By LISA CAPOBIANCO
When he heard about the reboot of the classic biblical film, “Ben-Hur,” Pastor Barry Clifton of Grace Baptist Church knew it was time to make a move to Hollywood.
Serving as senior pastor at Grace Baptist since 1995, Clifton wrote a sequel to the “Ben-Hur” film 15 years ago. He wrote “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey” as a screenplay and a novel.
“This is a story that literally changed my life,” said Clifton. “The movie was so powerful.”
Clifton recalled watching the 1959 classic alone as a freshman in college. The story, which was a bestseller in the 19th century and a popular one of the 20th century, captivated him.
“It’s a great story of two men who are lifelong friends who… because of power and betrayal end up as enemies,” said Clifton.
The film also brought Clifton closer to his faith at a time when he did not have a close relationship to God.
“That element really grips you as well,” said Clifton.
For Clifton, the question, “What happened next,” lingered, as Judah is still a young man at the end of the film. While conducting research on 1st Century Christianity in seminary, Clifton started playing around with ideas, and the “Ben-Hur” sequel was born.
Although Hollywood came close to reviewing the screenplay, the story went back on the shelf, and Clifton continued writing, which has been his passion since childhood.
But when MGM announced that the third major motion picture of “Ben-Hur” would be released in August 2016, Clifton said a “window of opportunity” opened again.
“That got me thinking about focusing on [the sequel], and taking a break from ministry,” said Clifton. “I want to do something bold, audacious and risky.”
Clifton and his wife Janis plan to take off to California later this month, where they will see their daughter who moved to the Golden State four years ago. With each trip he took to California over the past four years, Clifton said he sought out interviews with professionals in the movie industry.
Last Sunday, Grace Baptist held a special celebration service for Clifton and his wife before the new adventure begins.
“The process is a bit of a long and winding road,” said Clifton. “Hollywood is built on relationships.”
Besides the sequel to “Ben-Hur,” Clifton currently is trying to market his second novel, “A Sparrow Could Fall.” This story is about a country church that takes on a white supremacist group in the upper Midwest. He is working on a screenplay version of the completed novel, which he has envisioned of becoming a television series.
He also wrote a screenplay last year that turned out to be a finalist in a contest. The screenplay was an adventure story that Clifton originally wrote in seventh grade.
“There’s something about storytelling…that just has great power,” said Clifton. “I hope in the storytelling to be able to communicate my hope in Jesus in a whole other way than I’ve done in a pulpit.”
Born in Iowa, Clifton sensed his call to ministry after graduating from the University of Iowa, where he earned degrees in journalism and English. Before seminary, he led a youth ministry and served an inner city church in London. He also served as pastor to a rural Minnesota congregation while in school.
When he arrived to Grace Baptist, Clifton said one of the best parts of his ministry has been serving the church for 20 years. Throughout that time he has seen children who have been going to Grace Baptist since they were infants grow up.
“That’s the most amazing privilege,” said Clifton, adding that he also will miss the Bristol community. “We’ve really grown as a family. People just really…care for each other [and] care for their community.”
For more information about Clifton’s published works, visit his website, blclifton.com.