Hillhurst United Church Aims for Relevance Through Reel Theology Series

Six Lenten sermons each centre on an Academy Award Best Picture nominee

Makers of this year’s Academy Award Best Picture nominees might be surprised to hear Rev. John Pentland’s reflection that most of them have Lenten themes.

For example, “Selma is about struggle, it’s about civil rights, it’s about prophetic voice — that’s a Lenten theme,” says John, who is with Hillhurst United Church in Calgary.

“The Theory of Everything is around why are we here and what connects and how do things fit together — what is the theory of everything — that’s a Lenten theme as well.”

What’s the relevance of faith — and how can churches demonstrate that relevance — are ongoing, burning questions.

One of the ways Hillhurst United Church has chosen to tap into relevance is by running what it calls a Reel Theology sermon series during Lent.

Each sermon in the series reflects on one of six of the 2015 Academy Award Best Picture nominees, exploring the movie’s connections with culture and spirituality. The movies chosen for this year’s series are: Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, Wild, Boyhood, and The Imitation Game.

“This really is about building bridges,” says John, who spoke to a congregation of about 400 on Selma this past weekend.

“Movies are an art form from the culture that speak about what the culture is thinking and believes and wants to present and provoke and I think our religious world is called to build a bridge with that.

“And so we as a community look at the movie and consider what questions are being presented, what issues are being talked about and what’s the bridge between what the movies are saying and what we’re saying.”

John hopes to cultivate a whole congregation of theological reflectors through this experience. “What happens is you get people who go to the movies and they start to think, ‘How does this connect to my faith or the hymn we sang on Sunday or scripture story we heard?’ ”

Lent is a 40-day period preceding Easter in which Christians often choose to become more intentional about focusing on simple living, prayer and fasting in order to grow closer to God. “It’s a reflective time, an inward time, a questioning time. It’s a perfect time for this,” John says.

He adds he finds the Reel Theology series super-fun — he loves doing it and it seems his congregants also enjoy it. People less engaged with the church will sometimes show up just because they know they’ll be hearing this kind of content.

John adds he has yet to find a movie he can’t do anything with. “Which says something. It means we’re trying to be engaged with an art form in a thoughtful way,” he says.

New Scoop will be posting a six-week series of Reel Theology blogs, also by John. Watch for those coming soon.

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