Seeing Ourselves as a Parish Church
February 19, 2018
By Mike Ivaska
"The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house." - 1 Corinthians 16:19 NIV
When Nichole and I were engaged and first married, we attended a large Presbyterian church in the University District of Seattle. Before we were married, Nichole lived in Kirkland and I lived in West Seattle. After we were married, we lived in West Seattle. There was a healthy Presbyterian church in West Seattle, but we had already discovered University Presbyterian. We really liked the preacher, a well-known Bible expositor named Earl F. Palmer, and hoped to move to north Seattle to be closer to the church at some point. (Instead, the Lord eventually brought us back to Vashon and VICC!).
After about a year of attending University Presbyterian, the senior pastor retired and a new, younger minister was hired to lead the church. The first thing the new pastor tried to do was develop a small group ministry. Historically, the church had depended on the reputation and preaching skills of its senior pastor Now, in this new era, there was a new push to make the church build itself around community rather than the preacher's personality. It was in this context that I first heard the term "cathedral church." Not that I had never heard of cathedrals before! But I had never heard the term in this way.
When the leadership of University Presbyterian referred to themselves as a cathedral church, what they meant was that they were (are) a large church that serves as a destination for people from across a wide area. It was, in fact, one of their strategic problems when trying to develop more of a sense of community among their membership. The term cathedral, of course, refers to a large Catholic church building. It comes from the Latin word for "throne," cathedra, and historically refers to a large, centrally located church where a bishop presides. In contrast to a "cathedral church" would be a parish church.
A "parish" refers to a local geographical area, such as a town, with a centralized church and a local priest or minister. Dictionary.com gives as its first two definitions of "parish,"
1. an ecclesiastical district having its own church and member of the clergy
2. a local church with its field of activity.
So, in contrast to a cathedral church with a large draw and a large area of influence, a parish church would be a local church with a local draw and a local area of influence.
In contrast to both of these models would be any model of church that sees itself as existing more-or-less exclusively for its own members. This church might see itself as a fortress against the sinful society outside its doors. It might see itself as a spiritual club, a group of like-minded people bound together by a common doctrine or experience. But one way it certainly does not view itself is as being a church for the surrounding community. In contrast to this, I believe VICC needs to see itself as a church for the surrounding community. And since we are a small church in a small community, I believe we need to view ourselves as a parish church.
Some caveats here, of course, include the fact that we are not the only church that confesses Jesus in our community. As a parish church, we are responsible for the island, but in partnership with (not competition against) these other fellowships. And also, as the Bible teaches, we are not a church with one priest. We are a church of priests! A church of priests, partnered with other churches, placed on Vashon Island for the sake of the community.
What would it look like if we "did church" with this self-understanding in mind?