“All Saints” tells the true story of a small, dying congregation in Tennessee that grew by working with a refugee community to farm the church’s land.
John Corbett stars as the newly minted Reverend Michael Spurlock, sent to serve the people of a dying parish in Smyrna, Tenn., and to close it down. His wife Aimee and son Atticus have left everything, too, to go with him.
What they find is a small but hearty band of people unhappy about having their church sold out from under them. (In the Episcopal Church USA, the buildings and property belong to the diocese.) The parish has a mortgage of more than $300,000 and too few members to pay the bills. They are unhappy about this new priest being sent in to close their church, where they themselves grew up and raised their own kids. Least happy seems to be a curmudgeon farmer named Forrest, played by Barry Corbin. [Corbin and Corbett both were in 110 episodes of the much beloved television show “Northern Exposure” back in the early 1990s.]
Just as the death knell is tolling for the parish, three refugees from the Karen people, formerly of Myanmar, come to the church. It seems they, too, are from the Anglican tradition, having been taught by British missionaries to Burma. Perhaps this Episcopal Church can help them. With their expertise as farmers, they ask to start a small garden on the property to help feed their families, and they start attending church. This small project turns into a dream to raise money to pay off the church’s mortgage. All the while, the new group is slowly integrating with the old group in this life-saving project. Will their farming scheme raise enough money? Will the parish be saved? The answer may surprise you.
This is a lovely story of hope for contemporary efforts to integrate refugees into our communities. As trust develops, the personal stories of the refuges come out and the locals find they can relate to their struggles. At the outset of this story, the only person in the Karen community in Smyrna who knows enough English to help translate is Ye Win (Nelson Lee). His history of loss is slowly revealed as Mike and Forrest get to know him.
The film is “rated PG for thematic elements.” But it is a good family movie for those whose kids are older elementary or middle school and up. Church groups, or at least pastors ought to try to see this one. The theology is solid; there are signs throughout that the divine is present in the congregation’s journey, yet their road is not easy.
John Corbett’s Spurlock is effective and believable. The film shows his family as loving and supportive of his new adventure. Aimee starts a choir for the Karen kids. Atticus makes dear friends. Redemption results for everyone involved. At the end of the film, the real Mike, Ye Win, Aimee and Atticus are shown in the afterword, and we learn the actual Karen community played themselves in the film.