par•ish: a small administrative district typically having its own church and a priest or pastor. (dictionary.com)
The Apostle Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth that as followers of Christ, we are commanded to care for one another, rejoice together and never be divided.
Today, we often talk about the “old days,” when the church was bursting at the seams with people, the sounds of children echoed and the congregation, and we were actively meeting the needs in our community.
We would love to witness a revival. But we do still have a healthy congregation, we are blessed with the little voices of our children, and we continue to contribute to those in need — and have even established many new outreach programs.
But what has shifted is the idea of the parish.
Do you remember? Of course, I didn’t even know where Bellefonte was 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago. But “The Church” — what we call the universal church — has moved far away from the parish model within those very years.
Churches began being built or moving outside of the core downtowns and into the suburbs, following the housing trends of the middle and upper-middle classes (and above). Larger churches — mega-churches— began springing up, and as folks moved out of downtowns (even the parsonages, like Trinity’s, left their core downtown churches), the idea of what it meant to be a parish began to erode.
Today, if you were to look at who our parish is, what would that look like? Is the parish all of Bellefonte including areas outside of it? Is the parish the church faithful — the folks who attend or remain on the membership roles? Or is it something different, something more?
When churches were built in the U.S. as early as pre-Colonial times, many served as the governance of the town or village — even doling out land to settlers. This was the church’s flock.
Today, we’ve been relegated to serve as sort of a “storefront” or any other business vying for customers. We don’t always live near the church. We don’t visit the church except for Sunday morning. And we certainly don’t really know the names of our neighbors here.
How can we be a parish and truly meet the needs of and minister to those around us if we don’t even know who they are?
God blessed us with this very location — not just when the church was built, but today. God knew what this community would need yesterday, today and tomorrow. We’re here in this time and place for a reason.
So I’d ask you to consider again the idea of the parish. I’d invite you to spend time not just on Sunday mornings at the church — in our several ministries, outreach programs, worship and meetings. Be a presence here, and notice and interact with those in our “parish”— our neighbors. Learn their names. Sit beside them. Invite them to worship or events. And certainly pray for these neighbors and businesses.
We plead with God: “Revival! Revival!” And all the while, God has given us the Gospel examples and one another to breathe new life into our parish. He gave us this very parish and infinite opportunities.
Revival happens only if allow the Holy Spirit to move through our hands.
Just as Paul said: “That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).
Christopher Passante is pastor at Trinity Bellefonte UMC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.