Did you hear the story about the well meaning vicar who was put in charge of a city centre church? Not a great start to a joke, but a brilliant premise for a new series blazing a trail on BBC Two at the moment. Starring an eclectic mix of characters alongside enjoyably stereotypical (without being predictable) church workers this should be recommended viewing for all.
The central plot is simple. The Reverend, played by Adam Smallbone, is a quasi innocent man trying to find his way in a central london parish. Problems faced have included a popular CofE school swelling attendance (episode 1), a young 'n funky church filling the church but bringing attitude problems (episode 2), interfaith challenges as a local muslim group wishes to pray in the church building (episode 3) and most recently a wish for a media profile to outshine a compatriot from college (episode 4). Don't think though his innocence is all meek and mild. No no, he faces his problems via drink, smoking and a fascinating array of characters. Instead, his innocence is more akin to someone who just wishes to do the right thing, share the gospel of Christ, and serve his fellow humans.
The plot though wouldn't work without the other characters. They are a wide mix including a geekish organist(?), overly amorous congregation member, an arch-deacon more like Peter Mandleson than anything human, a wife who is a high-powered lawyer and...well....
A fascinating list of regular outsiders. A touching side of the vicar is his inability to say no and this is shown via a stream of people knocking on his door. Unlike the start of a simpsons cartoon - this isn't an ever changing gag - instead it is the same range of people all wishing to get money out of him for a more obvious fake reason than the last. While sometimes the door is shut in the face of the hungry/tired/person needing the clue, if that is the case it sometimes comes back to haunt him as he goes back to basics of what his ministry is for - rather than
Outside the comedy moments is one constant. Prayer. The rapid plot line is stopped by the Rev going to pray and asking for help and guidance. Instead of being a twee, feeble attempt to forward the plot it comes over as a real example of how prayer truly, and naturally, flows. This was certainly a surprising twist to the plot!
To finish though I would wish to quote from two people far better placed to pass comment than I...
" At last the BBC has moved beyond The Vicar of Dibley. She engaged millions with woolly jumpers and chocolate silliness, with a good humoured take on life, the Universe and everything. Rev. is engaging in a very different way, much closer to where many urban vicars are, in fact" Bishop Alan
I worked as a vicar in one of London's poorest parishes for 28 years. Many of the incidents in BBC2's Rev are true to life. We allowed a Muslim group to meet in our church. I do not remember cassock-chasers. I remember the knock at the door and someone asking for money. I remember the symbols for money or drugs. I remember parents wanting a good reference to get their children into the best school: I always gave them a good reference. There was even a Colin character (or two). One issue, however, is different from what I remember. I did not remove my clerical collar when I told someone to "fuck off". Rev Michael Land (retired) (The Guardian, letters)
While it may not fill the churches with converts, I think it definatly moves the church on from Vicar of Dibley to grappling with substantial issues with dignity, hope and nnnnnnnot a catchphrase in sight...well bar 'hello vicarage'
So go on, find yourself a drink, a cosy chair and load up BBC 2 at 10pm tonight and we'll see how the Rev cops with a new friend who (shock horror) has nothing to do with the church.