An Introduction to Parish Life

What’s a Parish?

A lot happens in the life of a Church of England parish. People are often confused by the distinction between a civil ‘Parish’ and a church one. This confusion (compounded by the ‘Vicar of Dibley’!) needs to be clarified! An ecclesiastical ‘parish’ may have a similar set of geographical boundaries to a civil one, and the Church will have a Parochial Church Council (PCC), but it is not the same as a ‘Parish Council’, which is a secular elected body handling local planning and amenity issues and operating at the political level.

In our diocese, parishes (often grouped into multi-parish ‘benefices’) are brought together into 13 mainland ‘deaneries’ and a further two covering the Channel Islands.

Parish life can vary enormously. The style of worship on offer in different parishes may vary significantly as will provision for different age groups. Parish life has a primary focus on the care of people, but there will be many aspects to that alongside the need to maintain premises – very often heritage properties. Finance and aspects of Anglican polity must be handled with great care, for churches are charitable institutions and their officers are mostly volunteers. Over the years there has grown up an enormous range of legal requirements to service, deadlines to follow and regulations and guidelines to be aware of. One of those areas concerns ‘Safeguarding’ for children and vulnerable adults.

The brief of the Church of England has always been to provide Christian ministry to wherever there are people. The national Church is enabled to do that more effectively than any other Christian denomination in the UK because it is sustained by ‘Parish Share’. Always calculated on an individual church basis, the ‘Share’ pays for local clergy and a range of services to facilitate ministry, as well as supporting the Church nationally. Larger parishes effectively subsidise those less able to pay their way.

There are other resources funding Anglican mission, notably contributions by the Church Commissioners whose income from investments provides for Bishops and the upkeep of Cathedrals. No monies come from central government.