By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERUQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – April 11, 2016) — Ok, I admit it, I’m a fan. The new PBS series, Grantchester, has hooked me in with its clever mysteries, all beautifully filmed and acted in scenic 1950’s England. Based on the books by British author, James Runcie, son of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, Grantchester follows clergyman Sidney Chambers through a host of murder-solving episodes, involving a combination of mystery, murder, and ministry.
Here in America, season two has commenced on PBS and the plot continues to thicken as Sidney Chambers and Inspector Georgdie Keating sleuth and solve mysteries on the streets of Cambridge. Yet it’s not just the mystery that has caught my attention. As a clergyman myself, I’m fascinating by the way in which Runcie has woven the realities of ministry within the plot. Of course Runcie had a model — his father — in portraying the experiences of ministry in the modern world, with its many complexities and complications. Yet, the PBS series has a knack of detailing the fine line a minister walks in living in two worlds: the church and larger society.
From a ministerial standpoint, Grantchester raises several issues many clergymen find themselves dealing with. Here are just a few that have risen in the series:
How does evil exist in a world created by God? Sidney is constantly dealing with evil in the world—both murder and mayhem, trying to bring comfort to those affected by the acts of evil and attempting to bring to justice those who conducted evil against others; while at the same time solving—both practically and theologically (though on a lesser degree) — the ramification of evil in the world.
Homosexuality and the clergy. Sidney Chamber’s curate assistant, Leonard Finch, is a struggling homosexual. And though Sidney appears to be lenient on the issue, the series portrays the public’s perception concerning a person struggling with the feelings for people of the same sex.
Actions of a clergyman. Though things have changed a little in modern society, the series is always pushing the question: how is a clergyman to act in society? Can he or she drink? Kiss in public? Listen to secular music? These are just some of the sub-themes portrayed in Grantchester, particularly raised between Sidney and his housekeeper, Mrs. Maguire.
Outside interests. One of the interesting questions asked in Grantchester—at least for me—is that concerning non-ministerial issues. Can and should a clergyman have a passionate outside interests? In the case of Sidney Chambers, he puts solving mysteries on par (at least with his time) as that of ministry and the church. Can a clergyman pursue other interest with as much passion and gusto as that of serving people and God? Can and should a clergyman have outside interests that consume his time?
Sin and the clergy. The PBS series portrays Sidney Chambers engaging in periodic sins (though the books by Runcie downplay them to a certain degree). These include—sex outside of marriage and drunkenness. The issues raise the question of how is the larger church to deal with clergy conducting themselves in ways unbecoming to the Biblical message?
Clergy and relationship. One of the notable predicaments that Grantchester brings forth is the issue of clergy and relationships. How is a clergyman to act with the police, parishioners, possible partners, and the society at large? The Grantchester series is a perfect picture of the difficult relationship the clergy can have with a host of non-clerical relations. Does the clergyman protect someone if they know the person is wrong? How far can clergy go in courting a person — romantically or professionally? Can a clergyman be close to people — in Sidney’s case a policeman—where the two worlds may clash: the secular world of justice and the Christian world of mercy?
These are just a handful of situations posed by the series. But beyond the theological and ecclesiastical elements of Grantchester, the bottom line is simple: it tells a good yarn of struggling faith, friendship, and family. Oh, yeah, with murder tossed in for good measure. To a certain extent, it portrays life as it really is — sin affected, and God engulfed.
No wonder I can’t wait for the next episode.
Photo captions: 1) James and Robert Runcie, author and his father, Archbishop of Canterbury. 2) Cover of Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie. 3) Sidney Chambers played by James Norton. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixoni s a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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