I don't know a whole lot about the whole reality TV show craze, (I actually haven't seen a single one) but since this is a blog, I feel liberated to spout my views on the subject.
There is an article in the Pittsburgh paper a couple of days ago regarding a former Pittsburgh priest, who has moved to England and is now doing a reality TV show about revitalizing an aging Anglican parish.
It seems like it would be a little strange, having a camera following you all around. Just imagine the church service. The camera flys up and zooms in to check out the contents of the communion cup, and to see whether there is a little Jesus sitting in there...
I don't know. Maybe it is alright, as long as they don't vote members out at the end of each show.

Original article text
Former Pittsburgh priest embarks on a different kind of TV ministry
By Megan McCloskey
Tuesday, February 8, 2005

A priest, a cameraman and 12 senior citizens walk into a church ...

The makings of a joke?

Actually, it's a new reality TV show in England featuring the Rev. James McCaskill, 31, formerly with St. Paul Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon.

The show has yet to be named, though "God Help Us" is on the short list of titles. It documents McCaskill's efforts to resuscitate a Church of England parish with just a dozen parishioners, the youngest in her 50s.

"It's all been a surreal experience," McCaskill said in a telephone interview from England.

The bishop of Wakefield hired McCaskill last fall to revive spiritual life in Lundwood, an old and impoverished mining village of about 6,000 people in South Yorkshire.

McCaskill's work will be documented by a reality television show, a three-part series that will be aired at the end of the year. The camera crews of British Channel 4 have been following McCaskill since the beginning in September, even recording his interview for the job. McCaskill learned about the position from a newspaper ad.

Membership at McCaskill's new church, St. Mary Magdalene, has dwindled from 45 members to the dozen it has today in eight years. Lundwood residents say the church had attendance in the hundreds decades ago -- and that was just in Sunday school.

McCaskill, a bachelor and an Atlanta native, says the task is overwhelming. "It's so much to take in," he said.

McCaskill has become recognizable in the community -- it's hard to miss someone being followed by a camera -- and townsfolk often stop him in the streets.

A group of teen boys "come looking for me everyday at lunchtime," he said.

McCaskill said he has spent his first six weeks in Lundwood trying to build relationships with people. Lundwood is plagued with third-generation unemployment, truancy and drug problems.

"Lots of kids spend their time hanging out on the streets bored," he said. "The youth culture is completely dissociated with the church."

With all of the church's members at retirement age, McCaskill has planned a few distinctive activities, including a two-day film festival, to attract younger people.

He already has about seven kids attending church on Sundays, and last week's service drew 28 people, he said.

McCaskill said he has started to become more comfortable with the cameras, and added that he didn't take the job because of the show.

Rather, he said he wanted to be in charge of "a parish that could have a tremendous impact in its community."

"He's taking on a very public experiment," said the Rev. Bob Banse of St. Paul in Mt. Lebanon. "He's going to have to be patient and not feel pressured by people looking in on what he's doing."

Part of McCaskill's challenge is battling apathy in Lundwood -- something he hasn't encountered before.

"It's the complete opposite from Mt. Lebanon," McCaskill said.

He went from a wealthy suburb with a dedicated church membership to a village in England that is classified by the European Union as one of its poorest areas -- one with little interest in religious life, he said.

"England's situation is very different than ours," said Peter Frank, spokesman for the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese. "Our idea of struggling and their idea of struggling are very different."

In Western Pennsylvania, a parish with 300 members -- 288 more than McCaskill started with -- would be considered unstable, Frank said.

Banse said he thinks McCaskill is up to the challenge.

"He has a definite charm about him," said Banse, who worked with McCaskill from September 2002 to last fall.

"James has very strong ideas as how things should be," Banse said. "I hope that will help him work in England."

This isn't McCaskill's first experience with religious life in Great Britain. He attended the College of the Resurrection in West Yorkshire, England, as part of his seminary training. McCaskill also trained at the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Beaver County.

The Church of England and the Episcopal Church are both part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

McCaskill has committed to serving five years at St. Mary Magdalene.

The first sermon he gave to his new congregation on Dec. 19 was about looking forward -- essentially a pep talk, McCaskill said.

"We're starting to talk about what the future will be," he said.

McCaskill has had lots of encouragement from home to help him along.

Two parishioners from St. Paul and a friend from Beaver County attended one of his church services a few weeks ago.

"It was a little bit of Pittsburgh on Sunday," McCaskill said.
Posted by Jon Daley on February 10, 2005, 8:59 am | Read 3952 times
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"Maybe it is alright, as long as they don't vote members out at the end of each show." That made me laugh out loud -- until I remembered, from my genealogical readings, that some churches pretty much did that.
Posted by SursumCorda on February 10, 2005, 9:26 am
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