Inspired by a friend’s binge-watching of The Vicar of Dibley I thought I’d compile a list of fictional TV programmes that are centred around the central character being a priest, minister, chaplain or pastor. Obviously, ministers are recurring characters in different shows, e.g. Father Mulcahy in MAS*H, but what about those series that are specifically based around the life of a minister and their congregation. Mainly a list for myself, so no real commentary on each entry. There will be more, but these are the ones that sprang to mind straightaway.
(If you’re looking for a list of clerical sleuths in book then there’s a great list here – https://crimereads.com/divine-mystery-10-great-clerical-sleuths/)
The Vicar of Dibley (1994-2007)
Starring Dawn French and a regular supporting cast, this hugely successful sitcom shaped for many their understanding of parish life in the UK, while also providing some commentary on the introduction of women priests in the Church of England from 1992.
A US version of the show The Minister of Divine starring Kirstie Alley was proposed but not picked up by the Fox Network after the pilot.
7th Heaven (196-2007)
A US family drama about the family of Eric and Annie Camden and their children (and ultimately grandchildren). Eric serves as a Protestant minister in the town of Glenoak, California and the show focuses upon the evolving family life through the eleven seasons as Eric pastors his congregation.
Many of the common themes and issues of US family dramas are present in this, but with a bit of the religious spin on it. Highlights that pastors and the families can be just as messy as other families.
Rev. focuses upon the ministry of Adam Smallbone, an Anglican priest ministering in the East London parish of St Saviour in the Marshes in Hackney. Adam is supported by his wife Alex, herself with her own career as a lawyer. Rev. avoids the idyllic rural setting of shows like The Vicar of Dibley and Father Brown, and instead deals with the realities of modern urban life. The show is part comedy and part serious commentary on the very human face of church ministry, the people in and around church communities, and the pressure of denominational expectations and politics.
Father Brown (2013-present)
The Father Brown TV series starring Mark Williams as the Roman Catholic priest of the same name is a UK detective period drama set in the mid-1950s in the fictional village of Kembleford. Based loosely on on short stories by G.K. Chesterton, the central premise of the programme is one of the somewhat bumbling but intelligent Brown and his circle of friends and acquaintances solving a range of mysteries that the police can’t. Along the way, parish life continues, and Brown’s own faith shapes how his engagement with both victims and perpetrators.
The Book of Daniel (2006)
Broadcast on NBC, The Book of Daniel didn’t make it through its first season before it was dropped by the network. Focusing upon Daniel Webster, an Episcopalian priest, the series aimed to be a “serious drama” about Christian faith in the modern world, but controversy over how that was portrayed led to some broadcasters not carrying it and the programme was dropped completely after only four episodes. A DVD release included the unbroadcast episodes.
Grantchester is another British example of the sleuthing priest, in this case Anglican vicars Sydney Chambers (S1-3) and Will Davenport (S4). Set contemporaneously with Father Brown, but in Cambridgeshire, the series follows the priests juggling solving crimes, their parishes, and their personal relationships. The series is based, similarly to Father Brown, on a series of short stories, in this case by James Runcie.
Broken is a British drama series focusing on the person and ministry of Roman Catholic priest, Michael Kerrigan (Sean Bean). Set in Liverpool, the series explores Kerrigan’s own vocation as a priest and the lives of those within his parish, as he seeks to reconcile himself with that vocation in light of his past history.
You can find a study guide for small groups to use with the series here: ‘Broken’ – A six week study course for Lent
Preachers of LA (2013-2014)
A two season US reality TV show that follows the lives and ministries of six male pastors in Los Angeles congregations with a particular emphasis on prosperity teaching. The full series of shows including spin-offs from the Oxygen network: