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A parish is a territorial unit that was usually historically served by a local church. This administrative unit is typically found in Roman Catholic, Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Church of Sweden, United Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. It refers to a local, ecclesiastical community or territory, including its main church building, perhaps one or more chapels of ease and other property. The word "parish" is also used more generally to refer to the collection of people who attend a particular church. In this usage, a parish minister is one who serves a congregation.

In some countries a parish (sometimes called a "civil parish") is an administrative area of civil government. Parishes of this type are found in Englandmarker, Irelandmarker, the Isle of Manmarker, the Channel Islands, Louisianamarker, Estoniamarker, and a number of island nations in the region of the Caribbeanmarker.

Roman Catholic Church

In the Roman Catholic Church, each parish has at least one parish priest, who has responsibility and canonical authority over the parish (the Latin for this post is parochus).

A parish priest may have one or more fellow priests assisting him. In Catholic usage this priest is technically a "parochial vicar", but is commonly called an "associate pastor" or "assistant pastor" (or just "associate" or "assistant"), a curate, or vicar - common as they are, these terms are inaccurate and many dioceses have recently begun using the canonical term "parochial vicar" even in general parish communications (bulletins and the like).

Each diocese (administrative region) is divided into parishes, each with their own central church called the parish church, where religious services take place. Some larger parishes or parishes that have been combined under one pastor may have two or more such churches, or the parish may be responsible for chapels (sometimes called "chapels of ease") located at some distance from the parish church for the convenience of distant parishioners.

In the Catholic Church there also exists a special type of ecclesiastical parish called a national parish, which is not territorial in nature. These are usually created to serve the needs of all of the members of a particular language group, particularly of an immigrant community, in a large area: its members are not defined by where they live, but by their country of origin or native language.

Other variations are also possible. In some Catholic jurisdictions created for the armed forces, for instance, the entire diocese or archdiocese is treated as a single parish: all of the Catholics in the military of the United States and all of their Catholic dependents, for instance, form the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA, a diocese defined not by territory but by another quality (in this case, relationship to the military) - this archdiocese has its own archbishop, and all records and other matters are handled in a central office rather than by individual priests assigned to military post chapels or chaplains of units in the field.
See also:Team of priests in solidum

Church of England

See also: How the Church of England is organised and Church of England parish church
The parish system in Englandmarker is similar to the Roman Catholic system, described above. Many Church of England parishes that existed at the beginning of the 19th century owe their existence to the establishment of a minster church or to an estate church founded by Anglo-Saxon or Norman landowners. The parish as a territorial unit survived the reformation largely untouched. Consequently, the 19th century parish boundary often corresponds to that of a much earlier Anglo-Saxon estate.

In the Church of England, part of the Anglican Communion, the legal right to appoint or recommend a parish priest is called an advowson, and its possessor is known as a patron. The patron can be an individual, the Crown, a bishop, a college, a charity, or a religious body. Appointment as a parish priest entails the enjoyment of a benefice. Appointment of patrons is now governed by the Patronage (Benefices) Rules 1987. In mediaeval times and earlier, when the church was politically and economically powerful, such a right could have great importance. An example can be seen in the article on Grendon, Northamptonshiremarker. It was frequently used to promote particular religious views. For example Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick presented many puritan clergy. In the 19th century Charles Simeon established a trust to purchase advowsons and install evangelical priests. Ownership of an advowson now carries little personal advantage.

Even before the establishment of civil parishes, the Church of England parish had become a unit of local government. For example, parishes were required to operate the Elizabethan poor law.

Church of Scotland

In the Church of Scotlandmarker, the parish is basic level of church administration. The spiritual oversight of each parish church is responsibility of the congregation's Kirk Session. Patronage was regulated this way in 1712 (Patronage Act) and abolished in 1874, ministers must be elected by members of the congregation. Many parish churches are now "linked" with neighbouring parish churches (served by a single minister.) With the abolition of parishes as a unit of civil government in Scotland, parishes now have a purely ecclesiastical significance in Scotland (and the boundaries may be adjusted by the local Presbytery).

The United Methodist Church

In some United Methodist Churches the congregaton is called a parish. The United Methodist Bishop of the Episcopal Area appoints a minister to each parish.

Other Methodist churches such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church have a Bishop residing over an Episcopal Area who appoints ministers to different parishes.


  1. Pounds, N.J.G. (2000) A history of the English parish: the culture of religion from Augustine to Victoria, Cambridge University Press, 593 p., ISBN 0-521-63348-6

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