|Nigel with Franklin Small|
|Kings Stanley BC looking busier at Nigel's commisioning service|
“Reverse Missionaries” started for us with a visit by a researcher from the production company, Twenty Twenty Television. Her task was to ascertain which of the Baptist churches in the Stroud area was most conspicuously failing and would therefore provide the best contrast with the full and lively churches in Jamaica which they planned to feature in the programme. With its large congregation and ebullient worship, Minchinhampton Baptist Church was clearly out of the running. John Street Baptist Church in Stroud and Stonehouse Baptist Church similarly proved too vibrant for the programme maker’s requirements, so the lot fell to King’s Stanley Baptist Church. With our small and mostly elderly congregation, bumblingly English lay pastor and persistent threat of closure, we were just what they were looking for and therefore carried the prize in this strange ecclesiastical reverse beauty contest.
In addition to featuring the visit of a Jamaican pastor, the programme was due to look at the life of the pioneer Baptist missionary and abolitionist Thomas Burchell. He actually came from Nailsworth and worshiped at the now defunct Shortwood Baptist Church, but he married a woman whose maiden name was “Lusty” and “Lusty” is a common name in the group of villages known as the Stanleys. It was therefore conceivable that she had been a member at King’s Stanley Baptist Church, and this notional link with Burchell was duly carried over into the programme.
The programme was shot by director-cameraman Rob McCabe, accompanied by his assistant producer Tara Nolan and his researcher-soundman Harry Kaufman. Rob and Tara came down to video some interviews and a service before Franklin Small arrived from Jamaica. The service was a tense and distracting affair with the camera constantly on the move and often between the preacher and the congregation. The congregation said that this wasn’t on, and it was agreed that future services would be shot from the back or the side of the church, with camera movements only during the songs.
Rob and the team then went off to Jamaica to meet Pastor Franklin Small and video one of the two churches he leads in Kingston.
They returned a week later, bringing Franklin with them. Franklin was great! As anyone who has seen the programme will know, he is a remarkable person. Tall, warm and passionate about his faith, he is not only a gifted preacher and evangelist, but a committed people-person, interested in all and genuinely concerned for the lost.
For the first week that he was with us, Franklin stayed in a bed and breakfast in King’s Stanley. Anne Keogan, one of our members and the widow of a Baptist minister, had offered to have him but she was on holiday for the first week of his visit and could therefore only give him lodgings for the second half of his stay. I offered to have him stay with me, but I live over 20 miles away and, besides, wouldn’t allow a camera in the house, so initially it was a B&B for Franklin. (For the benefit of continuity enthusiasts, this is why Franklin has two different beds in the broadcast programme!)
Although I had previously met Franklin, I had to be videoed meeting him outside the church on his first Sunday with us as if for the first time. We then made him sit through one of our services, which must have been torment. Most of our regulars were away on holiday, though, so this was good television, with even more empty seats than usual.
Franklin was with us for just over two weeks, and during that time he worked astonishingly hard. Rob and the crew videoed nearly every waking hour of his day. He and I were videoed walking up on Selsley common in the pouring rain, discussing church history and shivering. He met and interviewed all the members of our church, and spent some time at an open youth club in Stroud. In preparation for the rain-affected outreach event at the pub in King’s Stanley which features in the programme, he recruited some musicians and we spent a lively evening rehearsing in the church. Under his direction, we arranged a barbecue after the next Sunday morning’s service, and Anne organised a cream tea for all her neighbours, with Franklin as guest of honour. This last event, at which Franklin gave his testimony, was one of the most moving of his visit, though nothing of it appeared on screen apart from some decontextualised dialogue about scones with Anne.
At some point during his stay, Franklin was whisked off for a flying visit to the Lake District. He was also taken to folk club (by me) and a beer festival (by the television crew). At the former, he smiled in polite bewilderment, and at the latter he evangelised the drinkers.
Franklin led two of our Sunday services. He is a most extraordinary and mesmerising preacher, dazzlingly kinetic and using every inch of his tall frame and long arms to emphasise his words. His glorious bass voice is also far louder unamplified than mine is through a PA! He invited everyone he met to come to our services and many did, though not as many as he would have liked.
As you may have seen on the programme, the weather was often cold and wet during Franklin’s fortnight in Gloucestershire. The Bank Holiday Monday was the coldest of all, not at all the type of weather that you’d want for an outdoor service. But Franklin was tireless in inviting people along and, despite the weather, and despite the fact it was a bank holiday, many people came along. Franklin preached and others sang and gave their testimonies, and a little of all this eventually made it onto the screen.
And then Franklin left and returned to Jamaica and the camera crew went home.
Rob and his team videoed around 63 hours of material and we were all left wondering how he would edit this down to just an hour. Now we’ve seen the broadcast programme, we know the answer. He’s done a fantastic job. Franklin’s faith and love for people comes over wonderfully well and it was inspiring to see the account of Thomas Burchell’s life and work. This forgotten hero of the faith shared the gospel in Jamaica, established churches and worked tirelessly and at great risk to himself to put an end to slavery. I’m thrilled that his story has finally been told, and on prime time television too.
Ignoring those fussy Baptists who were upset at the programme’s references to “the Baptist faith” (No! We’re Christians!) and the voice-over’s bizarrely heterodox claims about baptism, the reaction to the programme in the Stanleys themselves has been largely positive. The Anglicans were a little puzzled by the way the programme implied that they didn’t exist and some of those who were videoed last summer but didn’t appear in the final programme were disappointed. Some people were irritated by what they felt was the programme’s overly negative picture of the local community, but most were absolutely fascinated and delighted by what they saw.
Meanwhile, back at King’s Stanley Baptist Church, we’re quietly going on. Numbers are slowly rising and, last Sunday, someone came along for the first time because they’d seen and thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of “Reverse Missionaries”. That was a good result.