I recently finished the finale of the third season of the show “Rev.”* This British semi-serious sitcom is set an inner-city London. The show follows the antics of the congregation called St. Saviour’s and their priest, the Rev. Adam Smallbone, who with his wife Alex live in the small house next to the church.
The show is funny and quirky, and of course the situations and problems the characters face are blown out of proportion and exaggerated. But at its heart, “Rev.” is a story of the struggle of faith and what it means to be faithful in the 21st century. In many ways it is the story of Job, revealed by the show’s main character: Father Adam. I have had the impression since watching the first episode that the show is written (or at least consulted) by members of the clergy who understood church from the inside – as “Rev.” opens that world to those watching it on the outside.
WARNING: Don’t watch “Rev.” if swearing offends you (especially by clergy) or if the paradox of real people’s lives bothers you. You also shouldn’t watch the show if you think the church should not wrestle with contemporary issues, or struggle with trying to be relevant in our secular and multi-faith age where very few of the old rules work anymore. Nor should you watch “Rev.” if you can’t laugh at the church and the silly things we do which seem foreign in a culture that has left us behind and/or pushed us to the sidelines of everyday life.
Watch “Rev.” if you want to see something special.
“Rev.” is a situation comedy, but it isn’t making fun of the church or calling its adherents buffoons (though some peripheral characters in the show do that to others). As I mentioned above, I always had the impression watching the show that it was written from the inside, because the situations the characters find themselves in have a real bite to them. That bite is about faith and ministry. Both ministry and faith are rarely easy, and that reality is shared in a refreshingly transparent and honest way. I love that about the show. It kept me wanting more, especially when the characters fail.
My favorite part about “Rev.” is that God is a real part of it. The characters, especially Adam, pray, and we hear those prayers by way of voice-overs. Those prayers are not mocking God or making fun of belief; they are a real part of the lives of these people who are struggling with who they are and what they believe is being asked of them. The show highlights the real side of humanity too, and the choices they make (some of them bad ones) have real repercussions. One character accusingly asks Adam, “Why does everything you touch turn to $&@#?” It is a question that is both funny in the moment and serious to consider. For those who are involved in ministry, there are many times we ask that question of ourselves. Yet there is a real sense in this show that God is guiding each of these people; giving the characters courage and strength to press-on even in spite of themselves. The mixture of faith and human brokenness can be a powerful witness. It isn’t faked on “Rev.”
Throughout the series, St. Saviour’s is perpetually on the verge of closing its doors. The fear that surrounds that threat is real, casting a shadow on everything this congregation does; triggering unhealthy behaviors and keeping ministry from happening, just as those things take place in many churches too.
Two scenes standout to me as quintessential to what “Rev.” is really about.
The first quintessential scene takes place around the table in the finale of season two. As divided as this congregation is and can be at times, in the closing scene all of the characters share dinner together. It is one of those moments, where the viewer really gets a glimpse of the community Jesus was trying to form, where all are welcome and all have a place. Since there was a three-year break from season two to season three, that scene could have served as the final scene of the show. I had a real sense watching it that this was the writers’ idea of what it meant when Jesus said, “the kingdom of God was near,” as those characters broke bread together. Even the hard characters softened around that table and are changed by it. We are too, each time the bread is broken and the wine is poured.
Most of season three was hard for me to watch. The characters, especially Adam, make bad decisions, say terrible things, and do not exhibit the kind of behavior we would expect of a Christian community. Several times I shouted at my TV, “Come on, make good choices people!” Some of those choices are truly tragic and the viewer sees the pain they cause, especially to Adam’s family. In the last episode Adam is lying in bed. He is half asleep and he is weeping. He feels the loss of his failures. He recites the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Meanwhile his congregation gathers and finally see each other for who they are – fools in the sight of the world, sinners in the eyes of each other, and beautiful in the eyes of God. They may even start to catch a glimpse of that beauty in each other’s sight too.
By the show’s end “Rev.” reveals what the church is really about – redemption that looks like failure; what Paul called, “the foolishness of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
As the credits scrolled across my screen, several questions about the future were left unanswered. An interview I read from cast members indicated the unlikelihood of a fourth season. “Rev.” is likely over. While the problems all of these characters do not go away (in what is for now at least the show’s conclusion), as they gathered on Sunday morning I was left believing with tears in my eyes that these people would be OK, whatever happened to them next.
As we gather each Sunday morning, I believe that no matter what happens to us next that we will be OK too. This is what it means to be church wherever we are – God is continually redeeming his people. I’m thankful for the show, because it told the story of the church with truth. Even when Adam and St. Saviour’s got it wrong, “Rev.” got it right.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt 5:6)
* “Rev.” is available on Hulu Plus.