Rebuilding the parish

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Notre Dame Photo by Nivenn Lanos on Unsplash

I recently spoke with some friends who are members of l’Église du Plateau in Montréal. They were telling me about their church small group, and how it is made up of good friends who all live within about three minutes’ walk of each other. I find this amazing, but it is not terribly surprising, since about half of the members of the church live in the neighbourhood around it, which allows for an organic community and natural involvement in their entourage.

If, as I suggested last week, we need to show people a complete picture of the Kingdom of God so that they can understand the message of the gospel, I believe that in our context, a hyper-localised approach is the way forward. Unlike in the past, when Christianity was everywhere, we no longer have the resources or the people to saturate our society with lights that shine before men, so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father (Matthew 5:16). But if we concentrate on, and concentrate ourselves in, a specific neighbourhood, we can make the Kingdom very visible there.

Even if this sort of thinking is rare these days, the idea is an old one that used to be practised all over the world, in Christian countries, in the form of the parish. In Quebec the parish used to be one of the two main centres of community, but the practise is not limited to Catholic churches – it was common in Protestant regions as well. If you have ever watched a TV show based in the English countryside or villages, you’ll see the same concentration around the Anglican parish, and even in my church (the Église réformée du Québec), we speak of our congregations as parishes.

Unfortunately, over time certain cultural pressures, like the disembedding of work from the community, automobile dependence and suburb life, and the consumerism and expressivism that drive us to choose a church according to our own preferences, have led to the disappearance of the localised parish.

It is clear, then, that moving towards a parish model won’t happen on its own. For l’Église du Plateau, inviting the church’s members to move into the neighbourhood was one of the founding principles of the church. My friends, along with many others, moved to help start this church. Moving to join a Christian community is a huge commitment, and goes against several prized values of our modern society.

But in my opinion, a life that is integrated in our community is worth certain sacrifices – especially if they come with the promise of seeing the Kingdom of God incarnated around us every day.

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