Pastor Richard Hartley is the star of the new docu-comedy series “The Rev” on USA Network and the big personality pastor is hoping to bring feel-good comedy from his family to others.
For over two decades, the pastor has been conducting choirs for superstars such as Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Diana Ross.
Hartley’s flashy style and forward attitude might draw criticism from some but he says all of his clothes were bought “on sale." He really does not want to be lumped in with prosperity gospel preachers because he maintained that he and his family “are really not that.”
“I am a retired school teacher, and my wife is a nurse, and my son is a full-time musician, and my daughter collects college degrees, she has three so far, trying to get another,” Hartley told The Christian Post.
“The church is a small community church; it's not a megachurch at all. It's a church of maybe 100 members, hardworking people. My style is just over the top, I've been told that, but sequins are cheap,” he continued.
"My fashion sense is a little forward but it's really not about the megachurch,” Hartley said.
The minister does not want people to write him off because of the entertaining aspect of the new TV show.
He believes "once they see my concerns about budgets, and about children learning the value of money and how much work we have to put into the church,” their opinions would change.
“I don't like to do classes, but we're a regular, hardworking American family that happens to be African American, that happens to have faith in God. I think on the first look or at least second look, they'll see we're a regular family that believes in God,” he added.
“The Rev” premiered this month and runs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. The reality show centers around Hartley’s real-life role as a pastor of The Bethlehem Church of God in Christ in Queens, New York. The series also follows his family — wife Stacey and their adult children, Judea and Jordan, who all showcase their comical interactions.
“The Rev” was born after a friend of Hartley filmed one of his choir rehearsals. His brutal and hilarious conducting of the choir was sent to an agent in Los Angeles and it caused a bidding war between Lifetime, OWN, Netflix and USA Network. USA Network won the bid.
Hartley told CP that his production team and crew consist of people from both Christian and non-Christian beliefs.
"I think there was some people of faith that saw the real spirit of love. Then of course we have mixed faiths in the production crew, as well as the production team out in LA. But all of them saw a common message of unity and love and peace that emanates from my family, which emanates from our beliefs,” he said.
The Big Apple native wants "everybody" to watch his show because it is cross-generational.
"My children are in the show, they're millennials, they don't work and they don't pay any bills, they just live here so that's good for that demographic,” Hartley noted. “Of course, not just the Christian fan base but the non-Christian, to that end we don't make the show very preachy but it's really done through example, which shows love for the community, family unity, inclusivity.
“I think that's the greatest characteristic of this show is that it shows love, so hopefully, the non-Christian base would see that we're not a cult, not extremists. We're regular people who have a lot of fun, even the church is fun. Hopefully, it can reach those people that way.”
The strong family bond shown in “The Rev,” although shocking at times, is a refreshing portrayal of a black family on TV in times of much unrest.
"We were filming during all of the social upheaval, which of course, is still going on. So we did incorporate some of the current events into some of the episodes,” Hartley explained. “However, by and large, this is feel-good TV, it's comedy. It really focuses on the fun aspects of the family dynamic and fun aspects of the church. It's not politically skewed toward anything. It doesn't take on a social topic every week. This is really about the interactions between a father, his wife and their two grown-up kids and a struggling church, an artistic church.”
“The Rev” shows a “disparity of my personality between the pastor and artists, and how I balance that,” he revealed.
The show will be more than just laughs though. Hartley said they do show the hope of Jesus as viewers will see some charitable activities happening.
“The Scripture says by this, shall many know that you are my disciples. How? That you have love for another,” he emphasized.
Hartley said he displays that by “embracing the Lord, embracing people from all over, embracing their flaws, embracing their strengths."
"Jesus says, 'From your mother's womb, I formed you and I knew you.' It's not about doing the church thing. It's about doing the love thing and doing the Gospel. Once you get that inside of you, then you will automatically be a disciple that God can use.”
Hartley encouraged everyone to embrace who they are.
"He made us all different. He gave us different gifts, He gave us different personalities. The binding characteristic of a believer is love. As Paul said, 'Though I give my body to burn, and I speak in tongues, of all of those things if I have not love, it accomplishes nothing,” he concluded.
Hartley began coaching church choirs at the age of six and is finally making his own music. Along with the new TV show, Hartley released a song, titled “Highway,” available now on all digital platforms.