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Writers of new series of Rev explore tensions in C of E

14 March 2014

There was laughter in the pews at a preview of the latest series of Rev, says Madeleine Davies


THE Archdeacon arrived in a taxi; the church could be bankrupt in two years' time; and the Vicar is "furious" that he cannot conduct gay blessings. At a screening of the new series of Rev at St Leonard's, Shoreditch, on Tuesday night, it was evident that the writers really do hold up a mirror to parish life.

In the third series, set to begin on 24 March on BBC2, the Revd Adam Smallbone (above), played by Tom Hollander, is fighting on several fronts: new fatherhood, a diocesan secretary with an eye on the bottom line, and the diktats emerging from on high, including the statement on same-sex marriage.

The first two episodes screened on Tuesday include a multifaith fund-raiser with the imam of a local thriving mosque ("I love your church: there's always so much space"), and a request for a gay wedding.

As in previous series, the scripts show evidence of finely tuned advice. "How shall we be church here?" the Archdeacon probes in the back of a taxi. Back on the scene is Smallbone's old Ripon College rival, Roland Wise (Hugh Bonneville), now given the task of saving churches with his IED programme (not "improvised explosive device", but "invade, evangelise, deliver").

The script appears to be underpinned by a genuine sympathy for the struggles of a parish priest. "Why does the Church want me to behave like a businessman the whole time, when I'm not?" Smallbone ponders.

The second episode shows a readiness to explore some of the tensions currently gripping the C of E. Smallbone's attempts to conduct prayers for a gay couple without falling foul of church law provoked laughter at the screening on Tuesday, but are probably a fairly accurate depiction of how such a service might look.

It is also clear what the creators of the show think of the House of Bishops' guidance on same-sex marriage.

Speaking after the screening, the Vicar of St Leonard's, the Revd Paul Turp, said that "every scene that happens is based on something that happened in a church, somewhere. Nothing is a fantasy."

The parallels with his own situation are there. He estimates that, if nothing was done, the church would be bankrupt in two Easters' time. This is not a new predicament: "In 30 years, we have been there several times."

Asked about the second episode, he described the House of Bishops' guidance as "morally vile, theologically inept, and ecclesiastically dishonest. That makes me furious."

In one respect, however, he is more fortunate than his fictional counterpart. Both the Archdeacon and the Bishop came over for a friendly chat at the end of the night, and neither frogmarched him into a black cab.

The Rev Diaries, written by one of the programme's scriptwriters, Jon Canter, to accompany the series, is due out from Penguin on 27 March.

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