In my ministry as a military chaplain, I find myself with a few hundred souls who are my parishioners whether they want to be or not. I minister to them all. With some, I celebrate the sacraments; with others, I listen to their struggles. To all, I share friendship, concern, and compassion. I’m not perfect, of course, but I try to minister to all of them pastorally.
This model of ministry in the military reminds me of the old parish system. Most Anglicans seem to remember it and assume we still have it, but it doesn’t really exist, at least not in the United States. Yes, we have a parish system of sorts, but these “parishes” are composed only of those persons who attend our local churches. What about the old system that held that everyone within a certain geographical territory belonged to this parish? What about the old system that held that clergy ministered to every soul in that territory, regardless of whether they were Christian or not?
I hope to explore this idea more in a series of short articles here. In reflecting on the old parish system and how it should apply today, I suspect that I shall reach some conclusions that offend today’s milquetoast sensibilities that seem to abound in the Church. However, I can’t help but think that the Church of C.S. Lewis’ day, or even earlier, though not much later, was a Church which had much to offer the world. In our striving toward ignorant politeness, have we lost the prize?
I suggest that the old parish system is a suitable way of thinking and working for the Church today. Let the Church’s priests take up this forsaken system, this “outdated” paradigm, to honor God in the world. Join with me, reader, in reflection and meditation on this topic; join with me, priests, in becoming, as St. Paul, “all things to all men”.