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Using Film with Older People by Stephen Kuhrt

December 26, 2018

UFWOPFresh expressions of church, and engaging people with film, are usually thought of as appropriate with young people. But they work equally well with older people too.

This booklet tells the story of one experiment using film with older people, and how it provided the opportunity for low key but very effective exploration of the challenge of the gospel—with the benefit of engaging in creative reflection on themes in contemporary culture. It includes specific examples of film clips and ideas, and suggests way to make this work for you.


An interesting postscript occurred when I was asked to reprise this talk at another church. The vicar there expressed appreciation at my coming, but also concern that I was presenting a rather exemplarist doctrine of the atonement—the idea that Jesus simply provides the supreme example of what we need to do to achieve our own redemption. I was grateful to him for highlighting a danger I definitely wanted to avoid.

Whatever the tragedies they portrayed, all of the films also presented the message that a path to restoration was still present and could be found par­ticularly through resisting selfishness and putting others’ needs ahead of one’s own. As in the previous session, this then made it relatively easy for me to go on and link this to the message of the God of grace revealed in Jesus Christ.

Judah Ben Hur as extremely muscular and strong and yet someone who is very much in need of God’s rescue. Signalled earlier in the film when he is given water by Jesus whilst being taken into slavery, this is further indicated by Ben Hur’s ongoing rage and bitterness at his nemesis, Messala, even after the Messala’s death following the chariot race.

Very much an action movie, and not without its flaws, Ben Hur gives a clear message of the limits of human strength and resourcefulness which is finally resolved at the point where Ben Hur comes to faith in Jesus at the cross, fol­lowing his family’s healing.

Even very short clips from films usually require a licence to be shown. Fortunately, many films are covered by the Church Video Licence (CVL), available through Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), whose website contains a list of the film producers that it covers (www.ccli. Churches often already have a licence from CCLI in order to repro­duce the words for hymns or songs in their services, so it is often simply a case of obtaining additional licences. The CVL fees for churches are based on the average aggregated attendance at the main Sunday service, but are very reasonable. Many older films, in particular, are covered by this licence as a result of their rights being purchased by companies other than those that originally produced them. But it is still important to check each one in case an additional licence is required.

Videos or DVDs used, and the clips selected within them, need be marked up clearly beforehand to make the session flow well.

This is probably the most important lesson coming from what has been re­ported in this book. Items of popular culture that resonate with people almost always do so because they reflect some measure of truth about the world in which we live and the human condition. This reflection is always somewhat mixed and flawed, but it is precisely this that necessitates a proper Christian engagement to bring further recognition of those aspects of our culture that should be endorsed and those which need to be questioned or rejected.

Relatively few Christians feel equipped to make such a nuanced response, with many showing a greater tendency to reject the things of popular culture completely, or uncritically accept them. Whilst evangelical Christianity used to be more associated with the former, the latter approach is more often becoming the case, particularly when it comes to relating to film and entertainment. The use of film within church groups therefore provides a very effective means of modelling a nuanced and critical engagement with the surrounding cul­ture

Such engagement with popular culture is also vital to evangelism, with the use of film providing a very effective vehicle for connecting the challenge of Jesus to where people are. Demonstrating an interest in and respect for what already connects or resonates with non-Christians will often generate a re­ciprocal openness to what a Christian perspective has to say into this context. This is often accompanied by a strong measure of surprise that Christianity has so much to say to the things of everyday life. The combination of posi­tive engagement with popular culture, and the prophetic critique of it, can be particularly attractive to those anxious to find an answer to the problems and confusion evident within contemporary society.

What is being promoted here is a theology of integration that refuses to ac­cept the sacred / secular divide bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment (often as strong within the church as outside of it) and is determined to show the relationship between God and every aspect of his creation.

In regard to theological reflection upon film, too much of this work is still largely in the hands of specialists writing rather worthy books for the minority of Christians (usually clergy!) who might buy them. What is needed to exploit the potential of film more fully, however, is non-specialists committed to trans­lating this approach into a more popular setting.

(Currently, websites that do this are largely American and obsess about nudity an swearing)

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