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10 January 2011

A Shabbat Walk to a Parish Church

I walked to church today. To a neighborhood church with only a vestigial parking lot. It was built as a neighborhood church. It made me nostalgic for the days when people walked to worship with (and in) their families. Your neighborhood was your parish.
I think of a Jewish friend who grew up in Blessed Sacrament. The suburb in which he lived had a secular name. But everyone said they lived in the Parish of Blessed Sacrament.
I think of my Jewish neighbors who moved to this neighborhood because of our neighborhood synagogue. When they looked for a house, they looked for a synagogue first. When they found a synagogue, they looked for a house within walking distance (there is a rabbinic formula for how much walking is permitted on Shabbat).
What would it mean for Christians to return to a parish system? What would it mean to move to a community because of the Church?
Imagine... Taking a new job (which is how and why so many of us move) and asking first about churches in the neighborhoods - before even schools four our precious children's education - before even looking for a home to be our refuge from the world.
Imagine... being the kind of church that people want not only to join, but to live near and participate in the ministry life of the church on a regular basis. Imagine having a church that prizes neighborhood real estate, not a country estate outside of the city and its problematic people. Imagine the immediate neighbors of a church being so deeply involved in the parish that they comprise the bulk of its membership. Imagine the issues affecting the neighborhood are the issues affecting the church community. Imagine a church culture in which commuting to church is not unwelcome, but uncommon.
I imagine that a neighborhood church functioning as a parish church would be a thriving church and that a return to the parish system might mark the end of the decline of our major denominations.
But I suspect that many of our churches and their folk don't want to be parish churches again, because they don't want to fellowship with and minister to those who are their neighbors.

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