parishes, origins of
Revd Dr William M. Marshall
Roman Catholic canon law stipulates that a parish is a defined community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular church. The phrase "particular church" refers to a diocese or similar organizational structure. In the Roman Catholic tradition, parishes are established by, and are in communion with, their diocese and diocesan bishop, which are in turn established by and in communion with the Church universal and the Pope. Some Protestant churches, particularly those descended from European established churches, such as Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and others, borrow from this tradition and also use the term "parish." Protestant traditions that have congregationally oriented polities, such as the Baptist tradition, use the term "congregation" to emphasize local independence.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, parishes may be either "territorial" or "personal." Personal parishes are established for nonterritorial communities, such as those that are formed on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, language, participation in a specific college or university, and so forth. The functions common to parishes are: proclamation and formation, worship and sacramental celebration, charity and care, and outreach and social concerns.
In the United States, Roman Catholic parishes range in size from ten to ten thousand households; the average size of a parish is 843 registered families. In contrast, there are 36,170 Methodist parishes in the United States, and their average size is 235 families. While the parishes of the United Methodist Church are more numerous than the parishes or congregations of any other church organization in the United States, the average size of each parish is typical.
Roman Catholic parishes are larger than Protestant congregations or parishes, in part because the Catholic tradition emphasizes a stronger sense of permanence and the Catholic sacramental tradition fits relatively congenially within a larger sized unit. Today, most Catholic parishes have a single priest assigned as pastor, who is responsible for the parish to the diocesan bishop. However, most parishes also have a number of others, including lay ministers, who serve either full or part time. The 30 percent of parishes with more than 1,000 families tend to have an average of five lay ministers, two deacons, and two vowed religious women ("nuns").
Coriden, James. The Parish in Catholic Tradition. 1996.
Dolan, Jay P. The American Catholic Parish:AHistoryfrom Colonial Times to the Present. 1992.
So parishioner inhabitant of a parish XV; superseded earlier parishion, -shen (XIV), alt., after PARISH, of †paroschian, -ien (XIII) — OF. parochien, -ossien (mod. paroissien); -ER1 was added to suggest more clearly a personal designation.
par·ish / ˈparish/ • n. (in the Christian Church) a small administrative district typically having its own church and a priest or pastor: [as adj.] a parish church. ∎ (in Louisiana) a territorial division corresponding to a county in other states.
parish pump the pump supplying water to a parish, regarded as an informal place for meeting and discussion; used allusively to refer to matters of limited scope and interest, especially in politics.