” 

Personally, I think the doctor is a little more persuasive, when he tells her, “It’s too late to give up now. The worst of it is over. Jennie’s fever is broken; she’ll be alright. The Lord’s done His part.”

So Mary assures us in a voiceover that she did stick around, “In spite of my weakness.” And the couple continues to work together in the church for the community, sponsoring projects like a Sunday School picnic (with only one fatality) and Christmas gifts for all the children in the community.

Mary comes to accept her role as the wife of a pastor, even quoting from Ruth, “For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Doesn’t seem like many people remember that Ruth wasn’t saying that to her husband, but to her mother-in-law, but no need to get into that here.)

After three years of service, Rev. William is called away from the community (that’s how the Methodists rolled). He tells his congregation, “We’ve been together 3 years, you are the closest of friends, but according to the rules of our church we must move on.” And Mary seems happy to go where he goes. (The film doesn’t do badly in the matter of church polity, perhaps because, as we are told in the credits, they had a “Technical Advisor,” the Rev. Wallace. Rogers, D.D.)

Since this is the first Movie Churches Steeple rating for a pastor’s spouse, we will give a generous Four Steeples to Mary Thompson. 

(This film is currently available on YouTube.)

Friday, April 15, 2022

It's a Free Country Film

The Green Promise

The Green Promise has quite an unusual opening credit. After seeing a couple of familiar names in the cast (Walter Brennan and Natalie Wood) we see this: “Introducing the Indiana 4-H Girl Jeanne LaDuke.” I’m afraid this is Jeanne’s one and only credit, and I believe it's the only Hollywood feature film including 4-H, let alone an “Indiana 4-H Girl.”

Now there may be some unfortunate readers out there who know nothing about the 4-H organization, but I was a member as a kid (my projects were woodworking and rabbits). The H’s are “Head, Heart, Hands, and Health,” and the goal of the organization is to aid in kids' development. While STEM, civic engagement, and even space exploration are all part of 4-H these days, the program's roots are in agriculture. The film is very much an hour and a half commercial for 4-H on the farm.

It tells the story of the Matthews family -- a young woman, her widowed father, and her brother and two sisters -- who moved into a farm community to make a new start. Unfortunately, Father Matthews (Walter Brennan) is a stubborn old man who uses outdated farming methods and has very unhealthy control issues. On his new property, he looks to harvest old-growth trees that provide erosion protection for his crops. He makes very poor crop choices. Worst of all, he forbids his children from joining 4-H. (How could any parent say ‘no’ to young Natalie Wood?)

If only Matthews would listen to David Barkley (Robert Paige), the local government agent who knows all there is to know about farming, auto repair, and ecology. He has nothing but sage advice but the old man won’t listen and runs the farm into the ground. Pop also doesn’t listen to the local minister.

There only seems to be one church in town, which everyone attends. Even David Barkley goes and recommends it as a nice friendly place. One neighbor says, “The preacher is less like to preach at us than talk to us.” They have a strange old organ in the church that needs to be pumped in the back room. (The congregation sings “God of Our Fathers” and “Bringing in the Sheaves,” a hymn which for some reason is more popular in movies than in actual churches.)

But the sermon preached contains some of the poorest hermeneutics I’ve ever heard. The Reverend Jim Benton (played by Milburn Stone, Doc from the long-running Western Gunsmoke) quite obviously had a message in mind, cherry-picked a Bible story, and made it fit his message. (Sadly, this is not too uncommon a practice, it’s just more blatant here.)

He begins with these words, “My sermon today is inspired by the story of Moses and the promise God made to him.” Well, at least he says the story “inspired” his sermon rather than saying his message actually comes from the text. “The story is found in the Old Testament in the book of Exodus.” Reminding his congregation that the story of the Exodus is found in the book of Exodus shows he doesn’t think much of the Biblical literacy of his people.

“The story is of those who suffered cruelly under slavery… God made a promise to Moses. God would show them how to be led out of bondage to a land of milk and honey. It was a promise of new life, a green new promise.” (Title drop!) “But the fulfillment had to be earned.” (The Reverend doesn’t seem to be a big proponent of grace.)

