As far as I understand it, the concept of having parishes and parish churches means that regions are divided up geographically, that each region will have a church that is specifically dedicated to that region, and that everybody in that region is expected/required to be a part of that local church.

I know that there is a huge variety when it comes to implementation. What I would like to know is what modern traditions fully embrace this concept to the point of enforcing it on some level. Are there any traditions that would refuse to let members cross parish lines to attend another church? Do any others with perhaps a less hard line rule have specific doctrines encouraging this but define exceptions where it might not be required?

  • @DavidStratton: It's list-y but a fairly finite result set. If I were to ask on Unix & Linux for what distros have package X it would be inappropriate but if I were to ask which major distros use a continuous rolling release tree instead of incremental releases, that would narrow it down to a handful and be something that an expert in the field could not just list, but would note any subtle differences in the top players along the way.
    – Caleb
    Sep 24, 2012 at 12:28
  • If it turns out to be a long list, I'm not looking for a detailed list of 13k protestant denominations, use broad strokes and note which major traditions even acknowledge this idea, and which ones have significant numbers of denominations inside them that do this vs which ones don't. There's probably less than a dozen top level traditions that would be a factor here.
    – Caleb
    Sep 24, 2012 at 12:30
  • @DavidStratton Independent Baptist congregations are entirely autonomous. What stops a second Independent Baptist church from being set up in the same town - or right next door to another one? Oct 2, 2012 at 21:08
  • @DJClayworth - Good point. With us, it's more peer pressure or pulpit pressure to be faithful to one Church. I completely misread, misunderstood, and blew that one. Entire comment retracted. Oct 2, 2012 at 22:18
  • Has any church ever forbidden people from attending a church other than their local one? In olden days most people weren't able to travel as far as the next-nearest church, but it's hard to believe that those that could were forbidden. There has to be provision for people who are travelling, or working away from home. Oct 3, 2012 at 14:21

4 Answers 4


The Church of England falls into the "partial" category. There is a parish system of around 13000 parishes in England [that's not Wales or Scotland, which have their own autonomous Churches] each with at least one parish church.

Residents in the parish can be baptised in their parish church; baptised people can be married in their parish church; people who die can have a funeral either in the church of the parish where they die or where they lived.

There are some exceptions which extend these permissions. Residents can be baptised in another church with their parish priest's permission. There are "qualifying connections" which can be made with other churches to allow marriage — for example where your parents have worshipped. And there is nothing stopping you from attending church outside your parish and joining the electoral roll of the church you attend. That effectively makes you a parishioner.

Because the Church of England is a broad church with a variety of liturgical practice [and associated theological belief] it's not uncommon for people to "shop around" to find a church which suits them.

The church where I was churchwarden* had a particular ministry to its little bit of the country, an urban situation with a high population of poor and homeless people.

Shameless plug: Go to this map on A Church Near You and enter your location. The parish of the place you select is highlighted, together with local churches. I'm responsible for some of the coding behind that. If you're very lucky you may even find a parish with more than one non-contiguous area, or a tract of land which is not in any parish at all. Anyone resident in such an extra-parochial place can attach themselves to an adjacent parish. The map is intended to provide a service for potential churchgoers to find their local church, or for engaged couples to find their parish church (in order to simplify the process of a church wedding).

*Churchwarden: an ancient layman's elected office in the Church of England with particular legal responsibilities for finance, buildings, ministry and parochial management.

  • I didn't intend to give the impression that one had to be a member of a parish to attend its parish church. That's not the case; but if you want to participate in the life of the Church as if you were resident in that parish, you need either to be actually resident or pseudo-resident by virtue of membership of the Roll. Oct 3, 2012 at 17:17

Orthodox do have a parish system, but it is not mandatory. Partly this relates to the odd Jurisdictional condition in the USA right now because of mass immigration, but even in countries that are traditionally and nationally Orthodox you find that while there is absolutely a geographical division that can be very strict and rigorous, there is not membership the way Anglicans typically have it. People are free to visit other parishes and commune there; typically (unless circumstances dictate otherwise, such as letters from the Bishop and so forth) without any notice at all.

I think the Parish-membership system - If I am recalling correctly - relates to the Protestant reformation in England and churches there as instruments or ministries of the state itself. In such a case, parish membership - or the concept of Parish itself was no longer ecclesiastical but was political, and thus held in many cases the force of law. Partly this relates to the disbanding of monasteries and the need to care for the destitute falling on the municipality. Adam Smith goes into this in some detail in Wealth of Nations.

  • 1
    Indeed, overlapping geographical areas for reasons of race and ethnicity is considered heretical (hilarious for us Orthodox in the USA, amirite.) and called 'phyletism'. You cannot canonically have overlapping geographies for the reason of language or race or culture.
    – user304
    Oct 3, 2012 at 15:30

I'm guessing that any "state church" would have this policy. Also, generally, any religion where local congregations have little autonomy: if the same beliefs, and the same practices, are being followed in every region, why would you choose one over another? Jehovah's Witnesses certainly recommend you stick to the congregation in whose territory (parish) you live. The idea of shopping around for a church that "suits" you would be completely alien.


What Christian traditions fully embrace the concept of a "local parish church"?

Catholicism, Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, Oriental, Lutheran, some Baptist Congregations and others embrace the concept of local parish churches.

A church (or local church) is a religious organization or congregation that meets in a particular location. Many are formally organized, with constitutions and by-laws, maintain offices, are served by clergy or lay leaders, and, in nations where this is permissible, often seek non-profit corporate status.

A local church may be run using congregationalist polity and may be associated with other similar congregations in a denomination or convention, as are the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention or like German or Swiss Landeskirchen. It may be united with other congregations under the oversight of a council of pastors as are Presbyterian churches. It may be united with other parishes under the oversight of bishops, as are Anglican, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox churches. Finally, the local church may function as the lowest subdivision in a global hierarchy under the leadership of one bishop, such as the pope (the bishop of Rome) of the Roman Catholic Church. Such association or unity is a church's ecclesiastical polity.

Local churches united with others under the oversight of a bishop are normally called "parishes", by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran communions. Each parish usually has one active parish church, though seldom and historically more than one. The parish church has always been fundamental to the life of every parish community, especially in rural areas. For example, in the Church of England, parish churches are the oldest churches to be found in England. A number are substantially of Anglo-Saxon date and all subsequent periods of architecture are represented in the country. Most parishes have churches that date back to the Middle Ages. Thus, such local churches tend to favor traditional, formal worship styles, liturgy, and classical music styles, although modern trends are common as well.

  • Attribution for quote block?
    – Caleb
    Mar 9, 2023 at 20:13
  • @Caleb The link is there.
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 9, 2023 at 20:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .