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Story by Brett Holmes, Pastoral Resident, 2016-2018. Photos by Susan Brown and Janet Chase.

One of my favorite movies from last year was Lady Bird, a coming-of-age comedy starring Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (although one would be forgiven for assuming it is a biopic about the former First Lady). The film follows Lady Bird through her senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California and is a hilarious, heart-breaking and beautiful picture of teenage life in the early 2000s.

The story invites us into her world. Part of that world is her experiences as a senior in high school, particularly the anxiety of applying to colleges. Lady Bird desires to attend a college on the East Coast because it will allow her to get out of the staunch, soul-sucking Sacramento that she’s called home her entire life.

In one scene late in the movie, Lady Bird is meeting with the Vice Principal, Sister Sarah, to discuss an earlier incident, but the scene turns when Sister Sarah tells Lady Bird that she read her college essay.

Sister Sarah looks at Lady Bird and tells her she can see in her writing that she clearly loves Sacramento. Confused, Lady Bird asks, “I do?” Sister Sarah says, “Well, you write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care,” to which Lady Bird deflects by saying, “I was just describing it.” Sister Sarah responds, “It comes across as love.” Lady Bird comments, “Sure, I guess I pay attention.” And, it’s here that Sister Sarah begins to home in on her message: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

Love and attention. Perhaps these are two sides of the same coin. When I first saw this scene, I wanted to rewind it—I wanted to listen carefully to those words from Sister Sarah all over again: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Those words played in my head like a broken record for weeks after seeing the movie.

As my time at Richmond’s First Baptist Church draws to a close, I am reminded of these words. I am reminded that love and attention are so closely related that they might just be the same thing. During my time in Richmond I have been shown a lot of love and a lot of attention, but more than that I have been taught what it means to pay close attention to the lives of God’s people.

Throughout my (almost) two years as the Pastoral Resident, I have been invited into homes, hospital rooms, Sunday school rooms, but most importantly into relationships with countless loving people who call First Baptist their church home. I have had the opportunity to teach, preach, pray, cry, celebrate, and eat meals with so many wonderful people.

Love and Attention

During these last two years I have grown into a pastor because the people of First Baptist granted me the space to learn. I remember the first time I stood in the pulpit to preach and looked out at a congregation eager to give this young pastor a good ear. I remember being asked to lead retreats and getting the opportunity to invite people into the strange and beautiful mystery that is prayer. I remember going with the Lambs class to the annual Virginia Baptist Special Needs Retreat at Eagle Eyrie and how, for the one weekend in October, I was given a glimpse into their genuine love for God. I remember the overwhelming impossibility of remembering everyone’s name and having to accept that my most repeated phrase of my first year was, “I’m sorry, please remind me your name.” Yet, in spite of that you each welcomed me, loved me, and generously helped me along.

Ministry can be a daunting task. I recall early on during my time here talking with a member of the Young Professionals Sunday school class and thinking, “Why do these people trust me to answer life’s most difficult questions? What can I say that can be worth anything?” Slowly, though, that anxiety left because I began to realize (and see) that my job is not to have the answers, but to sit with the questions—to wrestle, to be present, to pay attention.

This is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about ministry. I want to have all the answers and I want to fix problems. Yet, as Henri Nouwen said, “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” What I’ve learned about ministry at First Baptist is to pay attention to the lives of everyone around me and to pay attention to what God is doing because “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

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By Nancy Mairs

“Lights, camera, action!” wasn’t exactly the phrase David Powers expected to come to mind as he sat in a restaurant having breakfast during his sabbatical in January 2010. In fact, he was more focused on wondering calloutwhat was next, and planned to use his sabbatical to seek God’s direction. For some time David had been reflecting on how the media ministry at First Baptist had grown, and David found himself praying, “Is this all, God? Are we doing everything you want us to with all the media resources you’ve provided for us?”

During the sabbatical, and continuing over the next few months, David’s thoughts began to formulate into an idea for a movie that would communicate the gospel in a fresh way. A film that would speak of Jesus’ love, especially to 20-30-year-olds who were not involved in church. David was drawn to Luke 15 where Jesus told three parables: the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son. It was the story of the prodigal son that drew his attention.

The Return of the Prodigal Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

“If you think about it, the parable of the prodigal son speaks to all of us. You have the younger son who completely turns his back on his father and his father’s way of life, just like so many of us have done with our heavenly Father.

Then you have the other son, who lives his life by the rules, being careful to do everything exactly as required, which is much like the religious folks of Jesus’ day who were only concerned with the external rule-keeping. Not so much different from the way many folks outside of the church perceive those who are church-goers.

And, throughout the parable, Jesus teaches that God loves both – they are His children.” He decided to take the parable, with the theme of unconditional love and God’s grace, and put it into a modern setting.

In early 2012, Deb Hocutt and Matthew Brown, both members of First Baptist, joined David to begin writing a script. By mid-summer, the script had developed to the point that they began sending it to folks to read and review. The comments that they received weren’t exactly what they expected. “The consensus was that we had written a typical Christian movie. Not necessarily that it was bad, but it was completely predictable. Lots of drama, characters listen to a moving sermon, someone walks down the aisle, and everything works out fine.

But we knew that a movie like this would never appeal to a person who wasn’t already involved in a church,” David explained. “And, we were looking for something that was full of spiritual truth and depth, and would appeal to those folks who would have the tendency to not give a ‘typical’ Christian movie a second thought.”

It wasn’t long before they began to realize that the movie needed to be a different genre. It was during a conversation with Jim Somerville that the idea of a comedy started taking shape, and they began rewriting in earnest. By late 2012, the script had developed to the point they needed to get an objective, professional “script doctor” to review it. Through a series of contacts David describes as “a God-thing,” they found such a person in Greg Womble of Birmingham, Alabama. Greg joined the writing team and led the drafting of the final script.

The script is now finished and the team has moved into the next phase: raising production money. “We need $750,000, but the value of the production is much larger since so many of the people are working without compensation and many of the goods and services are being donated or deeply discounted,” David explained. “If we had to pay for everything, the value of this film would most likely far exceed $2 million.”

The church’s Communication Team initiated the establishment of an independent production company, Belltower Pictures, to produce and distribute the film, Shooting the Prodigal. This company is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit entity, enabling the acceptance of tax-deductible gifts. Already, they have gathered 72% of their needed production budget which includes gifts from the FBC Endowment Fund and several individuals, both within and beyond the FBC family.

David Powers

David Powers

Along the way, David has gained an amazing knowledge of all the hard work it takes to write a script, get funding, and start work on the actual process of filming. “And,” David said, “I know the story of the Prodigal Son in a more intimate way than I ever imagined. It’s an amazing story of God’s love and a story the whole world needs to hear.”

Editor’s Note: There are many ways to be involved in the production, including prayer support, participating as a member of the cast or crew, helping with the production office, providing goods and services, and making a financial contribution. Visit www.Belltowerpictures.com for details. You may also follow David’s blog for updates on the film.

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