AFTER years of fulmination on my part, 2010 hit the jackpot in terms of — at last! — broadcasting, live, a really chunky number of religious services. People of faith could actually tune in and share in acts of worship, participating in prayer and praise.
Alas, this was not the turning back of the tide for which we have longed: a weekly presentation appropriate to a nation still as Christian as ours. The coverage we had, although deep, was narrow, being confined to the few days of the Pope’s state visit. It didn’t even represent a change of heart by the religious- broadcasting departments, being overseen, instead, by current-affairs and news teams.
Still, despite these cavils, we did witness a moving number of services, saw the sacrament of the eucharist celebrated with joy and solemnity, and heard a succession of uncompromising expositions of our faith.
The result was gratifyingly transformative: commentators moved from scepticism or downright hostility to a far greater openness to the claims and practice of Christianity. Lest this be thought of entirely as an RC triumph, for my money the most moving liturgy broadcast, the tightest and most direct, was the evening service from Westminster Abbey.
I can’t pretend to have noticed much of a sea-change in TV’s attitude to Christianity as a result of the visit. Perhaps the biggest religious series was The Big Silence (BBC2), in which a bunch of ordinary British people were exposed to a whole week of silence in a Jesuit retreat house.
There were a number of good documentaries about religion. Of these, C4’s The Bible: A history, although uneven, because each episode was made independently by a celebrity, was the most serious. Art and history remain particularly fertile soil for undiluted religion: Churches: How to read them (BBC4) treated theology and liturgy, as well as church buildings and artefacts, and was far stronger as a result.
Michael Wood’s Story of England (BBC4), expounding our island story by focusing on one Leicestershire village, returned again and again to religion and its central importance in understanding the narrative, and demonstrated how much the church is still central to the life of the community.
But, of course, TV’s main 2010 religious offering was Rev (BBC2). The nation was transfixed by this comedy series depicting the knockabout japes we inner-city London vicars get up to all the time, and, through their laughter, came to treat our ministry and witness with a new respect. Well, that’s the party line, and I’m sure you could find any number of TV critics who will subscribe to it.