A review of the just-finished TV comedy series Rev made it as far as the front page of the Guardian this week. One or two episodes of Rev attracted more viewers than some instalments of Big Brother (do people still watch that?) and certainly got people chatting. There is an excellent review on Bishop Alan's Blog so I won't cover old ground, especially when I'd do it less well.
Please note, sensitive readers, that it is going to be difficult to say what I want to say without saying some of the things Rev'd Adam said in the programme. So if you don't like the idea of a clergyman uttering the sentence 'I had a nice wank, thanks' then look away now.
First thing to note is that Rev was a comedy. It was also an intelligent comedy so it did not tell you when to laugh by dubbing on a fake laughter track. You had to make up your own mind if it was amusing. By and large it was chuckle not belly-laugh. Now you should know this, but comedy relies for its effect on showing things that do not normally happen. So we are shown Adam's wife desperately wanting intimacy with him by dressing as a prostitute; an archdeacon who always tips away any refreshment he is offered and who turns up almost daily, uninvited, Adam getting rat-faced and trying to get off with an attractive head-teacher and a caricature of an evangelical sub-sect of the C of E with money to burn. As Bishop Alan says, it does not mean this happens but it can be how it feels to be isolated in urban ministry. Telling a bunch of rowdy builders to f**k off might feel good but most of us would hold back, aware of the repercussions. If we had reached the point where we couldn't control ourselves then taking off our dog-collar to do it might feel a bit unnecessary. But in a comedy, self-control is not what happens.
Secondly, this was well researched. Those who shared their stories shared well and were listened to. People do demand that their clergy are 'normal' and 'real' but don't mean it quite as it sounds. As Adam's friend Colin found when he told Adam, who he lovingly calls 'Vicarage,' that he could speak his mind and then became offended when he was told he called round to the house too often.
Thirdly, and this would be what I would want a post-Rev discussion group to talk about, where was the leadership? The vicar was portrayed as pastor and no more. There is a reactive necessity to a pastoral ministry but when a church reaches a certain size it is not possible for one pastor to do it all. Adam's ministry was in constant demand but he had no strategy for coping, delegating, training or leading. And he preached two minute sermons which were criticised for their content (my congregation might well complain about being short-changed).
I currently work in a small town but all the rest of my life I have been in an urban situation. I never felt it necessary to drink, smoke, swear or wank my way to relaxation. There were gentlemen of the road, scroungers and the easily offended but there were more than moments of reprieve. It wasn't hell. And there were many, many laughs
To quote another good comedy, no-one told me it was meant be this way. So I didn't act as if it was.
Adam left us watching him administer prayer to a dying woman. The writers felt that in that was the gist of the job and the source of satisfaction. Or did they? Perhaps Adam sitting in his study carefully drafting a Bible-based preaching series and an outreach strategy for the autumn may have been nearer the truth, but it isn't funny.
Rev should be compulsory viewing at theological colleges.