For most people who grew up Protestant, the notion of “the parish” in ministry is perhaps something vaguely Catholic and therefore assumed to be outdated in our contemporary situation. While I certainly have some serious problems with the parish model as traditionally practiced within Catholicism (largely due to issues of power and hierarchy), I am also seeing the tremendous value of having a vision for ministry in which the church lives and ministers within a certain neighborhood.
So, what if being a church required its members to actually live within the neighborhood? Would that not feel immediately restricting and just instinctually wrong? What if there weren’t any churches in your neighborhood that were a good fit for you? These are questions to which there might be answers, but I don’t initially have them. However, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the parish model of ministry is indispensable because of stories like Erika Haub’s call to dispatch on behalf of a neighbor. Please read it if these themes at all pique your interest.
And I’m seeing more and more that, despite the very real loss of certain freedoms imposed by a parish model of ministry, there are other freedoms that we normally don’t think about that are also lost when we think we can build commuter communities. We don’t have the freedom to simply bump into each other on the street. We don’t have the freedom to be a house of refuge and hospitality with those in our neighborhood. We don’t have the freedom to build relationships of trust and respect with those next door to our church building because we pile out of our minivans once a week, and then right back into them an hour later.
To be the followers of the God who was incarnated in Christ Jesus, I think that Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14 indicates what kind of following we should be doing:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.