It’s interesting how the Wheel of history turns, and how knowledge or attitudes that were foundational at one time in history becomes lost or is left behind only to reappear, transformed, many years or decades or even centuries later. The idea of the ‘parish’ and its relationship to ‘the community’ is a bit like that.
‘Back in the day’ a parish was a geographical entity: it was a territory, firmly anchored around the church building. By extension, one could also refer to the people within that territory as members of the parish. Over time, of course—especially in urban areas—people began to seek out churches that met their own individual needs, sometimes travelling far from their own homes. Accordingly, churches no longer considered their neighbours as (particularly) a part of their parish. ‘Members’ of the parish were simply those who attended (for whatever reason).
One of the more inspiring books I’ve read over the past year is The New Parish: How neighbourhood churches are transforming mission, discipleship and community (IVP, 2014). In the words of one of my colleagues, ‘it’s not rocket science’. But it describes how a local expression of the Church can interact with the community in which it is located. The book tells inspiring stories of how new spiritual expressions of the Church are springing up within neighbourhoods, seeing their geographical locale—their parish—as the place and the people among whom to practice the faithful presence of Christ. It is the neighbourhood in which we allow ‘patterns of prayer, rest, celebration, play and … work’ to shape us even as we love our neighbour.
The new Churchmouse After Hours Coffeehouse has already begun to open us up to that dream at St Mary’s. Our neighbours come, and together we all share one another’s company. Through opportunities like it, it is my prayer that we will be drawn ever deeper into the life of our parish—our neighbourhood, and that we will all be better partners with one another as we seek justice and love kindness in our walk together.