Parish priest Liz Clutterbuck travelled to the US on the American Memorial Chapel Travel Grant to explore what it means to be a parish in an American context. Find out more about her trip and her conclusions below.
My trip to the US on the American Memorial Chapel Travel Grant by Liz Clutterbuck
I’m a parish priest (part-time) of Emmanuel Hornsey Road, an inner-city parish in Holloway, north London. Covid has decimated our congregation and our activities and has destroyed the financial plan we had to support the church. The CofE now needs to figure out what being a parish looks like in a world that’s changed. Does the parish model still work? Does it make sense to have 100 parishes within 2.5 miles of each other? What do our communities actually need from the national church?
I hoped that my trip thanks to the ESU’s American Memorial Chapel Travel Grant would help me find some answers, as well as exploring what it means to be a parish in an American context. The main element of my visit was to attend Inhabit 2022 – a national gathering of church leaders organised by the Parish Collective and held in Seattle in April 2022. This proved to be a valuable experience that I’m sure will continue to have an impact upon my ministry in London. The presentation that I was asked to share really helped me to frame some of my own thinking around parish ministry, and its reception at the conference contributed to something of a vocational epiphany about the importance of the parish in my future ministry.
In addition to the conference, I also visited churches in Washington DC where I had some fascinating discussions about the role of churches in political centres to speak truth to power.
Since my return from the US I have had many valuable conversations with fellow clergy and lay leaders about stories and work I heard about during my visit. I think there is much that the English church could learn from those that the Parish Collective bring together and there seems to be a need for something similar over here.
In terms of what the Church of England might learn from the American understanding of parish, I think there are a few areas where inspiration could be drawn:
- Empowering local leaders who know their neighbourhood well and are trusted by the community
- Opening-up church leadership (ordained and lay) to people from diverse backgrounds. Intentionally working at diversity in ethnicity, sexuality, gender etc. and not becoming complacent when some progress is achieved
- Encouraging and celebrating small, committed worshipping communities as well as large ones
- Developing more initiatives that support & equip leaders of smaller churches
- Re-envision what ‘parish’ means in the 21st century, particularly in places where there are so many parishes within a small area. (Discovering that there are 100 other parishes within 2.4 miles of mine while preparing my presentation was mind- blowing!)