“We have the same Green Promise, only we have a different Moses. Our doctors, chemists, scientists lead us… These men are our Moses… This is one true and only road that will lead us to the land of promise. We too are in bondage, by whips of ignorance and the iron shackles of the unknown. We must cross the sea of doubt, the barren sea of illiteracy, the hunger of bigotry, and thirst of incompetence. These things stand between us and our freedom. But we have many Moseses to lead us; our men of science. Seekers of fact and truth, these men are our Moses, turning us from the path of superstition to the path of knowledge.”

So, basically, the Reverend is just saying, “Follow the experts and you’ll be great." There are many things wrong with this sermon, but the first is the idea that Israelites found freedom in following Moses rather than following God. If the Reverend would have gotten this point right, he would be directing his people to follow God rather than look for another Moses.

But can we really trust “science” to lead us where we need to go? In the early 20th century, many looked to the “science” of eugenics, to breed out the unhealthy elements of the human race. It wasn’t just the Nazis in Germany that believed such things, either. The 1927 United States Supreme Court decision Buck v. Bell upheld the rights of states to sterilize people. They were looking to what they thought was science, but which was later discredited not just by scientists but also by theologians, politicians, and philosophers.

We saw in our recent dealings with Covid-19, that “following the science” is not always a simple thing. In the early days of the pandemic, the CDC told people there was no need to wear masks; masks wouldn’t be helpful for average citizens. We later learned they were saying this to protect the supply of masks for medical professionals.

Many virologists advocated lockdowns to protect people from the virus, but many mental health professionals warned that isolation would be harmful for young people and those dealing with addiction. Economists warned about the dangers lockdowns would cause to the economy and a number of industries. Without judgment about whether the decisions the government made were right or wrong, I’m only noting that “experts” differ on policy. We can’t just follow “science,” not just because scientists have differing opinions, but because morals and values also need to be a part of decision-making.

I’m not going to give the church in The Green Promise our worst Movie Churches rating, because it is at least a friendly place, and we only heard one sermon, but that one sermon brings the rating down to Two Steeples.

(The Green Promise is available for free viewing at

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Thank God I'm a Country Preacher

Angel in My Pocket (1969)
Most people I know don’t particularly enjoy looking for a job. Usually, the search involves quite a process of paperwork and interviews and negotiations. It's frustrating!

Things are much simpler in the world of the 1969 film Angel in My Pocket. (FWIW, the title of the film is never referenced or explained.) Andy Griffith, a recent seminary graduate ordained as a pastor in an uncertain denomination, gets a knock on his door and finds a representative from his diocese there to inform him that he has been called to a church in a different state.

So Rev. Samuel Whitehead quits his job as a bricklayer, packs up his pregnant wife (Lee Meriwether looking remarkably plain), three school-aged children, mother-in-law, and shiftless brother-in-law (Jerry Van Dyke) to move into a church, Church of the Redeemer, and a parsonage -- sight unseen.

Sure, this film takes place before the internet, but the Rev. Andy does absolutely no research about the church or the town where he's going to serve. He makes no effort to telephone the Bishop of his Diocese to find out the history of the church or why they are looking for a pastor at this particular time. He doesn’t go to the local library to find information about the town of Wood Falls, Kansas. (I tried looking up said city and found it does not exist. Surely their AAA TripTik would have warned them about this. They didn't even get a good map).

The Reverend exhibits no curiosity about something most of us think of when considering a new job or position: pay. The film goes to great lengths to avoid naming a specific denomination, but denominations with a bishop who assigns pastors to congregations have a fairly high level of bureaucracy. And with that bureaucracy usually comes rules and regulations about salary and vacation and medical care and educational leave, but the Reverend Whitehead goes to this church without a notion of what he will be paid.

