IT IS ironic that, at the very time that market-forces,
bureaucracy, and even the weather make the need for intermediate
institutions ever more necessary, the parish is under threat as a
costly, outmoded model rather than an inestimable and flexible
In the recent flooding in Muchelney, Somerset, the parish church
has provided support and liturgy; and in the city it continues to
be a refuge for the homeless and the immigrant. We all need
community, and especially one rooted not in utility, but in
relation to the final ends of human life. What else can include us
all, simply as people?
The parish I dream of in the future will be utterly
outward-looking, opening its doors to the needs of all local people
of every creed and background - library, kitchen, credit union,
cinema, advice centre, and social meeting-place - but also richer
in terms of prayer, theological study, and Christian formation.
Parishes succeed where the clergy and the people believe in what
they are doing, and trust the gospel of Christ as truly compelling.
A vaguely apologetic approach to the faith has yielded us nothing
but drift, and has allowed the secular world to infect us with its
own nihilism. Those who fantasise that the parish is out of date
evade the fact that this is because Christianity itself is being
We are in a war, and the battle must be fought with all the
resources of intellect and imagina-tion that we can muster. Art,
poetry, drama, dance, and music of the highest quality must be used
to make our liturgical life deeper and more sustaining.
ABOVE all, we need education at every level - from toddlers to
theological colleges - that is grounded in scripture, Christian
philosophy, and the riches of our Hebraic and classical
This will make us more effective evangelists and critics of
social injustice, and, paradoxically, more able to deal with future
challenges. I have seen a mixed group of people utterly gripped by
the applicability of the Didache, and Athanasius, to their own
lives. Theology in the pub has also been shown to work.
Many in our own congregations are denied the food that would
sustain their faith at work, and at home. The truth is that they
have lost credal belief, and no longer understand that to be a
Christian means being inducted through the eucharistic
representation of the incarnation into a participation in the life
of the Trinity. Only when church members have been empowered with
the gospel can outreach have meaning.
I long for openness and hospitality combined with a recovery of
theological poise. A consistent but variegated programme of
Christian habit and beliefs should infuse every Anglican school,
college, and institution.
We need churches that act as the sacral focus for a specific
place, and represent it in both strong intercession and practical
action. Money and people will never come - and, indeed, will drain
away - unless we have confidence in the Church as our
The Revd Dr Alison Milbank is an associate professor at the
University of Nottingham in the department of Theology and
Religious Studies; Priest Vicar at Southwell Minster; and co-author
of For the Parish: A critique of Fresh Expressions (SCM