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A church (in Switzerland and partly in Germany parish ) is the state-canonical term for a church-authored community. The German Basic Law promises the parishes to be a corporation under public law . The corresponding articles were taken from the Weimar Imperial Constitution (see GG Art. 140).

In the Protestant church , the parish (in a few regional churches with a different name) is the organizational form of the church members at the local level. It is the lowest level of the regional churches. In her area, she performs the tasks of the church such as holding church services, pastoral care, church instruction and diaconal tasks.

Concept history

The concept of the parish comes from the concept of "parish", which is very important in evangelical ecclesiology , the translation of the Greek biblical word ἐκκλησία ekklēsía (literally: "the [assembly]]") chosen by Martin Luther . This translation is to be understood as a demarcation from the previously common translation “church” in order to avoid confusion or confusion with the church building. The community cannot be restricted to those acting on site, as a kind of “branch of the overarching institution 'Church'”. With the word parish , both elements are clearly shown again: Institution, totality, space and community, concretion, place.

Since the Second Vatican Council and its “communio” ecclesiology , the term “community” has found its way into Roman Catholic usage, also as “parish community”.

The term in different denominations and denominations

How church congregation is understood in the individual confessions and denominations depends on the understanding of the church by the group concerned.

The legal status, structure and designation are subject to internal church law , insofar as the state grants the religions a right of self-determination . Accordingly, there are in some cases considerable differences between the countries and denominations, and in Germany even within the individual Protestant regional churches.

Roman Catholic Church

Canon Law

The term parish does not come from Roman Catholic canon law. Formerly shaped by the Protestant concept of community, it comes from the German state church law of the 19th century and thus flowed into the Concordats. It designates the ecclesiastical local unit. Associated with this is the establishment of church councils in the 19th century, which the Prussian state demanded, which are elected by the members of the parish. The property of the parish is entrusted to the church councils that still exist today.

Therefore, a distinction must be made between parish (church unit) and parish (state definition):

  • The parish, according to can. 515 §3 CIC "by law due to legal personality" and is valid within the church as a public legal person of canon law .
  • The state church status of the Roman Catholic Church as a corporation under public law (Germany) resp. Church recognized under public law (Switzerland), whereby the parish has a state-regulated status.

The constitution of the parish is regulated by the bishop according to the specifications of canon law and can vary from diocese to diocese. On the other hand, the state can also make regulations with regard to the parish: In the canton of Zurich, for example, the popular election of the pastor by the parish was a condition for the public law recognition of the Roman Catholic Church in 1963.

Pastoral theology

Since the Second Vatican Council , the term community , which is customary in the Protestant area, has been used in Roman Catholic language alongside or in place of the term parish as a designation for a pastoral care unit at the lowest level, also as a parish community or church community . Karl Lehmann : "In contrast to a one-sided, legally and institutionally interpreted term of parish [...] the free association of people who profess the gospel of Jesus Christ, rooted in common faith, is emphasized."

In the course of the renewal of the church after the council, congregation has become a central pastoral theological concept. The joint synod of the dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany expressed in the term “parish community” that the strongly institutional-juridical view of the parish had to be expanded and corrected by the aspect of the more eventual and the thoughts of the people of God , shaped by the council . The synod saw the parish level as having a close affinity with the social “interdependent area”, in which the population can meet their everyday needs in social, cultural and economic terms.

Criticism of the concept of the community and the departure from the concept of the parish has been loud in recent times. Pastoral theologian Herbert Haslinger criticizes the self-centeredness of the congregation. Often only the people who are currently gathered are in view, but not those who belong to the church. The concept of the (territorial) parish makes this clearer.

The concept of the community can be applied to any gathering community of Christians, for example base churches , small Christian communities , religious orders or other groups. Within a parish, several parishes can exist as a “social immediate area”, which can set subsidiary pastoral priorities for certain groups of people and local parishes . The people gathered for worship are called worship congregation, so that congregation is also used as a salutation.

Evangelical regional churches of the EKD

According to the Rhenish church order, the "parish [...] is the community of its members as a rule in an area determined by tradition or constitutional deed." It should enable fellowship and guarantee sufficient efficiency for its tasks. The congregations are part of the community of their church district and their regional church. "The parish takes responsibility for the mission of the church [...] in its area within the framework of the church order."

What they have in common is that, according to their self-image, there is no qualitative distinction between believers and priests and lay people. According to Luther's idea of ​​the “ general priesthood of all baptized ”, every member is called equally to participate in church leadership. The responsibility of the elected governing bodies also includes the core areas of worship and pastoral care (see, for example, Section 20, Paragraph 1, Sentence 2 of the basic order of the Evangelical Church in Baden : “[...] is responsible for ensuring that God's word is preached purely and loudly the sacraments are properly administered in it and the service of charity is done ”) and especially the election of the parish priest.

Regional particularities:

  • The Evangelical Church in Baden is a special case. It does not use the term parish, but speaks of the parish. Its governing body is the group of elders. If the parish is legally independent as a corporation under public law, it is called a parish. Your group of elders is then also a parish council. However, several dependent parishes can also be combined into one parish. In this case the elders send members to the common parish council.

