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I got Covid last week, and it knocked me right out. Which meant I spent a lot of time on my couch in front of the TV, watching my new favourite British mystery drama – Father Brown.

I’m a johnny-come-lately to Father Brown, but that works to my binging advantage as there are now 10 seasons to work through on BritBox.


The show, based on the short story series by G.K. Chesterton, follows Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest played exquisitely by Mark Williams, as he solves crimes in a quaint, 1950s country village, accompanied by a gaggle of unlikely friends and acquaintances, and usually getting under the skin of the local police inspector. It’s the perfect light-hearted and humorous “whodunnit” kind of show.

It’s also a masterclass in pastoral care.

In one of my seminary classes, Professor Danjuma Gibson gave us this basic definition of pastoral care: to bear the presence of a faithful God in any situation. Care can look like a lot of things, he said – bringing a casserole, writing a card, taking someone out for the day. But pastoral care lets a person know that God is aware of, and involved in, whatever is going on in their life at the moment. With your words and listening and prayer and presence, you bear that truth and make it plain.

Father Brown does many things. He solves crimes, he attends parties, he cycles from one end of the village to the other, and, presumably, at some point in the week he writes a homily. But whatever he’s doing, he is bearing the presence of a faithful God in that moment.

Upon the discovery of a dead body, Father Brown kneels, puts on his stole, and prays. When he’s talking to potential suspects, his first statement is always, “If you ever need to talk to someone, St. Mary’s is always open.” When he discovers who the murderer is, and is trying to convince them to turn themselves in, it’s never about solving the case, but about the state of that person’s soul. Yes, Father Brown likes to solve mysteries. But throughout it all, he brings people before God, and bears the presence of God to the people. And he does so as if to talk about God was the most natural and normal thing in the world.

And perhaps that’s what I most admire about Father Brown. He is so at home in his role as shepherd of souls, so at ease when asking a person about his or her spiritual life, so confident when expressing his faith in a God who is actively at work in the world. He doesn’t presume to have all the answers, he lets hard things be hard, and he makes room for people’s doubts and questions. But he speaks a language of faith with such sincerity and ease that usually even the firmest of atheists end up unburdening their soul to him, revealing the crack in their armor where the light might get in.

I admire this in Father Brown, because it’s something that doesn’t come as easily to me. Which seems rather a frightful thing to say as a pastor, but there it is. I can write blog posts and preach sermons, unpacking Scripture and exploring theological truths all day, any day. I pray with parishioners when I visit them in the hospital. I don’t…not talk about God. But I don’t necessarily wear my faith on my sleeve, either. In fact, in some situations – the hair salon for example – I hope the subject of my profession doesn’t come up (it almost always does).

This is in part due to the little dance that almost always happens when people find out I’m a pastor. First you can see the gears shift as they re-work their definition of what they thought a pastor looked like. Then there’s the quick recall of everything that’s already been said, what swear words have been uttered, what uncouth stories have been shared. Then there’s the uncertainty about where to go from here. All of which happens in the span of about five seconds underneath the proffered, “Oh, that’s so interesting!”

Father Brown has the advantage of no one being surprised when he mentions God. One look at his black cassock and wide-brimmed hat, and you know exactly who this man represents. He also has the advantage of living in a place and time when faith was a more assumed part of people’s lives. And there are norms and liturgies he can rely on – the last rites, confession, etc. – that bring him to people and people to him.

So as I binge my way through this murder mystery series, I find myself envious of the main character. I wonder if it would be easier to talk about God with complete strangers if I wore a collar. (Just the other day my co-pastor and I were discussing the community fair coming up at which we’ll have a booth, and how I wished we were a collar-wearing sort of bunch, so we could be more easily identified. We joked that we could just wear really expensive sneakers instead.) I wonder if people – church folk and non – would find it easier to talk about faith if we had more rituals to lean on, words and movements that brought faith into the everyday, and the everyday into our faith.

But I’m also encouraged – and inspired – by this fictional priest. Above all, you get the sense that Father Brown is at home in God. That he, himself, experiences the presence of a faithful God. More than a few times Father Brown finds himself in danger – “all alone!” as the criminals he faces love to taunt. But the priest just shakes his head. “I’m never alone,” he says. And he means it.

And that’s what I – what all of us, I suppose – long for the most. To feel at home in God. To know the presence of our faithful God, in every situation. To be shepherded into his presence. To be pastored.

