How to Connect Neighborhood Churches to Your Local Community

About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their February 20, 2018 dialog they invited Paul Sparks, a leading voice in the growing Parish Movement. Paul has worked in more than 1,000 neighborhoods around the world to identify, connect, and support groups that want to have their neighborhoods flourish. In their conversation Paul talked about his own and his colleagues’ work with local churches, academic institutions, and community organizations in the United States and abroad and offered ideas on how to translate their experiences into local community-building work.

In addition to the transcribed discussion here, you can download or listen to the audio:

For more on Paul’s thinking and work, see the list on his author page.

Maggie Rogers: Today, we’re pleased to be joined by Paul Sparks. Paul is a leading voice in the growing Parish movement. He has worked in more than 1,000 neighborhoods around the world to identify, connect, and support groups that want to have their neighborhoods flourish. He is co-founding director of the Parish Collective.

Peter Block: Paul, thank you for joining us. I think you started something called the Parish Collective, which I want to learn about. Could you describe a little bit what it is, and I’m especially interested in what were the conditions in the world, in your world, that led you to think you wanted to start something unique, and something new?

Paul Sparks: Peter and John, thank you for having me. First, let me begin by just saying how honored I am to participate in this conversation, and how much the two of you have influenced my life, and the life of my colleagues. It’s just an honor to be here. I can just preface that by saying I could easily blame everything I’m about to say on the two of you, so that’s helpful for me.

What happened is in the late ’90s, there was an amalgamation of different denominations and church movements that were … a good way to describe it is we for some reason thought we should follow the big box methodology of corporations, and apply that to our churches. As a consequence, you ended up having religious movements that were all based around a consumer mindset, and getting people into the building. We have this phrase within clergy circles of butts, budgets, and. buildings.

Butts, budgets and buildings. In the late 90s, I began to have this deep sense that somehow we had lost our way and that we had become infatuated with something that wasn’t life giving at all. A small group of friends began experimenting with what would it be like if we thought about the neighborhood as the place where God’s presence and God’s spirit was moving and we could just join in with what was happening there.

We began experimenting with what would it be like if we thought about the neighborhood as the place where God’s presence and God’s spirit was moving and we could just join in with what was happening there.

This seed was the beginning for me of a massive transformation in my life. The Parish Collective was born around my experiences around that as well as my colleague Tim Soerens. There are many others involved, even some on this conversation who have been influential.

Would you like me to say more on the Parish Collective?

Peter Block: Let me focus a little more. You’re really talking about the corporatization of the church where scale and size and reach. I once was in a circle with Rick Warren who runs a large church in LA I think. He says, “Right now, I’m texting 1.1 million followers.” That’s really what you’ve created an alternative to. It’s a neighborhood focus. How did it change? You said it was a real transformation for you. What was transformed in you? What was that like?

Paul Sparks: One of my sociologists Manuel Castells calls it the space of flows. These are especially frequent on the West Coast where you have places which have literally unraveled. We’re moving so quickly. You eat in one place. You sleep in one place. You go to school in one place. You go shopping in one place. We could go on with a myriad of different locations that we drive to, fly to. We’re moving so quickly that our places with their stories and their characters and their memories just have unraveled. I was born and raised in that kind of environment.

I think the biggest transformation was to begin to realize in my loneliness and in my isolation that maybe the nature of the human species is for connection and for relationship and to be known and to know one another. Starting to think about the neighborhood, or the Parish as we often refer to it, as this microcosm of all the dimensions of life. You have an ecology, you have an educational life. You have a civic life. You have an economic structure and to say what would it look like for a group of people to collectively begin to dream about what they want that to look like in their place, this was just a foreign conversation for me at the time and became something that I became obsessed with – imagining if this dream might be possible and if people might be able to live that way.

Peter Block: One other question. How did that shift what you spent your days talking about and focusing on?

