Would you Adam and Eve what the word is today?

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The Independent Online

There has been tremendous excitement in Church circles at the news that the more forward-looking clerics have taken to quoting from scripts rather than the scriptures to spread the gospel.

The Rev Mark Oakley, of St Paul's, Covent Garden, has, for example, launched a Lent initiative in which parishioners are invited to watch a film and then adjourn to a local pub to discuss its spiritual content. "The Church should be looking not for 'relevance' but resonance," he says. His series of sermons has therefore taken its texts from Iris, the Harry Potter film and even Charlotte Gray, helping congregations to "find a common way of talking about things that matter."

What a very sensible idea. No longer will vicars be obliged to spend their Saturday evenings sweating over the Bible in search of resonance when much of what is there merely confuses contemporary audiences. In the beginning was what word exactly? they ask. Where's the point in considering the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not neither do they spin, when toiling and spinning is precisely what a dynamic modern Christian should be doing? Why exactly in a can-do, kick-ass world, should the meek, with their hopelessly low levels of self-esteem, inherit the earth?

The new film-based approach recognises that the Church and Hollywood are essentially singing from the same hymn book. They both spread values, tell parables, provide role-models and generally deal in the feelgood factor. They are both in the business of communication and entertainment. As for spiritual resonance, vicars preparing their sermons will not have to look far.

"A census-taker tried to test me. I ate his liver." The presentation of scribes and pharisees has become increasingly problematical for the contemporary churchgoer. Lawyers, are they? Writers? But surely these are professional brand-leaders in the modern world! With Hannibal Lecter's bon mot from The Silence of the Lambs, the message becomes clearer. There are those who act in this world and those who stand on the sidelines making notes – you are either a doer or an observer. The parallel should not be pursued too rigorously, but the quote will get a sermon off to a brisk start.

"Would you Adam and Eve it?" It's the big question of the moment – where on earth did we all come from? – yet all too often, words like "Genesis", "creationism" or "Richard Dawkins" have congregations nodding off. This quote, which could be from Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses or the Dennis Waterman character in The Professionals, neatly and wittily conflates the Garden of Eden with general questions of belief. A sermon opening with these words might well lead on to a discussion as to whether it is essential to accept that problematical nudity/apple/ serpent opening scene in order to enjoy the whole Christianity movie.

"I'm big. The pictures got small." Many vicars have reported that the concept of the Trinity rarely works for modern audiences, with the major supporting role of the Holy Ghost proving particularly difficult to flesh out in terms of plausible characterisation – it is easier to imagine the immanent presence of the Creator in a Cecil B de Mille historical setting than, say, in a Woody Allen scene. Gloria Swanson's words in Sunset Boulevard can provide a helpful way of showing how the role of the third part of the Trinity has changed down the centuries.

There will, of course, be those who believe that this approach to spreading the word is inappropriate. It will be said that a sermon referring to Salome's presentation of John the Baptist's head to Herod is dramatic enough without "Heeere's Johnny!" echoing around the church, that the Easter message can be conveyed without Arnold Schwarzenegger's "I'll be back", but frankly that's showbiz. At the end of the day, it's all about bums on pews.

terblacker@aol.com

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