All Saints—Living Our Unity

A few weeks back I won a pair of tickets to see the All Saints movie. Based on a true story, the movie tells the story of a soon-to-close church that is saved by an influx of refugees.

I hope you had the chance to see it while it was in a theater near you (it appears to still be showing in a few theaters, so go see it if you can). Or consider watching it at home as soon as it becomes available on whatever format you watch movies these days!

I loved this story about welcoming refugees even when you felt you had nothing to give because, as the Karen (from Burma) refugees reminded the pastor, they were part of the same church. We believers in Jesus are all part of the same Church—Christ’s Church—and we are meant to function as one body demonstrating the all-consuming love of the Kingdom of God.

So often we let things divide us, things like politics, or worship preferences, or culture, or skin color, or age, or economic status, or differences in nonessential theology. But that’s not what God has in mind for his Church. As Jesus prays in John 17:20–23:

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.  I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.

“May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know … you love them.” We have the opportunity, through our unity with other Christians, to show the world who Jesus is and how much he loves each person on earth.

We all understand that “based on a true story” means that there are parts of the movie that are fictionalized to create drama or streamline the story. That’s true of All Saints as well. So I felt very fortunate to receive a complimentary copy of the All Saints book, cowritten by the pastor Michael Spurlock and my friend Jeanette Windle.

I found the true story of the All Saints Episcopal Church even more inspiring than the fictionalized one in the movie. It’s less dramatic and more complicated, to be sure, but it is a powerful story of becoming one congregation across language, culture, and class barriers. What began as two congregations sharing one building became one congregation worshipping together in the same service with two languages! What beauty! And isn’t that what God says will happen when we arrive in heaven?

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,
Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne  and from the Lamb!”

Now that praise song from Revelation 7:9–10 is written in English in my Bible, but it will be shouted in every language on earth—all 7,000 of them! (Here’s what it looks like in the Pwo Northern Karen language:  “ท พ้อง ท พลิ้ เฌ๊ เว๊ ลู่ง ก กแช่ แยว้ พี่ อ ชี๊น้าง อ ล่าง ล แฌ้ นอ, ดี๊ เฌ๊ เว๊ ลู่ง แกะ พู นอ ล้อ””) So how beautiful for All Saints Episcopal to be worshipping together now, with the beauty of two languages displaying their unity in Christ.

The story of the Karen people’s arrival at All Saints outlined in the movie took place in 2008. Pastor Spurlock moved on to a new church assignment in 2010, but All Saints Episcopal is still thriving and still multicultural. The commitment of the ministers who have followed Spurlock and the commitment of the congregants—both Anglo and Karen—have ensured that God is still exhibiting the oneness of his Body in Smyrna, Tennessee.

If you love knowing what happens behind the scenes, if you want to know about the faith of Karen people and the persecution that led them out of Burma and eventually to the United States, the All Saints book will be a satisfying, thirst-quenching read. I was challenged as well to read of the ongoing generosity of the Karen refugees, even when they had little to give.

I hope the movie and the book will inspire me—and you—to see who is around us, not as a project, but as a human being loved by God and one who is welcomed into God’s family. May I look for ways to work together with other believers, to let Christ’s love be our guiding force, so that the world will want to know our Savior.

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