The congregation seems to have the same lack of curiosity about their new pastor. The church caretaker, Calvin Grey (Parker Fennelly), greets the pastor and family on their arrival. (Rev. Andy asks Grey if he’s lived in Wood Falls all his life. “Not yet,” is the response. But the man has a distinct New England accent, rather than a midwest, accent. He sounds like the Stage Manager in Our Town) The new minister and his family arrive on Saturday, the night before the Reverend’s first worship service and sermon.

This is strange for several reasons. For instance, the church sign reads "Sunday School at 9:30 am Morning service at 11 am." One would think, at least on that first Sunday, the Reverend would be a part of the Sunday School time -- at least stop in and say “Hello” -- but he doesn’t. And his wife and children apparently don’t either.

Even as the service begins, the Reverend hides in the back as the choir sings (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) the opening hymn. He puts on his robes as the caretaker tells him, “You better get out there, they’re running out of verses.”) This seems to be a worship service that consists entirely of two parts: hymns and the sermon. Most worship services have quite a few other elements that don’t seem to be a part of the services at Church of the Redeemer in Wood Falls: a call to worship or welcome, some announcements, Bible reading, collection of offerings -- and some awkward transitions between these elements. But not in Wood Falls, where it's just hymns and sermon. Though the robes and bishops and diocese all seem like High Church trappings, the Lord’s Supper (communion, eucharist, the High Sacrament) which is a part of every Sunday worship service in most any high church service is never celebrated here.

Rev. Whitehead had no idea what he would be preaching until the night before the service. He runs through possibilities like “Love Your Neighbor,” “Brother’s Keeper,” “Good Samaritan” until he remembers that he saw men engaged in a political brawl in the town square. So he decides to preach a sermon “Against Violence.” This is a fine sermon topic, though a Christian preacher usually finds a Bible verse or passage to go with his topic. Rev. Sam doesn’t seem to consider it a high priority.

The Reverend then does what preachers do in movies (and occasionally in real life): he waits outside the church door to shake hands as people leave, and they tell him what a fine sermon it was (“Fine sermon, it was short,” one man says.) As the people leave, a man comes to tell the Reverend that he'll be meeting the “Board of Governors.” (This phrase is an odd one for church leadership, though it's rather a common term in connection to private schools) Even stranger, at this meeting, immediately following the pastor’s first worship service, on that Sunday afternoon, they negotiate the pastor’s pay (which the board seeks to make as low as possible).

At this meeting, we also learn that for years the church has been divided into two rival factions represented by two families: the Greshems and the Sinclairs. These same two families have fought to control the mayor’s office and city council for decades. 

I really consider this a miracle. I've known churches that split over the color of the carpeting. If these people have managed to stay together in one church (and on one church governing board) for all these years, that’s a rather amazing thing.

This board is also exceptionally cheap. The previous pastor left because the church wouldn’t buy a new boiler (heating unit) A member of the board says, “We’ve had the same boiler for decades and no one has ever complained before.” They also won’t buy a new organ (the organ in place on that first Sunday is so out of tune that it's impossible to play a tune), so the pastor finds a creative solution. He hears of a burlesque house in another city that has an organ they are no longer using. He goes to the theater to buy it, and he's seen by women from the church, causing a mini-scandal. 

I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a little detour away from the church to the burlesque theater. When Rev. Sam visits the theater, a rehearsal is going on and the women are working on a show featuring "Beauties from around the World." The women are all wearing costumes that look like bathing suits with the flags of countries around the world. These costumes are not really any skimpier or more suggestive than the costumes on your average Bob Hope TV Special of the time -- and this is at the time when grindhouses were showing nudie flicks and art houses were screening I Am Curious (Yellow). End detour.

It seems The Church of the Redeemer has gone through seven pastors in the previous ten years, so one would think the Bishop of the Diocese would realize that the church would be trouble for the new pastor, but when the Board writes a complaining letter to the Bishop, he fires the Rev. Whitehead with no due process whatsoever. This isn’t how denominations do things, but since the denomination is never made clear, it’s all okay I guess.

But then the people in the church decide they want to bring Whitehead back, and they don’t need to go through the Bishop at all this time.