Paul Sparks: I think as it relates to our life around the church, the major shift became moving from the three Bs, butts, budgets, and buildings, to what is God up to in our places? How do we join in with that? That has to do with by the scriptures, in my tradition, it says the entire law is summed up in one command, love your neighbor as yourself. There’s this very deep sense that it’s all about relationships and all about how we enter into loving-generated life-giving relationship together. That becomes the motivation for everything we do, including the church meetings, becomes this deep desire to say, “What will strengthen us? What will actually encourage us and help us to relate together as a community in a loving and life giving way?”

My tradition says…love your neighbor as yourself. There’s this very deep sense that it’s all about relationships and all about how we enter into loving-generated life-giving relationship together.

Peter Block: This is you, as a pastor, raising this question with the congregation?

Paul Sparks: Yes, and with myself. Let me give you a sample story of just how bad it was for me. When I moved into the neighborhood and really began to become present there, the idea of running into people that I know in my everyday life in the neighborhood was a foreign concept. The idea of running into people who participated in my church expression was even more foreign. For me to walk down the street and run into people that I know had moved into the neighborhood and become present there in order to be a loving expression and in order to enter into what God was up to there, it was such a radical thing for me and brought such joy to my life to see those people.

I have one story that I often tell where we had a particular coffee shop that we would always get our coffee in the morning, Elizabeth and I, my wife. We would run into people that we knew. I became such a joy to me that I would often get a book, I’d walk down to the coffee shop and there were some bushes near the shop with a set of stairs next to them. I’d hide behind those bushes and sit on the stairs. As different people would walk down the sidewalk that were a part of my congregation, I would kind of slip out and just pretend like I was running into them spontaneously. I would say, “Can you believe this? Here we are sharing life together in the neighborhood. This is incredible. We are being the church together here in the neighborhood.” It brought me a lot of joy, so I highly recommend deceptive practices if you want to see this thing go in the neighborhood.

John McKnight: Paul, one of the things about neighborhoods and local associations like churches is that churches tend to be places where people come together because they have some agreed upon affinity, a particular kind of faith, the way of following a tradition. A neighborhood is usually not that way. A neighborhood is pretty diverse in terms of why people are there and what their beliefs are.

In a sense, it seems to me it’s a little harder to begin to create connections and bridges if your focus is on a physical neighborhood than it is in a church where you really have a gathered people of some kind of like mindedness. I’m wondering how do you come to grips with the diversity and lack of immediate affinity in the neighborhood if you come from a church base? How do you make that jump?

Paul Sparks: That’s a great question, John. I feel like first and foremost, I want to say that I actually think that our gatherings are absolutely supposed to be gatherings on behalf of strengthening our lives and exercising our love for one another and our love for those who are different than we are within that affinity so that we better live that out when we’re in the neighborhood.

I actually think if the purpose of the gathering doesn’t enhance your capacity to be with people who are different than you in everyday life, you’ve lost the main reason you’re supposed to gather in the first place. I’d also say that I’ve come to believe that the neighborhood or the parish is actually the place where we become formed to be more human. It is because of the difference in the neighborhood.

If the purpose of the gathering doesn’t enhance your capacity to be with people who are different than you in everyday life, you’ve lost the main reason you’re supposed to gather in the first place.

Say I was driving on the freeway, I flip some people off, I get angry, I get some road rage going. Then I jump on this call and I act like I’m a nice guy. Then you all never know the difference. If I try that in the neighborhood, I have to wake up to those people the next morning. There’s a very powerful formative affect that the neighborhood can bring. Religious people are supposed to be about that sort of formation.

The very core message for most religious traditions, and certainly for the Christian tradition which I’m a part of, is that God is the source of our strength to take down that dividing wall between us and to have a [inaudible 00:15:17] effect. It’s actually the very premise of most religious traditions that our family would go beyond our blood lines and would become family members with people who are different from us in the community.

Peter Block: Paul, can you give us a very concrete, specific example of what form this takes on your work in the neighborhood, either your own or other ones? What kind of projects, what kind of focus? I think that would balance out the kind of spirit that you give an expression to.

