A House is Not Always a Parish…
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9
As followers of Jesus, we find in our New Testament understandings of our identity that we are priests. To quickly restate a simple explanation of this role, priests worship God and help other people worship God. Even so, the Church still understood the need for there to be vocational priests that would be overseers and caretakers of what is known as a “parish.” Now, for modern church structures, a parish is the local faith community, or local church. Pastors or priests are ordained and called to a specific place to adopt that local Body as their parish.
If vocational priests have local churches as their parish, what about everyone else? Where is the royal parish for this royal priesthood?
The easy answer is… everywhere. Even when it comes to official parishes that priests are assigned to, (although in modern Western culture this assumption has not always been embraced) they are not just to look at those within the walls of the physical sanctuary as their parish but the geographical community itself. The idea of a parish life only works with the doors to the “sanctuary” (presence of God) are always open and the walls around the “church” (the Body of Christ) are non-existent.
A parish is not a Sunday morning worship service time and space, it is a community. And if there is one thing that the whole world is desperate for, it is healthy, and holy, community. That is what this royal priesthood is called to establish. And the way we establish this, is through our public worship of God (love expressed God’s way.) The sticky part is that if we are not careful, we can end up inviting people who are hungry for community to observe worship rather than experience it is we are just focusing on getting bodies close together instead of embodying love with one another.
People can find generic community anywhere. Gyms, schools, clubs, bars, workplaces, and more can all be places to find community, good community even. But if we as priests are commissioned to establish a parish community, we recognize that, although those communities are great, they have limits. The Kingdom of worshippers that Jesus is shaping around us is found in communities that are humble, healing, and holy. So, wherever our portion of this parish might be, we must look at the place we are in as a space for us to worship God by recognizing and embracing God’s goodness, even in the darkest of corners of our communities. That’s what people long for. As people long for community, let’s not settle for offering them a static image of God’s goodness. Let’s invite them into our parish and walk with them as they taste and see the goodness of God.
Here is an excerpt from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals for reflection:
“The longing for community is in all of us. We long to love and to be loved. But if community doesn’t exist for something beyond us, it will atrophy, suffocate, die… without discipline, we become little more than hippie communes or frat houses. We easily fall short of God’s dream to form the new world… Our homes, our living rooms, even our parties can become places of solace and hospitality for those with addictions and struggles. But it doesn’t happen without intentionality. Dorothy Day said, “We have to create an environment where it is easier to be good.” We can celebrate and become the church that we long for, even among people who have given up on “church.” Our communities should be places where people can detox… We long for a space that tips us toward goodness rather than away from it, where we can pick up new habits, holy habits, as we are formed into a new creation, transformed by God.