"The small stuff is the big stuff"

Wherever you live, how do you view your community?

For example, if in Vancouver, do you see yourself as from Vancouver? Or do you refer to a particular neighbourhood, be it Kitsilano, Yaletown, or Kerrisdale? This question applies to wherever you're from.

Basically, in describing your community, is your default big picture or small? City or neighbourhood?

How we understand our community will invariably influence how we understand our role and place in that community. If we view our community as one monolithic place, we tend to generalize our descriptions of that place (e.g. Vancouver is full of young, healthy people). Viewing a community a network of neighbourhoods, however, highlights the various nuances and particularities of a community (e.g. Vancouver has a huge variety of people, including some very unhealthy people!).

Interestingly, Christians can be prone to ignoring these aspects of a community. Instead of recognizing the trends, Christians give much attention to their own place, oftentimes revolved around a building or meeting space. The people create and identify with a separate community within the larger neighborhood and community. The danger is an insulated group of Christians whose only community connection is with themselves.

In response to this reality of church and community there is a growing movement to restore and redefine the practice of parish for Christians and churches. Traditionally, parish refers to the neighbourhood that a church resides in and cares for, a vestige of Christendom where everyone, by default, was connected to the parish church. This traditional understanding of parish is clearly outdated, especially when in many city neighbourhoods few people would identify with the church on their block and Christians themselves travel miles to attend churches in other neighbourhoods and cities. In a post-Christian commuter culture, the traditional parish just doesn't make sense. So why the renewed emphasis on parish?

Importantly, along with the renewed emphasis on parish comes the attempt to redefine the concept altogether. Talk of parish is not some vain attempt to regain the past role - and power!- of the church in cities and neighbourhoods. The focus is much simpler. And I would suggest, much better.

This week I had the privilege of meeting with Tim Soerens, co-founder of Parish Collective, a group of individuals and churches who desire to seek renewal in their local neighbourhoods. As Tim shared inspiring stories of individuals and faith communities engaging their neighbourhoods, a key value kept emerging that describes well this renewed emphasis on parish: “faithful presence for neighbourhood renewal.” Living in Wellingford, a neighbourhood in Seattle, Tim doesn’t have a grand visions for a church that reaches the entire city of Seattle. How does one leader, or one church, reach the diversity of neighbourhoods that comprise a city? Instead, Tim, along with many others, are thinking and living local. Faith gets translated differently for different neighbourhoods. Church expression begins to reflect neighbourhood dynamics. The generic concept of Christian mission becomes the very particular task literally loving your neighbour. And in the process, Tim emphasized, you realize how in the day-to-day reality of neighbourhood life everything finds value in the good news of Jesus - “the small stuff is the big stuff.”

In a time when people - and Christians are no different - gravitate towards the sensational, ask yourself this: What “small stuff” gives meaning to your life? To your neighbourhood? To your city?


Cory B said...

Love this. We often forget the ripple effect that Christ can utilize where he takes one action of one individual in his/her parish and then can magnify that to affect generations. Like one guy stopping for water and having a simple conversation with one of the local outcasts and how 2000 years later we are still retelling that story, of grace and forgiveness and the ripples just keep going.

David Warkentin said...

Yes Cory, I like the idea of a ripple effect. A big part of this emphasis is being okay with the ambiguity or uncertainty of our own personal impact on the world around us. Our culture's examples of success are often the exception, so we need to put our egos aside and just live our lives here and now. This doesn't mean complacency as Christians, but definitely a reordering of focus.

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