Who would have thought such pastoring could come, in part, from a fictional priest?

Laura de Jong

Laura de Jong is the Pastor of Preaching and Worship at Community Christian Reformed Church in Kitchener, Ontario

20 Comments

  • It’s always so good to hear your words, Laura. I say, get a collar! And I sincerely hope you are feeling better.

  • Ken deBoer says:

    Love Father Brown. There is something real on so much of British TV even when the situations and plots are unreal ( how can do many people die tragically in one British village?) Call the Midwife is another example of a program where God figures prominently as the story seeks to make sense of the world and the difficult situations that arise in it, kingdom building as they go…

    • Wesley says:

      The other unreal thing is that there are so many Roman Catholics in an historical church in 1950s England. That said, I love the show and the stories too.

    • Gwen says:

      Midsomer is a county with many villages in it, not the same village.

    • Gretchen Munroe says:

      I resonate with your thoughts, and share your appreciation for Father Brown. Maybe scones rather than a collar? Choose one. Be present. Thank you.

  • Dale Wyngarden says:

    Many decades ago, my Presbyterian minister father, who never wore garb any more ecclesiastical than his clip-on necktie, went to a religious supply store in the nearby big city and bought a clerical collar. He wore it only once…….to his audit with the IRS. You never know when dressing for the role might pay off. Buy a collar. If not for the community fair, in case you are ever summoned to an account with the tax man.

    I discovered and delighted in Chesterton 55 years or so ago. In print, not on a screen. His stories are a faded memory, but you inspire me to revisit him. Thanks.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      It also doesn’t hurt to wear it when you get pulled over by the police (not that I know anything about that). Of course, then you need to wear it everyday, not a bad idea. Unless you know when the police plan to pull you over.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    “Rather Brown is at home in God”. It is only recently that I have been pushed, in random and sometimes strange places, to declare that God is good and still wishes us to flourish. Perhaps that is the beginning of being at home in God. Thanks for the pastoring this morning.

  • Pamela Spiertz Adams says:

    Laura, I too love Father Brown and I read the stories about him after seeing a number of episodes and they are wonderful too. I also feel at home with Father Broan because I am a former catholic so his actions seem very real and sincere to me. I have noticed with delight the taking on of some Catholic practices.
    There have been a few times where I would say that seeing Father Brown was hearing the gospel as much as any CRC sermon.

  • Jack says:

    Ahhh yes, thank you, Laura, and I sure wish you a speedy recovery, or maybe not until you get through all the seasons!!!!

    And hey everyone, don’t forget the launch of Dana V’s remarkable, exceptional novel ENEMIES IN THE ORCHARD!!! Next week!!

  • Kathy Davelaar VanRees says:

    I have become a very big fan of Father Brown. When I first started watching (my then new husband was a fan), I laughed and rolled my eyes at the quirky story lines.
    But it’s different now: the characters are rich, topped off by Father Brown himself. He has become a pastor to me. His declarations of God’s expansive love calm and inspire me.

  • I don’t think in real life that the person cast as father brown is a believer. Maybe agnostic , possibly atheist . Not sure and not judging. It’s what I’ve read. I enjoy the series!

  • Allan Romkema says:

    Honestly, I have been in situations where I’d ask myself, “What would Father Brown do?”
    Thanks Laura

  • Bob says:

    Very perceptive article. A couple of things about the series amuse me. First, Father Brown and his friends are constantly breaking the law as they investigate crimes (a lot of breaking and entering). In addition, nobody seems the least bit concerned about the alarming murder rate in this little village. It’s got to be worse per capita than the South Side of Chicago.

  • Lia Pennington says:

    Indeed! Binge watching Father Brown feels at home in God. I never thought about it that way and just realized maybe that is why I find myself lurking to watch the series again. Is it because I am searching for other ways to find God? Just like how I stumbled upon this well-versed article.

  • Diane Barr Gherman says:

    I adore Father Brown! There is an ineffable grace, open door & love liberally spread. If we followers of Jesus demonstrated that we would change the world. I, watch, waiting anxiously, for the pearl to drop.

  • Frank Smith says:

    I did the same thing when Covid first hit in March or so 2020 here in the States, but I was already quite familiar with Father Brown & binged on it for a number of months. I get mine from the Library, so they go up to Season 9 or 10, I believe. My faves are Seasons 7 & earlier.

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