Hard Truth #5: Parish system a good thing
Hard Truth #5: The parish system is (to my surprise) an excellent thing.
Some very dear friends of mine travel a bit to attend church. They have excellent reasons for doing so. A few years ago they lived nearby and helped plant that church. They are heavily involved in key ministries and have long-term relationships. Their son is a minister there. So that is where the grandkids are. All very good reasons to make the trip.
I caught up with my friends last year and they shared excitedly about their local Connect09 campaign.
I should add they don’t live in Sydney. Like a smattering of individuals and churches around the country (you may not believe me but it would be accurate to say the world) they just heard about Connect09 and did it themselves.
Like their neighbours, they love the garden. They saw gardening as a way to not just contact, but really connect with their neighbours. They told me about seedlings being exchanged with this one; veggies to that one; citrus from the ones across the road. Regular cups of tea and chat about gardens, the creator, families and church.
But they had struck a problem with the next step - namely taking their new friends to a Bible course or church. Their church was just too far away, and it just didn’t make sense.
It seemed lame to simply "send" neighbours to a local church (even though it was a very good one). So should they take them to local church's outreach events rather than their own? Maybe they could invite them to local church and attend with them - but for how long? Who would be taking care of their duties in their own church? Should they try to go to both churches? Or should they just bite the bullet and move to the local church?
In short, after happily travelling to church for years for sound personal and ministry reasons, a new factor had thrown a spanner in the works: local mission.
I know the parish system (or more accurately parochialism) presents many difficulties for our diocese. Whenever you form people into tribes and draw lines on maps you just know that sin will be crouching at the door. Yes, there are problems. But I pray that we can address and overcome them together. I saw many parishes working together during 2009 to do some great stuff.
What is wonderful about the parish structure is that it is suited to local mission; it covers everyone. It says that together, we will take responsibility for every soul in our area, every square inch of our city. Even the hard places.
The person in Lakemba or Casula needs to hear the gospel as much as the person in the Hills or the Lower North Shore. That person may have contact with a Christian through work, or family, or some other network. But statistically, that is unlikely - increasingly so. So who will take responsibility to pray for them? To contact them? To try to find a way to connect with them? Well, tell me their address, and pass me a parish map and I’ll tell you who should!
If increasing the size of church (i.e. church growth) is my primary goal, then the parish won’t mean that much to me. In fact, any boundary will be an irrelevant nuisance. But if taking the message of Jesus to every person in Sydney (i.e. mission) is what drives me, then I will want to make sure every house is covered. By my church, or another church - both! - it doesn’t matter. No one of us can do it all.
There may be other ways to divvy up our God-given responsibility for this city, but I can’t readily think of it. Turns out the system we have inherited already does that pretty well - in theory. What will it take to make it a reality?