Paul Sparks: I think at the center of this is church learning. This goes for all people I think. As I’m speaking on behalf of church, I think it is the beginning point is for a person of faith or a group of people who claim faith to begin to inhabit the place that they live together and to begin to listen to that place and listen for where are the redemptive, restorative, reconciliatory, beautiful, good things emerging? As I listen, how can we enter into them?

A concrete way of talking about that is for example in our neighborhood, the effort has been to say, “How do we take the habits of our everyday life that we have always been doing? How do we transfer some of those habits into the neighborhood?” One person might start local banking. Another person says, “I want my entire vocation to be centered in the neighborhood.” They begin a small business there or they begin some type of economic venture or social enterprise. Another says, “I’m going to become the director of the farmer’s market.” Another says, “I used to go to the park outside the neighborhood. Now I’m going to take my children to the park in the neighborhood.”

You begin inhabiting the neighborhood and listening for the possibilities that might emerge there so that a collective way of life begins to open up, a collaborative, collective social trust can begin to emerge.

Literally in my context, if you walk down the streets of my neighborhood here in downtown hilltop Tacoma, Washington, we would be able to walk by a whole spectrum of places, whether they be civic places or economic places or community gardens, or a number of environments. I would be able to introduce you to people who are friends of mine, whether they be part of our particular expression of faith or not. We see each other as part of the same team on behalf of the life and flourishing of our neighborhood.

You begin inhabiting the neighborhood and listening for the possibilities that might emerge there so that a collective way of life begins to open up, a collaborative, collective social trust can begin to emerge.

Peter Block: Do you still have a building and a church and a name?

Paul Sparks: I don’t. I was often referred to in the early 2000s when I began making some of these shifts, I was referred to as the church shrinking consultant. Trust me, I didn’t get very many jobs. I am part of an intentional Christian community which refers to a group of houses on one block that has some community gardens in them. It was started by Dorothy Day. It’s called the Catholic Worker. We have a little get together every week. They’ve been here in this neighborhood for 30 years. They’re actually an incredible little community. I am part of something, but not the initial expression that I began with.

John McKnight: You have the Parish Collective, which is a national network of people as I’ve understood and experienced it once or twice. Who would you define as the main participants in that collective? Are they mostly people who have some kind of pastoral designation? Are they broader than that?

Paul Sparks: Great question. The Parish Collective was born because of the recognition that there were actually people in every neighborhood, people who claimed faith and were present in the neighborhood and wanted to love people and do things. We began to discover that this was happening in every neighborhood that we visited. From every different denomination and from every different sort of expression whether it be an intentional community like mine or whether it be a traditional church environment or whether it be a church that had been in existence for 100 years, but it had shrunk down and maybe you have a dozen elderly folks in there who absolutely had a history of neighborhood. You might have a handful of very young people who were catching onto the importance of local community.

The Parish Collective is comprised of churches and faith expressions from just about every denomination and context you can imagine.

John McKnight: If you we went and took a sample of the people who associate themselves with the group, what would you think most would say distinguishes you from other kinds of organizations that are faith based?

Paul Sparks: I would say that the distinguishing characteristics in terms of these churches and faith communities from others would be that they see their commitment to the parish as central, as a core component of what it means to be human together. They see their calling as to exemplify and to point out and bear witness to and join in with others who see the parish as an expression of how we be human together.

I think this is one of the beautiful things is that because our faith has to do with all components of life, it has to do with how we act within all the different systems and structures, our leisurely life, our family lives, our economic lives and so forth. It means potentially you have a group of people who are asking the question, what does it look like to be faithful here together, to relate together faithfully?

Our faith has to do with all components of life, it has to do with how we act within all the different systems and structures, our leisurely life, our family lives, our economic lives and so forth.

One word that your friend Walter Breuggemann says, he talks about fidelity and this idea that it’s not about following a list of rules, but it’s about finding a way of faithful or fidelity based relationships. I think that is a major differentiator. You have a group of people. We have done some research on the groups that have become involved. We’ve written a document that refers to five finds that have emerged. I could briefly share those with you.

The first is that they practice following the way of Jesus. Of course this is within the Christian tradition. It’s a unique differentiator within that because it’s not about following a list of beliefs. It’s about practicing a particular way. It has to do with actual actions and postures.

The second one is inhabiting the neighborhood and becoming a character there, becoming present there in the life of that story.

The third one is that we continue to gather together, but we gather as a rehearsal space of the kind of people that you believe God wants us to be in the community on a daily basis. All the different activities that we do in the building are almost a form of exercise that strengthens us to be those type of people in everyday of the community.

Then the fourth one is that we have this open and collaborative posture with those who are different from us. Much like the old parish where you imagined yourselves to have the absolute window on the truth and you could dictate to everybody, even if you lived in a … You basically heard your rules from a centralized authority and that was it. We’ve discovered that groups who are sustainable and are resilient have this open posture that says, “How do we collaborate at the highest level with others that are here? Other church expressions, but other businesses, other enterprises, other residents. How do we become the kind of people who can build those bridges and join in in meaningful ways?”

Then finally the last one which is actually we have discovered to be quite central to this, but a little bit foreign to the imagination, but that these groups practice linking across places and they have good habits of intersecting with other communities and other places and learning from the unique practices and ways of being in other places.

You can see that in the city, especially if you have a community that comes from a very wealthy and white neighborhood. Then maybe across on the other side, you have a diverse neighborhood who understands all kinds of things about community life that the white neighborhood maybe has lost. They both need each other. They both have plenty to offer each other, but they need to be able to link in order for that to be discovered.

Those five things have been the signs that we have seen in churches that are becoming resilient and sustainable in the neighborhood.

John McKnight: This sounds familiar, Paul. I know that you and two others have written a book called the New Parish. If somebody wanted to delve more deeply into the five points you’re making, would that book be a pretty good entry point?

Paul Sparks: John, God bless you for saying it. That’s wonderful. We’d love that. Absolutely. It kind of lays out our heart around these themes. There’s a growing number of authors and a growing amount of literature around this. I’d be happy to offer a list to anyone that’s interested.

Peter Block: Let me shift from the collective a little bit, then we’ll open up to questions, Paul. I know at least a couple of pastors here who feel they have to walk a very careful line given the polarized and political consciousness that exists within their congregations. Whether it’s political differences or whether it’s around the president or not, or how socially active we should be, there’ve always been fault lines. Say a little bit about how you think about that and how you see that playing out in the context that you live in?

Paul Sparks: I think the center point that I try to stay within as much as possible, I have many concerns around political opinions and so forth that I hold and express in the context of my neighborhood and in the context of my city and rally behind and get involved in, but I think when it comes to this conversation, we have to recognize that without a practice of neighborly life, without a practice of learning how to fit together with people that are different than you are around the core dimensions and the core realities of life, local economy and how decisions are made in your community and how you care for the land and soil that you’re going to plunge your own hands into and the hands of your children, the educational life. We could go on with some of these components. Without that practice, I hesitate to take seriously the voice of people who have the strongest opinions on these themes on a global level or an abstract level, but haven’t had a practice of learning how to become human that way in the everyday level.

I say that to just say I feel that…our hope politically lies in humans practicing life in diversity at the local level around everyday issues and learning how to fit together as a team, learning how to work together in our differences. That will be our hope when it comes to the polarity that we experience at the national level and even across the globe.

Our hope politically lies in humans practicing life in diversity at the local level around everyday issues and learning how to fit together as a team, learning how to work together in our differences.

Peter Block: Really great alternative to the globalizing like minded. Somebody asked a question here in the chat: “Hi, Paul, how do I find God in my neighborhood? What am I looking for when I’m looking for him or her?” Interesting question.

