From Carmen Fairley
While most of us were busy with other matters, the area beside All Saints’ Church at Scw’exmx Anglican Parish in Shulus filled up with large rented cargo vans, utility vans, lighting equipment, and an industrial lift machine. Several trailers and event tents in varying sizes housing different activities and equipment filled every bit of space, and overflowed into the Shulus Arbor grounds. A large company of people contributed to a hubbub of activity that became noticeable to a few of us who happened to be at a property on the other side of the highway on the last Sunday in September.
I was puzzled to notice that the exterior wall of the church that faces Highway 8 had been scraped bare. I surmised that the church was to be painted, and I wondered how I could have missed hearing that announcement! All the activity really caught our attention when we noticed a posh-looking catering trailer from Kamloops being towed off the highway toward the church property at about 6:30 pm. At that moment we realized that the casting call we’d read about in the Merritt papers awhile back calling for extras with “character faces” to play “church patrons” was unfolding in a quiet corner of Shulus with our church and adjacent properties functioning as a filming location.
Of course, we went over awhile later and had a closer look from the edge of the street! In the church’s parking area we spotted our People’s Warden in the company of a young man who, upon learning that at least one more active member of the Scw’exmx congregation was in his presence, invited us to come closer. He introduced himself as the location manager, and told us a bit about the production of a commercial to advertise a video game to be released early next year. In preparation for the filming, a crew was redecorating the church inside and out to portray it as a rundown rural church that had been tagged with black spray-painted messages inside and out.
Though the messages seemed to be thoughtful rather than disturbing, the fact remains that graffiti is a form of vandalism. Special paint gave the ceiling an aging crackled appearance, and dark beige paint covered our formerly white and pale blue walls. Outside, the appearance of the church’s wood siding ranged from having badly weathered white paint still visible, to entire faces of the building with the wood totally exposed to the elements and devoid of paint.
Upon the front of the church at different stages of the filming, two different flags were affixed to the building. Though one flag somewhat resembled the American flag and the other was black with a geometric white cross on it, both flags were fictional. Most of our church’s furnishings had been removed except for six recently acquired pews along with their matching pair of wooden pew frontals that had come from St. Michael’s Church in Merritt. Atop the chancel step and located dead center was an old-style tall, narrow, and rather Protestant-looking pulpit that had arrived with the filming crew, with the front of the church taking on the appearance of an evangelical-style church platform. The rest of our furniture was stored in the parish hall and inside a large cube van, with our remaining mismatched pews outside on the lawn, shrink-wrapped in plastic, and covered with a large camouflage-print tarp.
Parked outside were two police cruisers from a couple of generations ago. One cruiser was in mint condition, and the other had a heavily damaged front from a car crash. There were also two matching pickup trucks with one in acceptable condition, and the other seriously damaged from a collision.
We were assured that at the end of the filming our church would be professionally painted inside and out, our disability ramp would be rebuilt, our outdoor sign was already being refurbished, a few minor repairs would be done, and the entire nave would receive brand new wall-to-wall carpeting.
Our People’s Warden, John Isaac, had been hired as the liaison between the church and the film company, so we sensed that all would be well.
On Tuesday of the filming week I received a phone call from Captain the Rev’d Isabel Healy Morrow whom Bishop Barbara had charged with overseeing the church work in Shulus and Lytton during her sabbatical, and following the departure of the Rev. Danny Whitehead. I was told that a nearby resident who belongs to the Roman Catholic parish in Shulus had phoned and expressed deep concern about the filming underway. In particular, she was upset by seeing guns brought inside the church, and in reading information about the game “Far Cry 5,” she was uncomfortable with the theme of the video game itself which contains violence and cult aspects that were worrisome to her as being a grave departure from Christian theology and from First Nations’ values as a disturbing presence on the reserve. I agreed to pay another visit to the film set after supper that evening in an attempt to gain a feel for how things were proceeding so I could return Isabel’s call and provide her with more information. Both the location manager and our warden assured me that the guns were deactivated, non-functioning props, and that they’d been stored away safely overnight in one of the cube vans that were being used as storage containers. Both men reassured me that the church was being used respectfully. I further learned that the film project had been negotiated through the First Nations band who gave official consent for the church to be used, as the band owns all the buildings on its lands, including churches.
It came as a surprise to realize that the Anglican Church’s Territory of the People, including the Bishop’s office, the priest overseeing Shulus, and the members of the congregation were among the last people to learn that All Saints’ was to be the location for the filming of this commercial. In determining what constitutes respectful treatment of the church, one of our regional clergy remarked to me that it depends who one listens to when contemplating the nature of sacred space. While some would see our church as just another building, others recognize the religious space.