Seventh-day Adventist Free Church

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany is a public corporation . It is subdivided into a North German and a South German association as well as regional associations (comparable to regional church offices or dioceses).

The local churches are basically called the Adventist church.

As with all evangelicals, the “general priesthood” applies, so there is no hierarchy between pastors and church members.

The leadership is usually called "community committee" or "community council". This body is re-elected every two years. At the top is the " church leader " or "church elder" (= (one) blessed church leader).

Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church has no local congregations in canon law, since the church historically emerged as a renewal movement within the Anglican church structure. The lowest unit is the district, chaired by the district conference, which includes clergy and lay representatives from a district. As a rule, a district comprises one municipality, but it can also consist of several municipalities.

Congregational denominations

In denominations with a congregational understanding of the church, for example the Baptists , Mennonites or the congregations of the Pentecostal movement , the local congregation is the actual church, which is legally and theologically largely or completely autonomous - superordinate structures only serve to coordinate or perform common tasks of the local churches. For example, the Baptist World Federation was only founded in 1905 - 300 years after the first local Baptist congregations were established. The Mennonite World Conference did not come into being until 1925 - 400 years after the first Anabaptist congregations were established.

The legal status of these principally autonomous local congregations is quite different - even within the same congregational communal federations.

  • Most of the local communities are registered and recognized as charitable associations. As a rule, all members of the community are members of the association at the same time. The community leadership is also the board of the association.
  • In other cases (for example often in the case of the Brethren ) there are so-called sponsoring associations, which are responsible for asset and property management. Community membership and club membership are not identical here.
  • Older municipalities, the formation of which dates before the establishment of the respective association of municipalities, are recognized here and there as a corporation under public law. In very rare cases they still receive their own corporate rights upon request. An example of this is the Baptist congregation of Hesel-Firrel , which is part of the Federation of Evangelical Free Churches , and which only received its corporate rights in 2005.
  • Some local congregations do not have their own legal status, but rather participate in the public corporation rights that have been granted to their regional or national association by the state.
  • Incidentally, all associated local communities participate in the corporate rights of the supra-local community federations, which in practice sometimes leads to legal difficulties.


Federal coat of arms
Municipality in Switzerland

In Switzerland, where one speaks of parishes (without -en in the verbal fugue), the parishes of the Evangelical Reformed, Roman Catholic and partly also the Christian Catholic Church are organized as public corporations , depending on cantonal law .

The parish resp. the parish administration ( called church maintenance or church council , depending on the canton ) is the authority that employs the staff, including the pastors. The commission for their work in the Catholic parishes is given by the responsible bishop.

The church taxes are spread by the political communities collected from the members of the parishes of the recognized regional churches and passed on to the respective parish; In some cantons, it is forwarded to the cantonal church, which distributes it to the parishes or parishes. Parishes themselves.


Web links

Wiktionary: Parish  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Helmut Pree: parish . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 5 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1996, Sp. 1514 .
  2. ^ Christian Möller:  Community . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 12, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1984, ISBN 3-11-008579-8 , pp. 316–333 (here p. 317).
  3. ^ Siegfried Wiedenhofer: Community. III. Systematic-theological . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 4 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1995.
  4. cf. Helmut Pree: parish . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 5 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1996, Sp. 1513 .
  5. cf. Helmut Pree: parish . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 5 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1996, Sp. 1513-1514 .
  6. cf. Siegfried Wiedenhofer: Community. III. Systematic-theological . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 4 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1995.
  7. ^ Karl Lehmann: Community. In: Franz Böckle et al. (Ed.): Christian faith in modern society. Vol. 29. Freiburg im Breisgau 1982, pp. 5–65, here p. 8.
  8. cf. Norbert Mette: community. IV. Practical-theological . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 4 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1995.
  9. cf. Joint synod of the dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany: resolution of the framework for the pastoral structures and for the management and administration of the dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany. II. General part. I. Structure in three levels. In: Ludwig Bertsch et al. (Ed.): Joint synod of the dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany. Official complete edition. Vol. 1: Resolutions of the General Assembly. Herder Verlag, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 1976, 7th edition 1989, ISBN 3-451-17614-9 , p. 691.
  10. cf. Herbert Haslinger: place of living for everyone. Understand the church in a new way . Düsseldorf 2005, pp. 84-91.
  11. For example: Where faith gains space. Pastoral guidelines for the Archdiocese of Berlin . 2013, pp. 8–12, accessed on September 5, 2015.
    Pastoral plan for the diocese of Münster . Münster 2013, p. 28, accessed on January 24, 2014.
  12. Evangelical Church in the Rhineland: Church Regulations, Articles 5 and 6 in the version of January 17, 2014.
  13. ^ Hans Berner: Parish. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  14. Church taxes ( Memento of the original from May 11, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Canton of Basel-Stadt, tax administration - accessed on March 25, 2012 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /