Alpbach, 12th January
He would attend the weekly parish staff meetings. He knew more about ministry than most clergy. He chose words carefully and was master of the gentle rebuke.
At one meeting there was an expression of frustration at the attitudes of the people; there were bitter complaints of “parochialism”. He smiled gently, knowing the monthly magazine to be a matter of pride for the church. “I don’t suppose one can be much more parochial than in having a parish magazine”.
Silence followed his comment. There was the realisation that the very thing of which there was complaint was also the very thing on which the church was based. “Parochialism” in itself is not a problem; strong local identities, strong local communities can help build strong local churches. In the parochial, the individual has a place; everyone matters; or, at least, everyone can matter.
Parochialism becomes a problem when it becomes exclusive; when the issues and concerns of the outside world are ignored in favour of a focus upon purely local issues; when sometimes very trivial concerns take priority over the pressing huge issues of the wider community, nation, or international stage.
Problematic parochialism stretches much wider than church congregations who are not concerned what happens elsewhere, just so long as everything is well and convenient for them. Being honest, the average churchgoer is often better informed than many of his secular counterparts. Stories from those working overseas, together with regular communications between churches around the world, mean it is far more likely to hear of many small African countries sitting in a pew Sunday by Sunday than by reading most, if not all, tabloid newspapers.
Parochialism at a level no church could ever hope to achieve is best found in news networks that profess to be international. Sitting in a hotel room in a small country in central Europe, it might have been reasonable to expect that a news network that labelled itself “World” might have had a genuine spread of world news stories.
Perhaps it is a lack of resources, but BBC Word at 0700 Central European Time was barely more a world news network than CNN. The stories hardly extended outside the white English speaking world. It is hard to believe that a British actress winning an award in the Golden Globes and Wigan Athletic beating Tottenham Hotspur were really events meriting mention on a worldwide platform. China got a mention in the economic news, but the rest was entirely centred upon the Anglo-American world.
Watching the BBC from the outside, it seems entirely fixated upon the United States. News stories of far more relevance to the lives of Britons as citizens of the EU might break across Europe and pass unmentioned. Perhaps it should change its name – BBC International or something more modest.
The only consolation of the BBC’s parochialism is that there is a complete escape from news of the Irish government – every cloud has a silver lining.