I visited yesterday with Tim Soerens and Justin Mayfield of Parish Collective, a movement that connects churches, faith-based organizations, community groups and others on a neighborhood level to foster friendship, collaboration, justice-making, and vibrant local culture. Central to Parish Collective is the conviction that commitment to place and people is primary, that our God-talk must speak to and arise from local contexts, concrete relationships, and concerns, or it doesn’t speak at all. Loving one’s neighbor requires rootedness, and these rooted relationships in turn become the context in which we come to discover, discern, and participate in God’s creative presence in our midst. A second aspect to the work of Parish Collective is to create community not just at the neighborhood level, but to link local communities across a broad network, spreading the gifts, bonds, wisdom, and insights of local culture with a global view in mind. At present, there are established or emerging Parish Collectives in Seattle, Bellingham, Tacoma, Vancouver, WA, Portland, San Francisco, Austin, Edmonton, BC, and Vancouver, BC.
Two things most impress me about Parish Collective. First, their intention to gather together and bring to bear in a concrete way the collective wisdom of local culture for positive social change stands in contrast to the way in which various groups and communities can live and work in the same area yet never substantially connect or collaborate. As a consequence, efforts toward justice-making and community-building in this fragmented context are often tackled piecemeal, from limited perspectives and narrow interests. The open, wholistic approach of Parish Collective strikes me as a refreshing antidote to such fragmentation.
Secondly, the emphasis on local stability as the abiding ground of commitment for discipleship and theological reflection poses a direct challenge to the present “keeping-my-options-open-indefinitely” sensibilities of the dominant culture. Craig Greenfield of Servants Vancouver also addressed this issue in our interview—the tension among today’s young adults between a hunger for community and an ambivalence toward commitment. In reality, you cannot have one without the other. Or to paraphrase Craig’s words, you cannot have community without the cost of commitment. Hence, it strikes me as particularly prophetic that Parish Collective begins and ends with commitment to place and people.
Tim, Justin, and I talked a bit about this emphasis on local rootedness in light of the traditional Benedictine monastic promise of stability to a particular monastery and monastic community, intended as a lifelong commitment. The thought here is that Parish Collective is in some sense experimenting with the possibility of transplanting traditional monastic values and principles in the context of whole neighborhoods rather than insulated cloisters, and expanding the meaning and practice of “parish” in the process. Of course, while Saint Benedict wrote his Rule as a consolidation of the tradition he had inherited, he was also writing within his own unique cultural and historical context, for a particular community of men. The burgeoning monastic Oblate movement, among other models, affirms that Benedict’s insights and that of the larger monastic tradition can indeed speak to and enrich non-monastic contexts and cultures. I find it particularly heartening that stability, rootedness, and local stewardship are among those monastic values that seem to be having a transformative impact as counterpoints to disposable, rootless and uprooting cultural, economic, and social forces pervading our world and our neighborhoods today.
You can learn more about Parish Collective on their website.
I may publish an interview with a Parish Collective member down the road, but otherwise I am grateful for these new connections, budding friendships, and fresh inspiration. Thanks, guys!