Loving Locally: A New and Neighborly Way of Being the Church
It’s the first Sunday evening of the month, which for Terri Pease means that her house and yard are about to get really crowded—and that’s a wonderful thing!
Soon, up to 60 people—sometimes as many kids as adults—will gather for a meal at Terri and her husband’s residence in Oak Meadow, a neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas. Men, women, and children from all over the neighborhood will have the chance to just hang out and enjoy one another’s company for a couple of hours. The men will be especially busy keeping dozens of boys and girls safe from cars as the kids excitedly ride their bikes in the street and run up and down the block. Somewhat chaotic, yes, but a good time is always had by all.
But why, exactly, does Terri open up her home like this? Her answer is simple: she is following the command of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to do so unconditionally and with a generous heart.
Terri works in administration for The Park Community Church, a congregation of about 200 people that meets every Sunday morning at a Christian school in Castle Hills. The worship service itself might look familiar, but beyond Sunday mornings The Park is doing something radically different from other churches in America, something they call a Parish Network.
How the Parish Network Model Works
In the Parish Network model, church staff who live in different neighborhoods throughout San Antonio open up their homes a couple times each month to the people who live in those specific locations; currently, there are six neighborhood parishes in the network, inviting local people into local homes. Anyone who wants to come is welcome, and here’s the kicker: there are absolutely no strings attached.
According to Terri, roughly half of the people attending the Sunday evening dinners in her parish “are not connected to the church in any way.” Indeed, many of the people in her neighborhood are Jewish, while another parish is in an area with a relatively high number of Buddhists. All of this is perfectly okay, as the gatherings are not intended to be a covert way of converting people; in fact, the Oak Meadow Parish Mission Statement says, in part, “We seek to follow the commandment of Jesus of loving our neighbors as ourselves through hospitality without an agenda [italics added].”
Pursuing a Degree that Mirrors the Mission
The Parish Network gatherings began in June of 2021, and around that same time Terri learned through some fellow staff members about a unique opportunity offered by Northern Seminary—one that seemed to complement the style of ministry in which she was engaging.
Northern and V3, a grassroots church-planting movement, had formed a partnership where nine credit hours would be applied to Northern’s Master of Arts in Theology & Mission (MATM) when a student also enrolled in a V3 cohort.
V3’s emphasis on “church as movement” rather than “church as a show,” along with its goal of helping leaders create communities on mission in their neighborhoods, resonated with Terri. Much like the Parish Network, “V3’s goal is to help [leaders] be more incarnational in the way they do church,” she explains.
Similarly, Northern describes the MATM as having been created to “prepare students for local and sustainable mission by offering a strong biblical and theological base for engaging in God’s mission and for leading a community on mission.” Terri loved how the MATM seemed designed to help her take her faith and apply it to her own context and the culture around her.
So, in 2022, Terri began pursuing the MATM + V3. She takes her seminary classes remotely through Northern and also participates in a V3 call once a week with about five other church planters around the country. The V3 cohorts are led by an experienced coach who provides the callers with tools for pursuing mission in their own unique contexts while encouraging them to share with one another what’s working in their specific environments.
The group is also studying The Church as Movement by JR Woodward and Dan White Jr., reading a chapter a week and then discussing it during the call.
How might V3 training translate to the real world? Terri says, “It has given me the tools to literally walk across the street and talk to my Jewish neighbor and just love them as someone made in the image of God. I can now offer to have dinner with them with no strings attached.”
On the seminary side, courses Terri has taken in Pluralism and in Cultural Exegesis have profoundly impacted her work in the neighborhood. “I’ve developed a deep compassion for people of other faith journeys as well as for people of my own faith who are working through difficult things,” she says. “I’ve learned how to have more grace for others even if their faith is not as black and white as mine.” At the same time, Terri points out that “these classes have really confirmed my love for Jesus.”
Living into Loving
In the end, it’s Jesus’ radical love for people that is faithfully taught through the Northern/V3 partnership and embodied in the Parish Network. A colleague of Terri’s both at the church and in her parish is Nancy Gaines; the biweekly Oak Meadow gatherings typically rotate between their two homes.
As Nancy speaks, the excitement in her voice is palpable: “An expression of God’s outpouring of love to us is to turn around and do the same for our neighbors. In our parishes, we want to live into loving our neighbors as ourselves. That means offering meals, welcoming people into our homes, praying for those who might request it. Beyond making a difference with people in the neighborhood, this way of living has transformed my kids. It’s a total game changer.”
Before every gathering at Terri’s or Nancy’s home, a small leadership team comes together to pray over the evening, asking for the Holy Spirit to be at work. Furthermore, the Oak Meadow Mission Statement ends with “Our hope is that our neighbors will come to know Jesus and that we will work together to serve and glorify Him.” But for Terri, Nancy, and the Parish Network at The Park, it all comes back to simply loving people right where they are, for who they are—neighbors made in the image of God—with no strings attached.
About Terri: Terri Pease lives in San Antonio, TX, with her husband, Robert, and their 3 kids—JD, Anna, and Claire. In her free time, Terri enjoys watching college football and baseball, especially the Texas Aggies.
About Nancy: Nancy Gaines lives in San Antonio, TX, with her husband of 15 years and 3 kids ranging in age from 3 to 8. She enjoys anything that has to do with people—from leading the Connection Ministry at her church, to volunteering at her kids’ school, to dancing.