Of That Parish

I recently walked up Pendle Hill and Easington Fell. There on the moorlands and woodlands overlooking Clitheroe, were a number of ancient stones, with letters carved onto each side. They are old parish boundary stones, the W being Wiswell, the G for Grindleton, the H for Harrop. The lettering looked eighteenth or early nineteenth-century, and it was to clarify when one passed through one administrative area into another. If you were not living in Wiswell, the ratepayers of that parish might not be expected to give you relief in the event of unemployment. If you committed a misdemeanour in Harrop, that parish’s constable might apprehend you before the Justice of the Peace. Most, though not all, of England, is divided into parishes, many of which have a parish church.

We Congregationalists never really recognised the parish structure, establishing our churches where the gospel was most needed- or at least where its preaching could be best sustained. I did a quick tally, and estimate that our worshippers hail from ten different parishes. It does not matter where you are from, which continent, country, county or parish. Your educational background, your bank balance, your politics- none matter. In the last chapter of Isaiah, we read of Jewish missionaries going out to the end of the earth to bring to God a people for Himself:

For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.

I believe these verses anticipate the apostles and early evangelists leaving the Holy Land for the pagan nations, including our own. Whether they went to Lud or Pul, to Albion or Britannia, to Wiswell, Harrop or Grindleton- the gospel calls all peoples, tribes and nations to come to Christ.

It is not where you come from that matters; it is where you are going.

And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord. (NKJV)