I am old enough that I grew up watching Mr Roger’s Neighborhood. But of course, he was on TV long enough that many of us grew up watching Mr Roger’s Neighborhood (at least on one side of the Atlantic). If I add that I was old enough to see Mr Robinson’s Neighborhood on SNL back when it began… it gives a bit more context.
What’s in a Name?
For your first few years here, where we would talk about the type of church we were hoping to plant, we would say we are starting “Neighbourhood-based, Jesus-centred, Communities of Faith.” That is how we’d describe it to those with a reasonable understanding of what we are doing.
If we met someone interested in exploring faith in Jesus, we wouldn’t talk about the structure of what we are doing… we’d actually talk about Jesus. (Crazy, right?)
Anyways, by saying neighbourhood based, we were trying to communicate that we are NOT starting a church that meets in a central location and that everyone commutes into. We want to help people live out their faith where they live and work.
But then we encountered a problem. Irish people…and in fact, it seems most Europeans don’t use the word ‘neighbourhood’. They know what it is, but it is considered an “American term.” Now, you can google “Dublin City neighbourhoods” and see that the term is not infrequently. But based on a lot of feedback we received, it was clear that it was an unhelpful phrase.
Now there are different words people use to describe specific areas. Estate would be one, but that is a pretty small area and not what we are trying to communicate. Places like Clontarf, Raheny, or Marino are sometimes referred to as ‘villages’, but that is not how the areas are commonly talked about, and it generally refers to the site where the shops are.
So at this point, we are using the phrase “parish.” Now, parish isn’t perfect as it has some baggage attached to it. But it does have the advantage that people understand it. That can be good and bad.
You may have noticed earlier that I used the phrase, Neighbourhood-based Jesus-centred Communities of Faith“. Some of you may have wondered, ”why do you say, “communities of faith? Why not say churches?” And the simple answer is for many, the word Church has a lot of baggage…in fact, for many, enough baggage that once they hear the word, they lose interest. We may believe that we are talking about a completely different church model…but for most, their image of what church is, makes it hard to hear anything else.
Our hope is that ’communities of faith” evokes questions and conversations that the word church simply does not.
This brings us back to parish. It was a word we have tossed back and forth within the leadership community of the Table. Shortly after moving here, I read the book, The New Parish,” written by 3 pastors in the Seattle area. This is how they describe parish:
When the word parish is used in this book it refers to all the relationships (including the land) where the local church lives out its faith together. It is a unique word that recalls a geography large enough to live life together (live, work, play, etc.) and small enough to be known as a character within it.
I really like that image. It gets at some crucial ideas we want to see. Then during one of my MA classes at IBI last spring, it became a discussion point, and two Irish people who grew up in and still live in Dublin felt strongly that parish is the best way to describe what we are talking about.
I’d be interested to hear your thought. In your context, do these words seem helpful or not? Are there words you’ve stopped using because of the baggage they carry?