Paul Sparks: Yeah, it is a very good question and a very mysterious question. First of all, I think it’s a great perceptive question in light of the fact that how you answer that question gives you preconceived ideas of what you think God is like. You can have someone who says, “Yes, I’m going to join what God is doing in my neighborhood.” If you think God is a cancer giver and a colonizing force or you think that God hates certain types of people, that’s not going to be a very good thing for the neighborhood.

When I answer that question, I think to myself that everything that my scriptures shares bears witness to my experience of humanity which is that what God is after is faithful relationships. God’s dream or hope is that we would find a way of engaging with God, with each other, with the land, with the animals, the ecology of the place, in a way that’s life giving, beautiful, good. A way that brings healing. I think each person and each community is going to have to work that out, what that means and what that looks like and whether or not it’s God who is energizing that.

Maggie Rogers: There’s also one question that’s similar to the last. That is, how do you detect what God is doing in your neighborhood? What does God do in your neighborhood?

Paul Sparks: That’s good, Maggie. Another thing I think must be said is oftentimes religious circles have a tendency to silo off certain things as spiritual activities, as religious things. And the most ordinary everyday things often get discluded. I think one of the most important things to get after around this is to say what does it look like when the everyday common elements of life, we become concerned about how we relate together in those?

To give you an example, in my neighborhood, most of the decisions that get made here are made upon people who are going to have to bear the weight of those decisions and they have very little voice in the making of those decisions. The civic life, it actually is a very spiritual issue in terms of giving people voice and creating an environment where everyone who’s going to be affected by the decisions has some say in what happens.

What would it look like if one word that’s often used in some faiths is the word Shalom. If Shalom were to break out here in our neighborhood, what would the civic life look like? If Shalom were to break out here in the neighborhood, what would the environmental life look like? What would the educational life be, the economic life?

I think that’s a great question to ask. As Christians often pray that prayer, “Father, your kingdom come, here on earth as it is in heaven.” I think we can ask the question what would it look like if heaven was born here on earth? How do we enter into that in the context of our neighborhoods?

Mac: Hi, this is Mac. I wanted to thank you, Paul, for this conversation. I wanted to ask a question, kind of a community building, ABCD question. If we’re building these communities from the inside out and if people’s motivation to act is one of the first of those assets or gifts that we want to hear, what kind of practice could you share with us around that from your inside the congregation, inside the intentional community, and then moving outward?

We talk about stewardship and time, talent, and treasure, but when we’re measuring these days has two decimal places on it seems to be the money. This gift, motivation as a gift, engagement is something I’m interested in time and talent wise.

Paul Sparks: Thank you, Mac. Let me see if I can say something to it. It’d be great to have John and Peter say something that’s actually probably more practical. Let me say that a turning point … I think this is something major. When we talk about ABCD and we’re asking about what are the gifts and strengths and assets, if we begin with the neighborhood or the parish as an ecology or as an ecosystem, or as a set of relationships that must learn how to resonate, must learn how to fit together, must learn how to collaborate on behalf of its flourishing, then we can begin to ask the questions what are the gifts? What are the assets? What are the strengths?

Until you wrestle with the parish as this fundamental iconology for being human together, until you have actually wrestled with that and said, “Yes, that’s what we’re looking for,” then the strengths and the gifts will always be up for you to decide and determine. You can basically look at someone and say, “I think their gift is helping me make a million dollars.” Once you ask questions about gifts and strengths as it relates to the ecology of the neighborhood, I think it starts to reshape your actions.

Once you ask questions about gifts and strengths as it relates to the ecology of the neighborhood, it starts to reshape your actions.

Now you’re on the lookout. Firstly, you’re listening what are the hopes and dreams as it relates to the neighborhood in other people in the neighborhood here. Where are the things happening in this neighborhood that contribute to that.

John, Peter, what would you say in response to the question?

John McKnight: My mind is wandering a bit to this. As a faith community manifests the kind of mutual commitment, the covenant that I think, Paul, you’re describing, living another way and then it looks out to the neighborhood and says, how do we establish relationships there, especially because there may be people who are different, one of the things that I am troubled by is how often that looking outside has a name called Christian service. The reason that I think is troubling is that it has the sense of Lord and servant. Somehow, I’ve got it. They haven’t. It isn’t very reciprocal. It doesn’t lead to faithful relationships.

