Earlier this year we supported the release of The Shack, an adaptation of the bestselling book starring Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington. We knew that because of its unusual approach to exploring questions around faith and suffering, this film would particularly resonate with the UK church community.
‘Damaris were passionate about sharing the film effectively and as widely as possible throughout the UK church community, covering all denominations. I found them to be very creative with their ideas, to have a great network of relationships, and to be reliable and efficient at introducing the film to leaders and laity alike.’ – The Shack director Stuart Hazeldine
Lots of people seized the opportunity to see The Shack in cinemas, and we had a great response to our resources. In Reading, Ann and Keith Wilson brought together about 150 people from their Baptist church community and beyond to watch the film and talk about it afterwards – I asked Ann how this came about.
‘As a Union of 2000 churches, Baptists Together live and breathe engaging with their local communities. To enable this, they need good support and excellent resources. Damaris, through their film resources have been helping us brilliantly for a long time. Enabling local churches to put on their own screening of The Shack is a significant and exciting development in that equipping.’ – Mike Lowe, Baptists Together
‘There are a couple of communities that I mix in, and by doing an event like this screening I was hoping to combine all of them.’
What’s your community like?
I spend a lot of time in my church community, but I’m also a mental health professional, and have friends outside of work. So there are a couple of communities that I mix in, and by doing an event like this screening I was hoping to combine all of them. I try to be the same person in each of those communities, to live out my beliefs with integrity in each of them. To me, that’s practising what you preach.
When did you first come across The Shack?
Somebody in my book group recommended it. We’re just a small group of friends who have been meeting for ten years – we’ve got no particular shared beliefs except enjoyment of books. I really liked The Shack but others hated it, it’s definitely a marmite book. Some people reacted quite strongly – one friend took it back to Waterstones! Another found it really helpful, as it resonated with her personal circumstances.
At my church I know people who hated the theology, and others who enjoyed it. There was certainly a lot of hype when it came out, and it upset me when I heard that the author was getting a lot of a hate mail. I ended up emailing the author, William Paul Young, as I wanted to send a positive message – and he emailed back, which I wasn’t expecting! That was my first contact with anybody related to the book.
‘We knew about Damaris Media and were aware that you would support an event like this.’
How did you come to organise a screening of the film?
I was waiting for it to come out in the cinema, and I’d told all of my friends about it repeatedly! My husband Keith came up with possibility of hiring a screen and making it a community event. It was a big screen so we thought we’d tell other local churches about it too. We knew about Damaris Media and were aware that you would support an event like this. I read through Damaris Media’s resource on the film beforehand and ended up using some of it – it helped me get ideas for questions to stimulate discussion.
We sent out some emails, but mostly we invited people by word of mouth. We got a mixed reaction! My book group were hesitant but a few came, and I was so pleased that they did. My work community hadn’t necessarily heard of The Shack but some of my colleagues were keen to come. And a few of our other local church communities came so the whole screen was full on the night. We gave these churches a set number of seats to fill and they were able to spread the word through their members. Our aim wasn’t to make money from the event but to break even: my work colleagues were surprised by that, I think.
‘The film was an opportunity to openly talk about my core beliefs.’
What happened at the screening?
It was a really good night. What was really exciting was having the director there – Damaris Media arranged for Stuart [Hazeldine] to be there answering questions. He talked about the film in relation to his own life and beliefs, and it was obvious that the story had made an impact on him personally.
That in turn encouraged people in the audience to talk about the impact it had had on them. After showing the film we had a roving mic, I went around taking reactions and questions – that was brilliant. There were people who had suffered bereavement – one lady commented that the film had really helped her. That opened up discussion about lots of different issues: people wanted to talk about God, forgiveness, suffering, loss.
What makes this film significant for you and your community?
It’s important for me to live out what I believe, so the film was an opportunity to openly talk about my core beliefs. The Shack gave me a way to have those conversations in a structured way, without forcing anything on anyone. It was a great tool for those discussions.
The film portrays a God of justice and of love, and through my work in mental health and in the criminal justice system I work with so many vulnerable people who don’t always see justice done. There’s the idea of free will in the film too, that people can make mistakes but come back from them. We had a youth group come along to the screening, and it made me think about how we want to give our youth free choice, but with that comes responsibility.
On so many levels in my life The Shack was giving me those opportunities. Of course you have to be sensitive with a film like this as it’s raising such big issues – I think people’s response will depend on where they’re at in their spiritual journey.
Ann Wilson is actively involved in a local church community. She also works in a mental health trust, as a registered intermediary in the criminal justice system, and as a speech and language therapist.
Sophie Lister is the editor of the Damaris Media blog