John Wesley famously declared, "I look upon the world as my parish." Christians today have taken his words as a missional charge to evangelize the world. While I support world evangelism, I'm not sure this interpretation of Wesley's statement is very helpful for the local church. We may declare, "The world is my parish!," along with Wesley, while turning a blind eye to our neighbors right outside our church doors.
At Embrace we care about our world. We’ve sent missionaries to far-away places. But we recognize that the best ministry happens person to person in real friendships between diverse neighbors. This type of community happens best in neighborhoods. Perhaps before we declare, "The world is my parish!," we should embrace the smaller vision: "My neighborhood is my parish."
I like the word “parish,” though I think it's lost its meaning. In our denomination we refer to our churches as “parishes.” The word “parish” finds its origins in a Greek word meaning, “to dwell alongside a sojourner.” The idea is that a group of Christians, the church, moves in and lives in a community alongside other people. The “parish” doesn’t just refer to the church, but has historically referred to the entire community surrounding the church. A pastor was assigned to a parish, which meant she or he was responsible for the entire community, not just the people within the church walls.
In their book, Making Neighborhoods Whole, John Perkins and Wayne Gordon argue that we need more “parish-minded” churches. To be a “parish-minded” church means that the church sees its ministry setting as the entire community, not just within the the four walls of the church building. This means that the church is present in the community, involved in the community, living life among the people in the community.
What if people in our neighborhoods knew us?
Because we volunteered at the school.
Because we held community events at our church.
Because we helped maintain the park.
Because we visited with the sick and shut-ins.
Because we marched with people fighting for equality and justice.
Because we showed up at neighborhood association meetings.
Because we got involved in other ministries in our neighborhood.
Because we fought for equal access to food and services.
Because we showed at the basketball court or the community center and played with the teenagers.
Because we played Frisbee at the park and invited others to join us.
What if we get outside of our church walls, and truly claim this community as our parish, our place of ministry, where we are called to live out our faith?
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE:
This past Saturday our church celebrated with our neighbors the dedication of our neighborhood futsal court at Castlewood Park. For those who don't know, futsal is a modified form of soccer played on a hard surface; a type of street soccer that doesn't require a large field. Some students at Common Good, our local ministry partner in our basement, had a dream to build a futsal court at Castlewood Park. They applied for a local grant through the NOLI CDC and received $2,500 award to make this project a reality. With the help of mentors from Common Good and Embrace they worked hard for over a year meeting with our city council-member, Parks and Recreation, and other community stakeholders. They even put in hard work on the weekends to build the court.
On Saturday we celebrated their accomplishment alongside hundreds of neighbors. This wasn't an Embrace event or an official Embrace initiative. Though our church sees our community as our place of ministry. Dozens of people from Embrace were there because they see the North Limestone and Castlewood neighborhoods as their parish.
I believe our church is called to have a faithful presence in our neighborhood. Our website URL is embraceyourcity.com. We certainly want to embrace our city. However, I don’t believe we can actually reach our entire city because we can’t be present in every part of our city. I believe God has us on North Limestone for a reason: to work with our neighbors to see our community live into its God-given potential.
Jacques, one of the student founders.
Council-member James Brown receives his signed soccer ball from the student founders.