Full disclosure, I have spent some time on the fringes of the New Parish movement which was referenced in the aforementioned presentation by Alison Milbank. Also, I once wrote a fairly poor dissertation on the future of the parish. And for what it’s worth, I am currently a parish minister.
Having got that out of the way, and having perused some of the discussion surrounding the ‘Save the Parish’ movement. Is it possible that a key dynamic is being missed?
Where is the love?
Much of the discussion surrounding ‘Save the Parish’ (StP) is about cultural preference and the identity of the CofE? For example, the parish system is what makes the Church of England, the Church of England; who would we be otherwise? The StP website remarks that “this is your church” and “you have a say.”
Is this where the discussion should start about the nature of church? Should we not start with love for God? What does he require of the church? What type of church would honour him best? What structure would fulfil his divine commands?
And should we not, secondly, look to shape the church around love for others? What sort of church would welcome outsiders? What sort of church would best share the Gospel and make disciples of ‘the way’?
Too much of the discussion around church structures demands a church that meets ‘my preferences’ or bases the structure of the church around pragmatic decisions about money and resource.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether a church is an old fashioned parish church with all that entails, or a funky new plant in a pub’s upper room. Without love, first for God and second for the other, neither approach is appropriate. The structure of the church is cruciform; we crucify our personal preferences for the love of God and neighbour.