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A small Episcopal church’s welcome to refugees hits the movie screens

Posted on: August 17, 2017 9:36 AM
Actors Nelson lee, playing Ye Win, and John Corbett, playing the Revd Michael Spurlock, in a scene from the new Sony Pictures film All Saints.
Photo Credit: Affirm Films

The true story of how a group of refugees from Burma helped to save an Episcopal church in the US state of Tennessee has been turned into a movie. Distributed by Sony Pictures, All Saints will open in cinemas in north America next week and is also being distributed internationally.

The diocese of Tennessee explains that the All Saints movie “is a fictionalised account of how the congregation of All Saints’ in Smyrna was very close to shutting its doors just a few years ago until a group of refugees from Burma (Myanmar) came to the vicar and asked if they might attend church there. The Karen are a close-knit group of people who found Christ through the Anglican Church in Burma prior to moving to the United States.

“As more and more Karen began to join the congregation of All Saints, it became clear that the Holy Spirit was at work … in a big way. Needed health care services, farming on the church’s land, selling products from the farmed land to create income, and more activities opened up to the new members a vivid experience of what the American dream looks like within a close church family.”

The dioceses added that “many of the characters in the film are recognisable members of the congregation today. The moving story is not a remote or imaginary one but one lived right here within our diocese.”

The film’s title, All Saints, is named after the real parish at the centre of the “remarkable true story” but “there’s leeway for the title to refer to the many good people who breathed life into this church that was slated for closure,” the Anglican Church of Canada’s Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), which sponsored previews of the film in Canada, said.

The story begins with former used car salesman turned Episcopal priest Michael Spurlock, played in the movie by John Corbett, who arrives at All Saints with the task of preparing for its closure. But when he meets the church’s 12-strong congregation he questions whether closing the church is what God is calling him to do.

Then comes Ye Win, the leader of a group of refugees from the Karen State in Burma, now Myanmar, who turns up at the church asking for help. Win, played by Nelson Lee, explained that the group are Anglicans. As a former British colony, the people of Burma learned about Jesus Christ, he explained. And while Ye Win and his fellow refugees hid out in the jungle or wasted away in refugee camps, their one solace was Church Hut, where they sat on sacks of rice, praying and reading scripture.

Win asks Spurlock if the group could farm All Saint’s land, what happens next is explored in the movie.

All Saints reminds us time and again that even when we feel most alone, we are part of a community,” the PWRDF said. “We need to reach out and ask for help. Sometimes we need to get out of our own way and let others in. It is also a powerful example of how God calls us to welcome the stranger, while refugees and displaced people cross our borders every day.”

Written by Steve Armour and directed by Steve Gomer, All Saints stars Cara Buono, John Corbett, Barry Corbin, David Keith, Gregory Alan Williams and Patrick Johnson. It is made by Affirm Films and distributed by Sony Pictures International. It opens on 25 August.