Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood? A Review

Environmentalism is part of the culture here in the Pacific Northwest. One aspect of environmentalism is the encouragement to “buy local”—many people here love local businesses, and if given a choice will prefer to patronize them over a national chain.

In light of this cultural preference for the local, it is not surprising that this part of the country is home to the Parish Collective, a group that seeks to root churches and nonprofits in local neighborhoods and connect like-minded people across regions. Three leaders of the Parish Collective (Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen) have now written a book called The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. I decided I had to read it when I saw this promo video, filmed in my very own neighborhood:

Those of you who know Bellingham will recognize that the coffee shop featured here is the Lettered Streets Coffeehouse. And those of you who have been to my house will recognize that I live about two blocks from Sean Hall. 

The book comes in three parts. The authors ask in the first part, “Why do we need a new parish?” They argue that “individualism and living above place have fragmented the Western church” (15). In the second part, they ask, “What is the new parish?” Here they argue for a “faithful presence” that integrates community, formation, and mission in all dimensions of public life. In the third part, they ask, “How do we practice the new parish?” They devote one chapter each to the practices of presencing, rooting, linking, and leading.

The biggest difference I can see between the new parish model and the old parish model is the recognition of pluralism: most places have a variety of churches, with different histories and different beliefs. The old parish model deals with this by saying that other churches are not really part of the One True Church. The new parish seems a lot messier. The authors talk some about this in their chapter on “Rooting,” but I would like to have heard a bit more in this book about how to navigate that reality. What happens if you and another church in your neighborhood have different ideas about a central doctrine like the Trinity? Or a hot-button issue in the church like women serving as pastors? Or a hot-button social issue like gay marriage? Dealing with such specific issues likely just did not fit into the scope of this book, but nevertheless that was what I was most curious about when I finished.

Overall, this book struck a chord in me. Like the authors, I have seen and experienced the effects of fragmentation and long for an integrated life. Those times when I have lived “above place,” I have felt depressed or anxious. I want to know people and be known by them. I want to know the history of where I live. I want to be able to walk places, and not be forced to drive everywhere (thankfully, the place where I live now is walkable, but that has not always been the case). I want my church community to do life together in our place, and invite others into that life together. This book helped me to think through these issues, and for that I am thankful.

Note: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.