A Neighbourhood Parish Church: An emerging vision

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Artisan is transitioning from a City Centre Church to a Neighbourhood Parish Church.

Artisan Church has been praying about what it would mean to be a Neighbourhood Parish Church. Already well established in the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library downtown, and planning a second community in East Vancouver, their vision is for “one urban church consisting of several parishes.”

Below is Artisan’s vision statement. It is representative of a diffuse movement throughout North America, one which cares for community, for neighbourhood, for local identity, for parish structures.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will look at a couple of conferences coming up in June which address that longing:

* A Day With The New Parish Authors, June 2, sponsored by Forge Canada at Southside Community Church in Surrey. Subtitled ‘How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community,’ The New Parish is attracting positive comment from many quarters.

* Moving Back Into the Neighbourhood, [Note: originally scheduled for June 13 – 14, it has now been postponed until the fall] presented by The Missional Network at West Vancouver United Church. Their tagline: “God is up to something, moving ahead of us in our neighbourhoods and communities.”

I’ll also look at some local churches which are already very active in their neighbourhoods.

But first, Artisan’s thoughts on the matter.

Context: Urbanization

It has been noted by historians such as Rodney Stark, that early Christianity began as an urban movement.

The first Jesus communities thrived in cities as God’s redemptive movement went to all the urban centres of the Greco-Roman world (Acts 1:6). As we read in Acts, the movement goes to Athens (the intellectual centre), to Corinth (the commercial centre), to Ephesus (the religious centre) and finally to Rome (the military and power capital). As John Stott notes, “It seems to have been Paul’s deliberate policy to move purposefully from one strategic city centre to the next.”

How might we carry this missionary impulse in our own day?

Today it’s clear that, in Canada, urbanization is here to stay. In fact, 81 percent of Canadians (27 million people) live in metropolitan areas; 46 percent of our population lives in six cities alone: Montreal, Ottawa/Gatineau, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

Given this, how might we cultivate a vision for a city-reaching movement that is at once large enough for the city (with all of its complexity and diversity), yet specific and localized enough? One emerging strategy is the Neighbourhood Parish Church model which is as
old as St. Paul, yet perhaps has never had such direct relevance in a culture, as in our age of urbanization.

Context: The Rationale

In 2011, Vancouver became the most densely populated city in Canada. Vancouver has long been known as ‘the neighbourhood city’ and though many of these neighbourhoods have morphed significantly over the years, Vancouver remains a city that is made up of distinct neighbourhoods and cultures.

The Neighbourhood Parish Church is a church that recognizes this and structures itself like the city. It is organized geographically, connecting small, local parishes throughout the city.

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These images accompany Artisan’s Neighbourhood Parish Church vision for “one urban church consisting of several parishes.”

The term neighbourhood has many meanings and uses. Neighbourhood can be used to refer to many things: the small group of houses in the immediate vicinity of one’s residence, or an area surrounding a local institution patronized by residents, such as a church, school or social agency. Regardless, the concept of neighbourhood
includes both geographic (place-oriented) and social (people-oriented) components.

Taking both of these components and infusing them with Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and to love our neighbour, the neighbourhood becomes the primary place where we practice these dual loves.

The neighbourhood is the place we learn and live our identity as Christ-followers who love God and love our neighbours. Simply put: The Great Commandment assumes we know our neighbours. Love is not something that can be offered intermittently, from afar, or once a week. To live the Great Commandment in the neighbourhood, amongst our neighbours, requires a new priority, proximity and permanence.

We come to see that each neighbourhood has its own story. To enter into that story – to find its redemptive elements, to work against its injustices, as well as to proclaim and demonstrate the love of God – we need to be people who live and are stakeholders in that place.

Parish

In contrast to a commuter or city centre church, the parish harkens to a time when a priest or pastor, along with a church community, were intimately connected in the life of the neighbourhood.

A parish is a geographic area of spiritual responsibility. We are not called just to care for church facilities, but actual communities, modeling the sacrificial love of Jesus in a particular context, for a particular people.

We have an understanding that in our neighbourhoods most people will not respond to the simple offering of a Sunday church event. Our gift to the neighbourhood is not simply a church service, but rather ourselves – our shared relationships as God’s people, where we can live and tell and be the good news.

To that end, we have decided to intentionally localize, to choose the natural relational networks that a neighbourhood offers and to build loving relationships alongside and within them. For people to know a God who is for them, they’ll need a visible, tangible demonstration of a church that is for them. This is what a parish is all about.

A Neighbourhood Parish Church: The Model

The Neighbourhood Parish Church envisions one urban church consisting of several neighborhood parishes that network together for the common good and renewal of the
city. The Neighbourhood Parish Church is diverse in its essential nature, uniting women, men and families from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds across a major metropolitan area.

Rather than growing one large church, this vision is for a church consisting of many small-to-medium sized parishes networked together across the city.

Why?

1. It allows the church to be attuned to a specific place and people – all the many nuances of a given locale. In this way, the church is truly incarnational: loving a people in a place, and loving a place with a people.

2. It allows the church to run lightweight and lean, sharing resources such as staffing, office space, ministries and gifts. In this way, the church is truly collaborative and reproducible.

3. It keeps the church small enough for everyone to have a real identity and be involved in the work of ministry, each using her own gifts to build the church. In this way, the church remains small enough to know and be known, empowering people for life and faith.

4. It maintains a large enough mass to steward resources for the good of the city. Networked together we’re able to leverage and share what we have together to bless Vancouver.

How?

All parishes share a common vision, a lead team, preaching series, staffing and resources, offices and ministries, and a rhythm of coming together as parishes on a regular basis for city-wide worship. Yet, each parish is encouraged to live out its unique identity in its specific neighbourhood, contextualizing the way of Jesus in that place.

Summary

The Neighbourhood Parish Church is one church in multiple neighbourhoods. This vision enables the church to remain highly relational, deeply interdependent and locally embedded, while maintaining a large vision for renewing the city.

Next Steps: Following and Joining

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Artisan is planning a second parish, in East Vancouver, this year.

We believe that the story arc of the Bible moves toward this end: that Christ is making all things new (Rev 21:5). In Christ, God is reconciling all things to himself (Col 1:19-20). The church exists to share in this movement – to join in what God is already doing. The whole movement is started by, centred on and sustained by Jesus. We’re invited to follow him, together.

Our vision is for the whole city. We dream of following Jesus in a movement that seeks renewal in every crack and crevice of our city, where people, neighbourhoods, industries – every thing – would be reconciled and renewed in relationship, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Our sincere hope and prayer is that the Neighbourhood Parish vision will serve as a contribution to God’s great work of renewing the world through the cities of our day.

Timeline

Artisan started in fall 2009 as a group of 15 people meeting in Vancouver’s downtown core. Today we meet across the city in 14 lifegroups, and gather to worship as a community each Sunday. Over the last four years we have been grateful to see God’s activity in our midst and are hopeful for who we are becoming and where God is taking us.

This year we are praying and preparing for transition as we move from being a City Centre Church to a Neighbourhood Parish Church. We anticipate planting a second parish in East Vancouver in 2014.

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