With the Academy Awards only a few weeks away, a Vancouver church is launching a sermon series on Oscar-nominated films The Revenant, Spotlight, Inside Out and The Big Short.

For several years now, St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church has been exploring scripture through the lens of blockbuster movies — which Rev. Gary Paterson said often address significant questions about life.

Paterson said the films chosen for this year's series — which begins on Sunday, Feb. 21 — offer perspectives that challenge the congregation.

st andrews

Gary Paterson is the reverend of St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

That meant discussing Best Picture nominee The Revenant, even if, as Paterson said, it was "hard to watch."

The Revenant

'When a movie gets 12 nominations … it's something you need to deal with, because it's right there in the culture," Paterson told host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition.

"At first I thought, 'I'm going to preach against it'. It's almost the classic model of the American hero struggling against almost insurmountable odds to survive and win the day," he said.

"But then I went to see it a second time … it actually has more impact the second time when you realize there's far more subtlety."

That subtlety — and the message Paterson will be preaching on — relates to people's relationship with the natural world and each other.

"How do you contrast First Nations survival with essentially first-wave capitalism moving into the Wild West? First Nations people say, 'You're taking the land. You're taking the animals. You're taking us.'"

Social structures and complicity

Paterson said Spotlight — the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered systemic child sex abuse by numerous Roman Catholic priests — was another tough movie to choose for a sermon topic, as it "strikes close to home."

"We in the United Church have an awful lot to repent about our involvement in residential schools where incredible abuse seemed to be just be below the surface and yet there was a cover up," he said.

He said Spotlight deals with the issue of "people knowing and yet choosing to look the other way."

"Sin … is not something that just nasty, evil individuals do on their own. There's a social structure that makes us all complicit."

He said the same logic can be applied to an issue like climate change.

"It isn't until the last decade or two that climate change is exploding around us that we pay attention."


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Sermons based on Oscar-nominated films