A parish church (or parochial church) in Christianity is the church which acts as the religious centre of a parish. In many parts of the world, especially in rural areas, the parish church may play a significant role in community activities, often allowing its premises to be used for non-religious community events. The church building reflects this status, and there is considerable variety in the size and style of parish churches. Many villages in Europe have churches that date back to the Middle Ages, but all periods of architecture are represented.
In England, it is the basic administrative unit of episcopal churches. Nearly every part of England is in a parish, and most parishes have an Anglican parish church, which is consecrated. If there is no parish church, the bishop licenses another building for worship, and may designate it as a Parish Centre of Worship, a building which is not consecrated, but dedicated, and for most legal purposes it is deemed to be a parish church. In areas of increasing secularisation or a shift in religious beliefs, centres of worship are becoming more common place as often larger churches are sold due to their upkeep costs, instead the church may use community centres or facilities of a local church of another denomination.
In cities without a cathedral of a certain Christian denomination, the parish church may have administrative functions similar to that of a cathedral. However, the diocese will still have a cathedral.
While smaller villages may only have a parish church, larger towns may have a parish church and then also smaller churches in various districts which do not have the status of 'parish church'. Often the parish church will be the only one to have a full-time minister, who will also serve any smaller churches within the parish.
In the Roman Catholic Church, as the seat of worship for the parish, this church is the one where the members of the parish must go for baptisms and weddings, unless permission is given by the parish priest (US 'pastor') for celebrating these sacraments elsewhere. One sign of this is that the parish church is the only one to have a baptismal font.
The Church of Scotland, the established Presbyterian church, also uses a system of parish churches, covering the whole of Scotland.
In Massachusetts, towns elected publicly funded parish churches from 1780 until 1834. See Constitution of Massachusetts.
21st Century Resurgence
Toward the end of the 20th century, a new resurgence in interest in "parish" churches emerged across the United States. This has given rise to efforts like the Slow Church Movement and The Parish Collective which focus heavily on localized involvement across work, home, and church life.
Theologically, many Protestants have embraced the parish model as having roots in a Reformed view of eschatology, a la Abraham Kuyper or Francis Schaeffer. "It’s a way of saying ‘I believe in the Incarnation,’” says pastor Raymond F. Cannata. “Having an earthy eschatology is part of it.”