William A. CLARK, SJ, A Voice of Their Own: The Authority of the Local Parish. Collegeville, MN: A Michael Glazier Book published by Liturgical Press, 2005. Pp.222. $24.95 ISBN 978-0-8146-5218-3.
Reviewed by Mary L. GAUTIER, CARA at Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057

Father William Clark, SJ, employs three local parish communities in three very diverse locales to illustrate the theological points he makes in this book. The basic thesis of the book is that each local parish community exerts its own authority, despite their location within what appears from the outside to be a rather rigid hierarchical authority structure.

Clark examines three real parish communities with which he has been associated, to make his points about the essential importance of the local church community. One parish, in Maine, was originally established as a Franco-American Catholic parish in a very Protestant town, and eventually had to struggle with maintaining its ethnic identity in an assimilated Catholic culture. Another parish, in Jamaica, was originally established to serve the needs of the Catholic population of the University of the West Indies, and had to struggle to meet the needs of the poor in the neighborhood that surrounds it and who have become dependent on its generosity. The third parish, in a suburb of Boston, was originally established to serve Irish immigrants, and is now struggling to meet the needs of its increasingly multi-ethnic community.

According to Clark, much of what the church is, does, and teaches, unfolds at the local level where most Christians form their understanding of church. He examines community, intimacy, and authority in light of his own lived parish experience and claims that a fundamental aspect of ecclesial authority resides in the local community. He incorporates theological challenges and supports for this view in the work of Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, and Walter Kasper, and concludes that a deeper appreciation for the practical authority of local communities can help ground a much-needed renewal of the church's self-understanding. As the author concludes: “…it is clear that the actions and reactions that shape the parishes come out of the interaction of the pastors and the communities, with their various strengths and weakensses. It is the theological implication of this inevitable interaction that is often missed: the Spirit at work within the processes of the community as a whole, and the influence of this work on the larger church beyond this one community.” (p. 191)

This book is valuable for theological reflection in a course on pastoral ministry or the theology of the parish. It is also a worthwhile read for pastors and parish staffs who are struggling with their own issues of community, intimacy, and authority in the parishes in which they serve. The theology presented here is accessible and understandable to a non-professional.


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