In a world where organisational shapes and approaches to leadership change rapidly, it is important that we evaluate the parish as our key unit of operation for mission.
The enduring strength of our parish system is the importance of place. As human beings we have a deep sense of needing to be ‘placed’ – able to belong, feel secure with a setting that is familiar. The church building is often the minister of the centrality of place. The parish take this sense of place seriously.
Parishes are people – in an increasingly mixed and changing cocktail. There can no longer be a single offer or a simple formula. If the Gospel is to be proclaimed and witnessed to, then there will need to be variety, and a toughness regarding the choices of what might be possible with limited resources. Who are those most in need of the generous witness of God’s loving care?, and how might this offer be made?
God’s children live and grow through engaging with processes of formation. Public worship and the Occasional Offices have been one of our key contributions. Now the invitation has to be crafted more flexibly. Messy Church for young families, schools as structures for nourishing young people, breakfasts for men, festivals….. and moments to enable meeting others and sharing the love of God, made manifest most powerfully in appropriate worship and witness.
The genius of the Church of England is the parson, our commitment to providing pastoral care that gives leadership for such formation. Rarely in our history has every parish had its own resident ‘vicar’. But always, each parish is embraced by the gospel caring and teaching organised by the Church. We all contribute to the work of being parson in our own communities. There are three classical models of parsoning:
- The priest, who uses the worship and teaching of the Church to mediate the Good News of Jesus Christ into everyday lives.
- The prophet, through whom the light of Christ proclaims a challenging critique of present failings, while proposing radical new possibilities.
- The prompter, who gathers and enables others to make creative responses to our challenges and opportunities, embracing those within the Church and those beyond our borders, in a common and connecting formation in goodness and grace. Calling all sorts and conditions of people to grow together as children of our Heavenly Father.
As the season of annual meetings is underway, we might like to consider in our own particular context how we can best be called to craft a parish for the future, and thus work seriously together on the future of the parish.