Redefining the Parish Church

For centuries, churches divided communities into parishes. In the UMC we still find evidence of this heritage in our Pastor-Parish Relations committee (though it is quickly disappearing in favor of Staff-Parish). So just for the record, Wikipedia defines parish as:

…a local church; it is an administrative unit typically found in episcopal or presbyterian churches. It refers to a local, ecclesiastical community or territory, including its main church building and other property.

However, a parish can also be:

…an administrative area of civil government. Parishes of this type are found in England, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, parts of the USA, Estonia, and a number of island nations in the region of the Caribbean.

In a more cursory reading of history, it seems to me, parish churches saw their responsibility as the area around the church, the community, as part of their care. In essence, there was an involvement by the church in the civil life of a community.

However, the 20th century in the USA, appears from my perspective, to have shifted the focus from the parish, the “local, ecclesiastical community or territory, including its main church building and other property,” to the “the main church building and other property (and I’ll add) and its membership.”

I may be off base here, these are just my observations after all. Yet, coming from the UMC, with a leader in John Wesley who had no problem about stepping on toes when it came to both social injustice and spiritual negligence, I’m wondering how we became so timid in the marketplace of ideas?

I know in starting Crossroads UMC, I have stepped out in areas where other clergy are not regular. I’m in business associations and involved in the local chamber. I’ve gone to community action groups and currently serve on community committees. I’ve sought to be involved and make my voice heard…but only so far.

This idea of the parish has been bouncing around for a while but it was in discussion with Mark that he asked a very pointed question (among a few):
If you don't agree with one of these Christian leaders, have you let anyone know? I ask this because silence implies agreement. I know it is impossible to counter every little silly thing that a person might say…but I still think it is important to say something - even if you do feel like you're merely tilting at windmills.

This really resonates with me. I don’t necessarily like it but this in part is what our UMC heritage brings us to does it not? We are called to take stands not just in private but in public. Wesley stood against poverty, ignorance, slavery and political corruption. Mr. Wesley also stood firm against antinomianism and other heresy as well as standing for education, free grace, authority of Scripture and the use of reason, experience and tradition as part of our faith journey.

I am not sure it is just a matter of speaking against other Christian leaders (or community leaders for that matter). It is a matter of what one is speaking FOR that truly counts. There is enough of the former in all areas as evidenced in our current political climate. For the voice of the Church to matter, there needs to be more emphasis on the latter.

I think the 21st century and the current generations of leaders beginning to come of age, there is an opportunity to revisit the place of the parish church. The more I consider this time, the more I am growing hopeful. Here at one crossroads in history, a new Crossroads is beginning in our neighborhood. Only God knows how this storyline turns out but I know, we’re about to begin a journey of discovering what our parish will become in the years ahead that we’ll have a role in shaping what it will look like.

May I Ask: Where is your parish? What community are being called to live in?

May I Suggest: Figure out your parish. Learn the community. Walk the streets. Meet the people. Love it and live in it!


John said...

I'd say that it's a number of Internet-based communities of which I am a part. The Moronosphere, for one.

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