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Looking Forward Parochially

I went to a Westminster Faith Debate tonight on Parishes: what future for the parochial system, conveniently being run in Oxford at the University Church on the High Street. It was relatively easy to get to but not within either the parish that I live in or the parish that I worship in. I wonder what “my” church, St Clement’s, would look like if most of the people in the parish who habitually worship in Anglican churches kept their business with their local or if most of the extra-parochial members decided to do the same?

I have to confess that I’m caught in a disjunction of theory and practise. I think the parish system is a thing of at least potential beauty. Wherever you live in England (and possibly other parts of the UK) there is a local Anglican priest who has responsibility for the cure of your soul. It is a quaint sounding phrase but your parish priest does have a responsibility to look out for you and care for you whether you like the sound of that or not. A significant proportion of people are in the “not” camp but they have a claim on the priest’s time when a crisis like a death – or a birth, marriage or something else about the passage of life – hits. However, while enjoying fellowship in a baptist church in London that was geographically my nearest centre of worshipping Christian community, I’m crossing boundaries since moving to Oxford; St Clement’s was the place Jane and I felt a shared sense of being at home and now we are committed to the people there but the places we’ve lived have spanned a couple of different parishes (three if you count the place I stayed before Jane made the move from Lewisham). I say that the parish system is beautiful, a golden net across this land, but I’m one of those people ignoring the boundaries even while contributing to its upkeep.

We have got some connection with the local Anglican church (St Francis) but my Sundays and much of my other time are spoken for elsewhere. I don’t think tonight’s debate managed to move particularly towards an answer, although it was jolly polite and really quite positive. Two questions I should perhaps have asked are:

  • If I believe in the parish system, should I abandon the community where I have found a home and partipate more fully in the one that happens to cover the area where I live?
  • Since the system is clearly struggling for lack of stipendiary clergy to make it work as intended, is there any serious move to recognise lay ministry of both word and sacrament from the likes of me or is this a shibboleth to a hierarchy that claims the authority of tradition while in reality being the bastard child of a schism fueled at least in part by the less than holy motives of a greedy and rapacious king?

The debates continue fortnightly until early December. Perhaps I should give some advance thought to the next question: Heritage – how can buildings, endowments and pensions become assets not burdens? (23 October)

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