SO if you want to learn anything about how churches work in the real world (or what burlesque theaters were like in the 1960’s), don’t watch this film. BUT, if you would like to see a film with the comic sensibilities of a sitcom of the 1960s with many of the sitcom stars of the time (Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction, Howard Sprague from Mayberry R.F.D, Mom Peepers from Mister Peepers, along with the actual Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.)

So what's the Movie Churches Steeple Ratings for An Angel in My Pocket? The Rev. Sam gets 3 Steeples and the Church of the Redeemer gets one for an average of Two Steeples.

Friday, April 1, 2022

April Classics

I have some news to share that might be difficult for you all to take, but I think it's best to come straight out with it. Rip off the bandaid, if you will.

At the end of 2022, we plan to end this blog; Movie Churches will be finished.

I know this is difficult for many of you to take, especially when you consider some of the great films with interesting takes on churches and clergy that haven’t been covered. Even though we might get around to writing about these films as they deserve, maybe, just in case, it's better for you to explore them for yourselves.

Our gift to you today is these three underappreciated classics that feature church and/or clergy. Since they're from several different genres, you should find one to your liking.  

Perhaps you’re a fan of fantasy. You delighted in the humor and romance of The Princess Bride or the passion and magic of Ladyhawke or the grandeur, majesty, and heart of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

1980’s Hawk the Slayer is all those films rolled into one. It tells the story of warring brothers fighting for possession of a magic sword and stars the great screen legend Jack Palance (the villain in the Western classic Shane and Oscar winner for the Western comedy City Slickers). This film would be featured in Movie Churches because of the convent with kind nuns who care for the sick and wounded. In addition, the Abbot of the Fort of Danesford directs the heroes to the title character, Hawk. Seek out this fascinating parable of faith -- but to really appreciate it, watch it with the scholarly commentary track from the Regents Institute of Fine Films (RIFF).

Perhaps you have a taste for searing family drama like the literate melodrama of Kramer Vs. Kramer or the heart-searing family pain of Ordinary People or the complex perversity of The Ice Storm. Even those great films won’t prepare you for 1944’s I Accuse My Parents, the story of a juvenile delinquent, James “Jimmy” Wilson (Robert Lowell), and the dark road that ended in court charged with murder. In this harrowing tale, there is a moment of hope when a kindly owner of a roadside diner offers to take Jimmy in, but tells him, “There’s one condition. You have to go with me to church on Sunday mornings. I’m an usher and it wouldn’t look good if the guy I’ve got living with me doesn’t go to church.” That moment alone would have qualified this film for a Movie Churches review.

If you love the silent mystery of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or the complex meditation on humanity that is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or the fun adventure of Star Wars, you might want to track down 1997’s Future War. I’m recommending this thoughtful meditation on a future where a slave from a more distant future returns to the past to free his people but first battles cyborgs and dinosaurs. This would have been a candidate for Movie Churches because of the aid he receives from a novice, Sister Ann (Travis Brooks Stewart), who's considering taking vows after life as a prostitute and drug dealer.

Again, it might help your appreciation of these two films if you seek out the commentary of the widely respected Motion Picture Symposium of Theatrics (MST, reference #3000).

One of our great regrets at Movie Churches is that we have never been able to write about any of the works of the master film auteur, Edward Davis Wood. This is because he never made any films explicitly about churches or clergy even though he made films about the gritty issues of faith, war, truth, fate, and even resurrection (in the form of zombies).

His masterwork, Plan Nine From Outer Space, was made with the help of a church, as we learn in a docudrama about the writer/director’s life, Ed Wood. In Tim Burton’s 1994 film, we learn that Wood received financing for his film about grave robbers from outer space from a Baptist church after telling them he wanted to make uplifting films about the lives of the Apostles, once they'd made money through science fiction genre films. All Wood had to do to secure the financing was to have his entire cast and crew baptized in the church.

We really can’t write about these films in full, so you’ll have to seek them out for yourself. I just hope before the year is done we’ll find time to write about some of the real classics, such as The Exorcist II: The Heretic and God’s Not Dead: Part IV We the People.

Sister Ann From Future War