At Wild Goose Festival 2014, I attended four seminars. Over the next several weeks I hope to unpack what I learned from some of them. The first one I wanted to explore was a talk by Tim Soerens entitled “Reclaiming the Parish.” Tim is a dynamic and passionate speaker, so it was not hard to be drawn into what he was saying. It was clear that he had done quite a bit of research on his topic and, even more so, he had seen the principles lived out in real life situations. The basic idea, from my perspective, was that the American church has gone away from the idea of living in fellowship and helping those geographically closest to us (i.e. our neighbors and community). His talk, along with the book he, Paul Sparks, and Dwight Friesen wrote entitled The New Parish, encouraged/encourages the church in America to reclaim the idea of a parish. I love the idea of this, but I have been reflecting on how to apply the principles to the rural setting where I find myself. In reflecting on this, I have three concerns:
1. Consolidated School District
My community is part of a consolidated school district. Because of that, all of our kids attend school in another town that is 11 miles away. The parish our kids spend most of their time in is not the parish we live in. So, which parish do we focus on? If we look at the parish we live in, the composition is far different (i.e. much older, less diverse, and in a different life stage). If we look at the parish we and our kids spend much of our time in, there is a divide of distance and community involvement that makes it more challenging to build connection. This leads to a bit of a split life/ministry.
2. Commuter Lifestyle
Along a somewhat related vein, many of the people who live in my community do not work in this community. They can’t because there is so little industry here. So, that means most people commute to work…some as far as an hour or more away. This means that most people in our parish spend a significant portion of each day outside of the parish. When they are home, they have housework to take care of, family to spend time with, and hobbies to catch up on. There is very little time left for connection with others in the parish.
3. Negative Memories
Many who live in my community have lived here for a very long time. And they have a history with many of the others who live here. Some of that history may be positive, but some of it may also be quite negative. This means that there is an added element of negative memories (or negative perceptions) that needs to be overcome before true relationships can form. That is a fairly difficult and time-consuming process. And one that many will not be willing to engage in.
I love the idea of taking steps to engage those physically closest to us and building relationships. We have been trying to do that already, but it would be a helpful thing for us to name it and be more intentional about it. The realities of our situation certainly provide challenges though. And I will need to do some thinking about how to apply this idea in my particular context. I’d be interested in thoughts from others who attended this talk and from others who are engaged in rural ministry or ministry with similar challenges when it comes to building relationships.