How many American priests end up in their own reality show on British television? James McCaskill did just that when he moved last year from Pittsburgh to the town of Lundwood in England's South Yorkshire district. He was brought in to revitalize a church whose congregation had dropped below ten, and his turnaround efforts were filmed for one year by a camera crew. The results will airunder the name Priest Idolin a three-part series in November on the UK's Channel 4. Nate Anderson sat down with McCaskill on a recent visit to the U.S. to talk about ministry and media.
Why did you take the job?
Stardom on TV [laughs]. No, I spent two years of seminary at College of the Resurrection in West Yorkshire, and the college there knew at some point I would enjoy coming back and serving the Church of England. I received an email in the summer of 2004 from the college, saying, "We know you want to come back, so quit your job, come over here, and we'll give you a flat so you'll have a base to work from and find a job." So I did. I was at a point where I was looking for something new.
The bishop of Wakefield had this parish of Lundwood, which had not had a full-time vicar for four years. It's a small parish by England's standards, around 6,000 people, and the church there was about to close. It was the last Christian presence in the community. My primary interest was in going someplace where I felt like the church could make a big impact.
What made you think Lundwood was that place?
It's an ex-mining village now suffering social deprivation, and the church is physically at the center of the community, and I thought it could be a beacon of hope in a place that's experiencing some darkness. So I agreed with it on paper; I was a bit ...