How do I take this community that is my faith group and manifest it in ways that aren’t about service, but that are about something else. I would use the word friendship.

Peter Block: By service, I think John, you mean charity, philanthropy?

John McKnight: That kind of “I got it. You don’t. I’ll fix you. You poor soul. I’m going to do something for you.” Always from a superior position. I think that is not authentic and that motive and that way of acting doesn’t lead to the kinds of relationships beyond a church that are authentic and I would even use the word Christian. I’m wondering what you think about that.

Paul Sparks: Let me think about that, John. Your answer to Mac was a question to me?
Both of you have been so influential for me around this theme. I just can’t even believe it when you think about how far the church as a whole, and this is probably true for many faiths, that we have lost this kind of core dimension of friendship and this core dimension of we open up the agency of the other when we open up our own need. We offer our gifts and we offer our need. We become a team together. We become community of friends together that are equally sharing with one another and supporting one another.

I think you’ve tapped into something on this, John, that it’s a painful point for us who have been a part of the church because we’ve literally based almost everything we are about having the answers and serving it up to others. The community I’m a part of here in downtown Tacoma, they offer themselves everyday on behalf of those who don’t have homes, on behalf of people coming out of the detention center, immigrants and refugees from all over the world, but they honestly and truthfully, I have watched them, they receive people as gifts. They literally imagine to themselves, “This might be the very person that our community needs to become what we are to become, to become the church, to become a life giving group, to be able to touch and bless and help others.

We have one fellow, a friend who has passed away from cancer who came 20 years ago to this community with no birth certificate, no family. He had a ravaged history on the go, on the run, landed in our little community. This was probably at my arrival. The community members said we have been waiting for someone who speaks Spanish, who will be able to help us to connect to the broader neighborhood. This guy became an intrinsic part of the neighborhood. When he died, we wept tears. His life was celebrated. He was known and transformed by it and we were known and transformed by it. I just can’t think of any other way now. I wouldn’t want to think of any other way of participating together.

John McKnight: Everybody has an unexpected gift I think you’re saying and I think that’s true.

Paul Sparks: John, let me just say … I can walk three blocks down the hill and I can see institutions that have been built to serve old people. What they really are is a place for old people to die and become irrelevant to the community. Here you’ve got somebody who’s probably followed all the right things and now they’re up in the top of these towers unknown to the community. Then you’ve got this guy, Alfredo, no birth certificate, no family and surrounded by love and care and offering contribution and value to the community. That’s the way that I want to foster.

Peter Koestenbaum: This is another Peter here. I am a witness to Paul. I think that Paul represents the best that this country has to offer. I live in Silicon Valley and both in business and in the academy, the model is STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math. That’s considered an education. What Paul makes clear that what a real education is how a human being shows up in the world. How he shows up in the world I think follows St. Augustine’s famous statement that I must first have faith before I can understand. It simply is how he comes across in this presentation. I think it is magnificent. It is inspiring. It is a dimension of human existence that says human relationships, the awareness of another human being and decisions that you make in connection with having intimacy or contact with other human beings, that is what matters.
I just want to be a witness to that. It’s wonderful. That’s all I have to say. This isn’t about STEM which many people consider about an education. This is about experiencing another consciousness, another awareness, reaching out and connecting and how wonderful that is. That’s what this country is all about. That’s just a thank you. That’s really all I have to say.

Peter Block: Thank you, Peter.
Here’s a question in the chat from a little while ago, may be a way to bring us to a close too soon Paul. Another simple question. What is the future of the church in your eyes? Is it more of a parish model?

