Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Defending the parish system - part 1 in an occasional (maybe even sporadic) series

Yesterday evening I had a phonecall.
Nothing remotely unusual about that...even when I've not just sat down with a large drink...but this wasn't an absolutely standard request.

B. was phoning on behalf of his grandma, who had recently moved into the sheltered flats opposite valley church.
Today was the first anniversary of her husband's death, and she wanted to spend some time with her grandson in a quiet place, praying and remembering.
Would the church be open when he was free to take her, after work?

Of course, I said it would be no trouble at all to delay locking-up time, explained where the votive candles were, and we parted amicably.
Except that, by one of those weird quirks of fate, though I warned everyone who might normally be expected to lock up in a fit of enthusiasm, I'd forgotten that there was a plan afoot to begin to take down the Christmas stars this evening..so the message didn't go nearly far enough.
Thus, just as I got in from the evening dog-walk, the phone rang: B & his grandma were down at church, but the door was locked.
When I met them, they were both ridiculously, unnecessarily, grateful...telling me that I was much too kind, that they appreciated it so much, that they just needed somewhere special to remember.
And no matter how much I tried to assure them that they were simply using the church for its prime purpose - as a place for people to get close to God - they seemed to feel that there was something remarkable about my willingness to open the door on a stormy January evening.

But the point is, the building was THERE...and they knew who to contact to ensure access.
A long time ago, I wrote of another church, that the community who live and work around it recognised, in their ancient building with its open doors, a reminder of the God who always welcomes us, and another place that they could call home.
And I don't know how to begin to assess the value of that.


Mary Beth said...


Avey said...

A lovely piece about the value of a church and responding to needs. It isn't really linked to the Parish concept though, it's linked to Pastoral care and compassion.... there is a point of focus ie a building, but it doesn't have to in a Parish set up.

Still Breathing said...

As a Baptist I always envied the parish system as at least you know who you are meant to be serving/reaching. However, here in suburbia it gets rather complicated as the parishes have been carved up as new churches are built. There is an Anglican church half a mile away but we aren't in that parish; we are in the parish of one that is almost a mile away!

Now we are attending an Anglican church but it isn't either of those but one a mere 1.4 miles away. In that short distance we cross parish boundaries, the borough boundary, the county boundary and even the diocesan boundary! In these circumstances the idea of parish does get rather difficult.

marcella said...

I agree with others that it isn't as much a question of the Parish system as of pastoral care and compassion. But it the parish system did make it easier for the people to seek out that care, even if they had only as much knowledge of the system as would be gained from watching Postman Pat and learning that the Reverend Timms appears to live in the church, they knew that the person to contact was the vicar and that s/he would live in the vicarage. As someone who has a bit of a thing about telephones being answered (sigh) I think that the has a great asset it has in its parish system and centuries of history behind it. Although the resources just can't be there to have a full time vicar installed in every vicarage it's a very good way of ensuring direct communication between the institution and the people it is there to serve than

Perpetua said...

A lovely incident, but I think I'm with those commenters who see this as about a sacred place and a pastoral response, rather than explicitly about the parish system. Still Breathing is so right about the confusing parish boundaries in urban and suburban situations. It's so much easier in villages.