When I drove by on Wednesday the church was being painted white on the outside in preparation for the next stage of the filming. Every surface, from the cross atop the steeple right down to the picket fence and the gazebo was being transformed into pristine whiteness. A local Merritt company profited from the hiring of its industrial lift machine whose operator helped the painters complete the exterior paint job very quickly and easily. Also rented and gracing both sides of the entrance to the lych-gate were long planter boxes filled with flowers and greenery. The ground even received a spritz of green colour to give the illusion of a healthy lawn! After only a few hours of work, every trace of the church’s rundown appearance was completely eradicated, and the church had become a shining beacon in the community, ready to portray virtue in the next scene to be filmed.
On Thursday afternoon between scenes I was given a tour and a chance to take a few photos inside the church. With the filming complete by late Thursday, all day on Friday and much of Saturday there was a crew hard at work, devoted to completing the final paint job inside the church, installing the carpeting and returning all of our church’s furnishings and fixtures to their rightful places.
When we arrived for Sunday’s worship service we were in awe of the beauty of the redecorating, and we appreciated the luxury of having the painting and repairs done for us all at once, and not by ourselves with the usual fundraising and exhausting physical labour. We were delighted with the white walls and the dark brown trim and the lower parts of the walls and wainscoting that were also painted dark brown. There were new lace curtains on our six tall windows, the windows had been cleaned, and we further discovered that each had each received a Plexiglas storm window on the exterior. Our congregation feels very blessed.
However, in light of our church being used for a secular purpose with dark and unknown elements (even though it was filled with a staged congregation of “church patrons” and a preacher during the filming) we knew that we needed to reclaim our spiritual home and ensure that our sacred space remained holy. Thanksgiving Sunday was chosen as a wonderful opportunity to give thanks for the film company’s generous gift of carrying out their vision of leaving our church in better shape than it was upon their arrival. We arranged to have a rededication of the church, complete with cultural and liturgical cleansing rituals. Bishop Gordon Light and his wife, the Rev. Barbara Liotscos, were with us to fulfill this sacred charge as were First Nations congregation members who drummed and sang. Oly Bent performed the smudging using the smoke of the sage plant. In a manner not too different from using a thurible containing smouldering incense, Oly carried a large shell filled with glowing sage embers, and used an eagle feather to send currents of the smoke toward all the walls, and in turn, toward each member of the congregation who drew the smoke toward themselves with their hands, and turned their bodies around so that front and back were adequately smudged with the cleansing smoke. Then he went outdoors and smudged his way completely around the exterior of the church.
At the end of the smudging, Bishop Gordon offered prayers of rededication for the church and to sanctify the water in the baptismal font, and then using sprigs from a cedar tree dipped in the font, he sprayed the holy baptismal water toward the walls of the church as an act of purification and at each of the people who were present as a symbolic renewal of each person’s baptism. After the closing hymn, Oly instructed us to close our eyes, and with our hands in our laps, palms facing upward, to let our thoughts go in a particular direction while he softly played his hand drum and sang. At the end of his song, the other drummers joined him in drumming a recessional, and the congregation followed them outside into the churchyard where we walked a complete loop around the church with the sound of the drums resounding throughout the community. Then we made our way to the church hall where there was a complete turkey dinner plus potluck dishes ready for our noon meal.
We all felt very thankful and blessed to have worshipped together in the sanctity of our beautiful little country church with lovely fellowship afterward.
There was a high speed police chase enacted on a backroad along the Nicola River near Highway 8 a few kilometers away from Shulus toward Spences Bridge. A police officer was driving his cruiser in hot pursuit of a “bad guy” who was trying to escape the officer as he sped away in his pickup truck. In the pursuit, there was an automobile crash between the bad guy’s vehicle and the police cruiser.
(Then the post-crash scene with the damaged vehicles was staged on the street beside the church.)
A shot was fired. Though wounded by the car crash and then by a bullet that came through the cruiser’s windshield, the policeman summoned up the ability to get his car door open, but when he tried to get out of the car, he fell to the ground. The bad guy jumped out of his vehicle and grabbed the officer’s weapon and shot him, leaving him for dead, and then he ran into the church interrupting a worship service where a horrified congregation (played by many Merritt area residents) and the preacher (played by an Irish actor) were all very frightened with the armed gunman in their midst. Fortunately a second police officer arrived in the other police cruiser and entered the church with his gun drawn and apprehended the bad guy. Apparently the injured policeman didn’t die; however, what is unclear is who fired the first shot through the cruiser’s windshield before the bad guy grabbed the officer’s revolver. Perhaps that detail will manifest itself as a dark aspect of the video game, or possibly it all happened so quickly that the exact sequence of events becomes fuzzy in the retelling of the story.