Paul Sparks: I hope so. We can just live into this together and see what comes of it. I think above and beyond all things, I would hope that we change the question from the future of the church per se because if we ask my friend Hal Roxborough, he says we have to stop asking church questions like how do we save our churches? How do we rebuild our churches? How do we get our churches going again? We have to ask the question of what is the spirit up to in our neighborhoods? How do we join in that?
I hope the future of the church is to join in with the future of our neighborhoods.

Peter Block: Thank you. There’s one other question: how the communities build social, collaborative trust. I’m thinking that maybe everything you’ve said up until now is an answer to that, but you might just get a quick comment on that, Paul, and then we’ve got to honor the time.

Paul Sparks: I’ll say a quick word and just say firstly, we have to become present and committed. That’s the first thing. We have to not take lightly our actual presence in the community, in the neighborhood. Two, we have to not diminish the relationships there whether they be other people, or whether they be the land and animals. We have to recognize that the relationships are full of mystery. What that means for me is not that they are unknowable, but that the journey of relationship and the risk of relationship is ongoing. If you think you have dissolved the mystery in someone, and then you treat them the way that John said: as a client who you have the answer for. If you think they are absolutely unknowable, then you give up and you don’t do anything.

If you think you can risk a relationship and you take time and imagination and creativity and presence, and when you make mistakes you get back up and you adapt and you go at it again, that is the recipe for possibility and for community.
If you think you can risk a relationship, and you take time and imagination and creativity and presence, and when you make mistakes you get back up and you adapt and you go at it again, that is the recipe for possibility and for community.

Peter Block: I like that distinction between unknowable and ongoing. That’s wonderful. Any thoughts, John? Final comments you want to make? We’ll get one from you, Paul, and I’ll close with one with gratitude for you being here.

John McKnight: Glad to have you, Paul, once again for people who want to follow up mention that you can read a book that I think is generative of the Parish Collective which is called the New Parish. Paul’s an author, [and] Tim Soerens, then the third author is Professor Dwight Frieson.
Yes, I think that’s a wonderful point of expansion of the kinds of orientation that Paul is presenting. Then the other thing is that you have a website called the Parish Collective. It’s a good way for people who are interested in being connected to others who have these kinds of visions to begin that journey. You have wonderful resources for people to follow up on the kinds of vision we’ve been talking about.

Peter Block: I want to add, Paul, in one of your items, you said be a character in your neighborhood. That just jumped out at me. I think it’s a liberating way of asking people to show up and being willing to be a character and have a presence and cast a shadow in the neighborhood. I think it’s a political dimension of focusing on the neighborhood as enough. That’s extremely powerful. I totally support that and the work that Walter and John are doing. In my mind, it’s come to the idea of neighborly economics. That may be what we’re striving for is between the economy and friendship and neighborliness and being together, having all those qualities. Thank you for the work you’re doing. Any final thought you have, Paul, that you’d like to stress?

Paul Sparks: I love that word character as well. It reflects being part of the story of your place, if you’re a person of faith, being part of the story of what God’s doing, but it also reflects the idea that there are characters. If the person is a character, you get the idea that once you become known, all of us are a little bit whack. We’re all characters, unique characters. I like that unique aspect of it.

I’ll just say in closing I just want to once again affirm my gratitude for what the two of you have been up to. It’s unbounded. I have so much hope because of the work that you’ve been doing. I will say it from my Christian tradition, I pray that God will bless you and strengthen your lives and give your voice so much breadth and hope for people.

Home page image: AnneCN

About the Lead Author

Paul Sparks
Paul Sparks
Paul Sparks is a leading voice in the growing Parish Movement. His place-based experience and trusted friendships in cities across North America make him an indispensable guide for local churches, academic institutions, and community organizations. Paul has done tours and trainings in neighborhoods all over the world and is the co-author of the award-winning book The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community. He is the Co-founding Director of the Parish Collective, where he works to identify, connect, and resource churches and groups that seek the flourishing of their neighborhood. He is also the co-founder of the annual Inhabit Conference in the US, the New Parish Conference in the UK, and co-designer and instructor of the Leadership in the New Parish certificate at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.

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