A parish is a local church; it is an administrative unit typically found in episcopal or presbyterian churches. It refers to a local, ecclesiastical community or territory, including its main church building and other property.


The term "Parish" derives from Anglo-Fr. parosse (1075), later paroche (1292), from O.Fr. paroisse, from Latin paroechia = "diocese", from Greek παρоικια = "district" or "diocese", from Greek παρά = "beside", οικος = "house". The Hellenistic Greek term παρоικια originally meant "sojourn in a foreign land" (in the Septuagint) or "community of sojourners", with reference to the Jewish people in a foreign land (1st centtury B.C.), and later with reference to earthly life as a temporary abode (1st century A.D., also New Testament: 1 Peter 1:17, 2:11); the term hence was applied to "Christian community" (3rd century), "diocese" (3rd century), and ultimately "parish" (4th century).

The alternate Latin spelling parochia which serves as the ultimate origin of the English language word, arose from confusion with parochus, a local official in the Roman provinces who supplied public officials with food, shelter, etc., when they passed through his district (from Hellenistic Greek πάροχος = "riding in the same chariot as", "beside the chariot of").

Ecclesiastical parishes

A parish is a territorial subdivision of a diocese, eparchy or bishopric, within the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Church of Sweden, and of some other churches. 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.

Roman Catholic Church

In the 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 England 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, Northamptonshire. 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 Scotland, 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).

United Methodist Church

In some United Methodist Churches the congregaton is called a parish.

Parishes in civil administration

In some countries a parish (sometimes called a "civil parish") is an administrative area of civil government. Parishes of this type are found in England, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, parts of the USA, Estonia, and a number of island nations in the region of the Caribbean.

Great Britain

Civil parishes in England form the lowest level of local government. Since 1894, parishes with a population of more than 300 have an elected parish council (in some cases known as the town council).

Electors in a Parish are now able to request a Parish Council is formed when numbers reach 150. At 200 a Parish is now obliged to form a Parish Council. A Parish Council can be formed by joining with other villages in a Grouping Order. A Group can cross Ward boundaries - being in the same District Ward or County Division is not a good reason to link with a particular parish – it may be due to good local links (schools, church/chapel, pubs, cricket, football and skittles) not convenient numbers on a map. A Group can have different levels of precept for different villages in the Group. e.g. one village might want to pay for street lighting or something else that benefits only one member of the group.

Parish Meeting

  • Parish Meeting is all electors for a small area - has its local identity.
  • Parish Meeting can form a committee to take decisions in between the 2 meetings a year of the full body.
  • Parish Meeting is not corporate and cannot hold land etc.
  • Parish Meeting is restricted in what it can provide locally.
  • Parish Meeting not subject to a Code of Conduct

Parish Council

  • Parish Council is corporate body and can hold land etc
  • Parish Councillors subject to a Code of Conduct.
  • Parish Council has substantial range of powers to provide local services, representation and support.
  • Parish Council is always able to call a Parish Meeting if a proposal is contentious enough, but Council cannot be over-ruled by Meeting.
  • Parish Council has some fixed basic costs which fall on the local Council Tax payers - Clerking, Insurance, Audit, etc.

Group Council

  • To group with a neighbouring parish, the resulting larger area Council will have Wards so that a balance of membership is struck. (e.g. 3 from each of 3 villages = 9 Councillors)
  • Group Council is one corporate body acting for larger area.
  • Group Council has similar fixed costs but they apply to a wider (larger number of taxpayers) area.
  • Group Council can be established by Order of District Council and requires agreement from the parish in question (not limited to 2 - could be almost any number on a case by case basis)


Civil parishes in Wales were organised on the same system as England until 1974. In that year all civil parishes in the principality were abolished and replaced with communities. The whole of Wales is divided into communities, although not all have chosen to establish a community council. Like their English counterparts, a community can be renamed a "town".


In Scotland, civil parishes existed until 1975. They were administered by parochial boards until 1894, when elected parish councils were formed. In 1930 the parish councils were dissolved, but the parishes themselves were grouped in districts and continued to exist for statistical and boundary purposes. The parishes were finally abolished on the reorganisation of local government in Scotland in 1975.

North America


In Quebec, a parish is either a unit of the Catholic church, or a municipality that use that designation because its territorial limits are based on that of a usually homonymous religious parish; in a few cases such as Notre-Dame-des-Anges, a municipality was created to keep a religious establishment independent. See Types of municipalities in Quebec.

In New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, parishes are no longer used as administrative areas within counties; however, several are used as census area boundaries. Parishes were also used in land title identifications in certain areas of Manitoba, such as the former cities of St. Boniface and St. Vital (now areas of Winnipeg). These identifications are still found on titles to lands subdivided before the 1971 amalgamation.

United States

Historically, in New England, settlements that were at some distance from the center of a town and had enough people could request to be "set off" as a separate parish with its own church, and would then be freed of paying tithes to the main church. These parishes would eventually be established as separate towns.

In Louisiana a parish is equivalent to a county (US usage). See List of parishes in Louisiana. Louisiana has 64 parishes, which were created when it was a territory of the Spanish and French empires, which were both Roman Catholic.

In the Charleston Lowcountry of South Carolina, parishes resemble townships or public service districts.


Most former British colonies in the Caribbean are subdivided into parishes. The most notable exceptions are Guyana, which is subdivided into regions, and Belize, which is subdivided into districts.


In Australia parishes, as subdivisions of counties, are part of the cadastral areas to identify land title, used in the states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.


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